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Trade unions still have an important role to play in fighting inequality

Trade unions still have an important role to play in fighting inequality

A still from Pride

Have you seen the film Pride (pictured)?

It tells how a small group of lesbians and gay men created an alliance between our community and the mineworkers in the early 1980s.

At the time, the UK’s LGBTI community were facing legal discrimination, media and police harassment, hysteria about AIDS and popular prejudice. The mineworkers were on their year-long strike to save their coal industry from being shut down by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Although the miners ultimately lost their battle, that solidarity between the groups led to a hugely significant breakthrough on the national political stage in our call for LGBTI equality. LGBTI campaigners won a debate at the 1985 Labour Party conference that opened the road to the legal equality we now enjoy. I was proud to be part of that victory.

The National Union of Mineworkers subsequently turned up to lead the 1985 Pride parade in London and on Saturday 27 June, 30 years on, they will be leading the trade union bloc (in section C of the parade).

Pride, the film, was presented as a feel-good comedy, but there is nothing funny about the prejudice and discrimination LGBTI people face all round the world today. LGBT communities from Russia to Iraq still desperately need our solidarity while trans people continue to be murdered and abused from Turkey to Brazil.

The UK now has some of the best equality laws in Europe and we should never forget that they didn’t simply fall from the sky.

Those laws happened because we made them happen, and I am proud of the role trade unions played in winning over the lawmakers. But while laws are vital – they set a tone and provide us with a way to challenge unfair treatment – they doesn’t change popular hostility overnight.

There is plenty of evidence that large numbers of British people continue to be prejudiced against LGBT communities. Trade unions know that this is true in workplaces; but it can also be seen in schools, on football grounds and in the street.

We know that the austerity measures imposed by the Government have seriously damaged the LGBT voluntary sector. This comes at a time when levels of hate crime and LGBT youth homelessness – worsened by the current housing crisis – remain high.

To win genuine acceptance we have to win the popular acceptance that we – as LGBT individuals – are equals.

To do that we need to remove remaining legal inequalities, such as not having the same rights to survivor pensions, or the ‘spousal veto’ that blocks trans people from gaining their Gender Recognition Certificate.

More than that we must challenge people’s prejudices; discriminatory attitudes that we know is usually founded on ancient stereotypes.

The workplace is a very good place to start because most of us work.

We have evidence that our work colleagues’ acceptance is sometimes skin deep. We can challenge that. It may be hard to do that on one’s own, but trade unions are there to negotiate and to support.

The trade unions have been campaigners for LGBT equality since 1985 and we are still here today, continuing the fight.

Peter Purton is the LGBT officer for the Trades Union Congress (TUC).