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Why LGBT people must now stand up and show their support for the British steel industry

Why LGBT people must now stand up and show their support for the British steel industry

Steel workers and union members at a Save Out Steel demonstration in London this week

Everyone knows that the LGBT world is a non-stop flurry of parties, clubs, theatre visits and high-end clothes shopping. In the UK, we all live in London, Brighton, Manchester or anywhere that has a ‘Gay’ village.

We work in a city and have a designated ‘LGBT’ type job employed in a bank, in retail, clothing, the arts or fashion. Very few of us are over 30. Well, maybe 40 at a push.

We can be who we want to be when we want to be and we are accepted by kindred spirits. We can hold hands in public and going to gay bars with our heads held high. The world at large loves us.

This is the confident, inclusive world that we aspire to for all LGBT people.

However, what if you live in Port Talbot, Scunthorpe, Corby or Rotherham?

For many, myself included, the reality is very different.

Imagine working in a very male-dominated, macho environment; living a lie before deciding to ‘come out’ as LGB or T.

Imagine living in an industrial community where, to quote Daffyd Thomas from Little Britain, you think you are ‘The only gay in the village.’

Put yourself in the shoes of a trans woman working as a crane driver at a steel works

Finding it hard to believe some people don’t party all night? Imagine working shifts from 6-2, 2-10 and 10-7 in a hot and challenging environment.

Put yourself in the shoes of a trans woman working as a crane driver at a steel works; having to wear the mandatory safety clothing while at the same time hold on to some semblance of feminism to minimize the chances of those around you continually laughing at you.

Consider being a manager of a group of men, who has a girlfriend, but then admits that he sleeps with guys as well.

For years the feeling of isolation can be suffocating.

I’m not sure when it changed. The Internet helped. LGBT people discovered that they weren’t alone and started speaking to one another.

They mobilized. They contacted their Trade Unions and found a collective voice. They were a force to be reckoned with.

Most of the LGBT protections that we have today came from the few in our community mobilizing and encouraging the ‘Str8 Allies’ of our Unions to help us. No longer were they willing to be the hidden community.

The LGBT community within the steel industry came together. For many, especially our trans friends, it was not an easy task. But it happened.

Who would have imagined a trans group called ‘Sparkles’ thriving in a Welsh steel working community being run by people in the actual steel community?

For many LGBT activists, Pride festivals have changed from being political statement into a carnival

For many LGBT activists, Pride festivals have changed from being political statement into a carnival spectacle for the masses.

Many participants have never known, nor care that much, about the origins of the pride marches.

The 2015 Pride London annoyed many. On the anniversary of ‘Gays & Lesbians support the miners’, those that had led the march with the NUM banners in 1985 had to march in front of the Trade Union blocks in 2015 – way back in the parade behind the bankers (not a misspelling), television companies and other corporate sponsors.

The ‘Gays and Lesbians support the miners’ group had grabbed the baton and stood shoulder to shoulder with the miners in the 1980’s when the mining industry was being decimated: they were now a sideshow to a corporate event.

Move on 30 years and it’s now the turn of the steel industry to be ripped apart and for whole communities to face destruction.

Unite are encouraging LGBT people to take pride in the British steel industry
Unite the Union are encouraging LGBT people to take pride in the British steel industry

In 2016, the UK’s steel industry is facing the loss of 12,000 jobs

I come from Corby. In 1980, when the local steelworks closed, the town was brought to its knees. A single-employer town, there were over 15,000 redundancies in a three-month period.

Corby survived but it took the town 35 years to get back on its feet. In 2016, the UK’s steel industry is facing the loss of 12,000 jobs and is on the brink of being lost due to a Government that is yet again willing to destroy complete communities for its own political ends.

Once again, the LGBT community is willing to put on its gloves and show its support for a major British industry.

Unite the Union’s National LGBT Committee, led by Siobhan Endean (National Officer for LGBT) and Jenny Douglas (Committee Chair from Scotland), are heading a campaign called ‘LGBT supports the Steel Workers’.

Steel workers and union members at a Save Out Steel demonstration
Steel workers and union members at a Save Our Steel demonstration

We want 2016 to be the year in which ‘Pride’ returns to pride marches.

Across the country, banners supporting the steel industry will be flying.

The campaign was launched at the British LGBT Awards ceremony in London on Friday 13 May. Many celebrities showed their support by having their pictures taken with our ‘Save Our Steel’ badges.

The support was amazing and we look forward to seeing many more people supporting the campaign up and down the country. Look out for us: We are here, we are queer, and we aren’t going anywhere, quietly.

#SaveOurSteel