Last week I attended the TUC LGBT conference on the 25th and 26th of February. The conference began with a session on LGBTQ rights during Covid and mental health and Covid. There were several powerful presentations, including from one of the teaching unions about how many teachers were being outed by the fact that students could now see into their homes during lessons on Zoom, etc. There were also reports on how LGBTQ staff were suffering strongly because of the inability to access safe spaces and socialise where LGBTQ staff are particularly dependent on this, as many live with unsupportive families or hostile relatives and flatmates.
On the evening of the 25th, there was an international panel with
- Dr. S Chelvan: Head of Immigration and Public Law, 33 Bedford Row
- Aderonke Apata: Founder of African Rainbow Family
- Mariela Kohon: Senior International Officer, TUC
- Walmir Siqueira: Coordinator of the LGBT Collective of the CUT Brazil. Walmir presented a terrible picture of LGBTQ life in Brazil. There were 28 organisations in a council fighting for LGBTQ rights. The Brazilian parliament did not discuss laws on LGBTQ issues. The only source of support was from the courts where relationship rights, retirement, and employment rights were debated. There were huge numbers of murders, particularly of trans people and many lesbian women were also murdered. A gender realignment clinic had gone on fire and the staff had abandoned the trans patient there to die in the fire. This was typical of the view of society towards trans people. There were very few LGBTQ trade unionists as many LGBTQ people were unable to find work and if they did it was often precarious and not unionised. Labour rights were ignored completely by the Bolsonaro regime.He called for a huge international LGBTQ conference where all groups could outline their strategies.
Dr. Chelvan, originally from Sri Lanka, gave an example of a poster he had seen in India which stated “If you speak to a trans person you will get Covid.” British colonial laws had caused so much damage to the LGBTQ community.
On the 26th there were speeches on trans and non-binary people in the workplace.Many spoke of how medical appointments had been delayed because of Covid and wait for the initial medical interview before undertaking gender realignment surgery could now take 2.5 years. Julia Georgiou who is the only trans union General Secretary represented NHBC and called for a free statutory self ID system. Other speakers said that the Home Office was moving away from what it regarded as “fashionable” injustices such as transphobia and racism towards free speech v trans rights (which was supported by the Tories). A government consultation on trans and non-binary rights had indicated that the majority of those questioned supported reform of the Gender Recognition Act, 61% felt that there should be no need for a medical diagnosis, and 80% no need for a medical report before having gender realignment treatment.
I also attended the workshop on Sexual Harassment at Work organised by UNITE. An Equalities Officer from the TUC presented shocking findings that sexual harassment of LGBTQ people at work was often normalised. It was worse when people were “out” at work. One-third of trans, bi, and lesbian women had experienced unwanted touching. BAME women were twice as likely to be harassed. There was a call for a new law around sexual harassment at work and for a properly funded equality regulator to enforce laws.
The TUC LGBT Committee will push for changes in the new Employment Bill. Trans women were more likely to suffer harassment. There was a need for an urgent legal change to allow union equality reps time off work for union duties. All in all the conference showed how much there is to campaign for but also illustrated the important role that many LGBTQ workers and reps have in their respective unions and how the unions are often the only voices to be raised in their defence.