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Why would young LGBT people join a trade union?

Why would young LGBT people join a trade union?

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) march at an LGBT pride festival

Here in the UK, being young and LGBT has never been more acceptable.

Young LGBT role models in the media? Check. Music and fashion icons pushing the gender binary? Check. LGBT stories part of the media narrative? Check.

See: Tom Daly, a young, charismatic Olympic swimmer coming out.

See: Jaden Smith, challenging the gender binary and recently named the new face of Louis Vuitton’s womenswear campaign.

See: recent LGBT characters in mainstream soap operas as well as stories about being trans on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and ‘Analysis’ Beyond Binary.

See: the number of lesbians fronting mainstream TV shows including Claire Balding and Sue Perkins, to name just a couple.

Young people are often in jobs that are low paid and insecure

But this picture only tells a small part of the story. It also makes clear the important role that unions play for young LGBT workers.

Young workers are often vulnerable. Young people are often in jobs that are low paid and insecure; a large number of younger workers are based in retail, hospitality and other low-paying sectors which typically employ staff on zero hours contracts.

Instead of protecting young workers the UK Government has introduced a ‘National Living Wage’ which excludes workers under 25, and made no attempt to limit the excessive use of zero hour contracts by employers such as Sports Direct.

These issues are exacerbated for young LGBT workers who may face homophobia and transphobia in the workplace and beyond.

LGBT workers face bullying and discrimination. As a direct consequence of workplace prejudice, gay and bisexual men, and lesbian and bisexual women in particular reported higher levels of psychological ill health across all sectors of employment.

Figures released by the Home Office shows that hate crime against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has soared. On sexual orientation there was a 22% increase from 2013/14 to 2015 and a 9% increase for transgender hate crime during that same time.

These figures tell us only a small part of the story; like all forms of hate crime – disability related, race – victims do not always come forward: often too frightened, ashamed, or lacking confidence in services.

This can have a lasting impact on the victim’s mental health.

Oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity can be compounded for young people from faith communities.

Imaan, a charity working with LGBT Muslims, has reported on the threat of ‘honor based violence’ for these groups. In these instances being an LGBT young person is seen as bringing ‘shame’ and ‘dishonor’ to the family and young people are at risk of violence, forced marriage and even death.

LGBT young people experience inequality in housing. When they come out to their families they may experience homophobia, biophobia, transphobia and even violence. These discriminatory and bigoted attitudes may also manifest in other housing settings.

It is trade unions who are fighting young LGBT worker’s corner, organizing in the workplace bargain for equality.

Where young people are in a union they are 38% better paid

Statistics show that where young people (aged between 16 and 24) are in a union they are 38% better paid.

It was Unite the union that took action against Pizza Express who were taking a cut from staff’s tips; the union won and now the – predominantly young- workers take home 100% of the tips they earn.

Media and entertainment union BECTU helped young workers in the cinema industry win living wages and USDAW took action at Tesco to make sure young workers were paid the same rate as their older colleagues.

Unions support young LGBT in the workplace by fighting for better LGBT inclusive workplaces and negotiating effective mental health and wellbeing policies.

During Pride London, it will be trade unions from across the country marching for LGBT equality and rights, forging links with local LGBT community organizations. If you’re young and LGBT, what are you waiting for? Join your union today.

Huma Munshi, equalities officer at the TUC
Huma Munshi is equalities officer at the TUC