Global trade union gathering warns on homophobia

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An international LGBT Workers’ Forum has been told that neo-liberal and conservative forces are increasingly exploiting anti-gay prejudice to undermine trade union and community activists’ campaigns.

The second international LGBT forum, held jointly by Public Services International (PSI) and Education International (EI), is the only event of its kind to be facilitated by global trade union federations.

The two federations represent over 50 million workers in 950 trade unions around the world.

The global gathering took place last weekend in Vienna.

It heard how Costa Rican trade unionist Juan Carlos Paniagua received death threats this summer after being publicly vilified for his sexuality in a Government-backed attempt to undermine a campaign against a proposed free-trade agreement.

Mr Paniagua, of the union ANEP said he was forced to move house after getting threatening phone calls.

“Trade unionists and human rights campaigners everywhere, but especially in Europe, must insist that their governments ensure that trade agreements support human rights and workplace rights,” he said.

Launching Trade Unionists Together for LGBT Rights, the first international trade union guide to achieving equality for LGBT workers, the two federations called on unions across the world to step up their support for victims of homophobia.

The publication outlines examples where international solidarity and joint action between unions representing LGBT workers is contributing to broader campaigns for equal rights.

For example, over 12,000 Polish teachers protested against government harassment of gays earlier this year and trade unions have urged an end to gay and lesbian persecution in Jamaica and South Africa.

Speaking at the Forum, PSI official Svend Robinson, who was Canada’s first openly gay Member of Parliament, said international trade union solidarity had an important role to play in the fight for gay rights.

“Trade unions are involved in national and international campaigns for LGBT rights in exactly the same way that we take action to protect other groups of workers.

“We demand equality in the workplace and society in every country and region. To achieve that, we need LGBT workers to join their union and demand space to organize for gay rights and contribute to international solidarity on LGBT issues,” he said.

On Wednesday, EI and PSI will launch their joint LGBT website at the PSI Congress in Vienna, Austria.

This will be the first international trade union web-based resource for LGBT workers.

Trade Unionists Together for LGBT Rights says that, despite many legislative improvements around the world, institutional discrimination against gays on issues like pensions, taxation, leave entitlements, family-friendly policies and harassment remains common in most countries.

Surveys show that fear of discrimination and harassment means LGBT workers in all countries are unlikely to be ‘out’ at work, even if their family and friends are aware of their sexuality.

The workplace can be a particularly harsh environment for transgendered workers, especially during and after the process of transition.

But it also describes how recent developments and decisions in international institutions like the UN Human Rights Commission, the UN Human Rights Council, and the International Labour Organisation, can be harnessed to protect LGBT workers, fight discrimination, and enhance gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights.

The new publication also includes model workplace agreements on LGBT rights.