Comment: Why we still need solidarity in 2015

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Writing for, Peter Purton, the TUC’s LGBT officer calls for solidarity as shown between Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and the National Union of Mineworkers in 1985.

The film ‘Pride’ is billed as a comedy but its message is deadly serious. It is a message that is still relevant today despite the massive progress of the last thirty years: which is why it is so important that Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), along with today’s mineworkers and the trade union movement, will lead the 2015 Pride London parade on 27 June.

Thirty years ago, our community faced illegality, media and police harassment, hysteria about AIDS, popular prejudice, and had no rights. Today, we’ve won (almost) legal equality, we have become “acceptable” to a majority of the population, we fill Parliament, and no one admits to being a homophobe. It was the solidarity that LGSM built with the mineworkers in their year-long strike to save their industry that led to the first ever breakthrough on the national political stage for our call for equality when we 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 turned up to lead the 1985 Pride parade and on 27 June 2015, thirty years on, they will do so once again. They represent a solidarity which continues to be needed just as much today as then. Around the world, from Russia to Iraq to Brazil and Turkey (where trans people continue to be victims of brutal murders), LGBT communities need our solidarity more than ever.

At home, we now enjoy some of the best equality laws in Europe but they didn’t fall out of the sky. We made them happen and I am proud of the role of trade unions as champions of our rights. The law sets a tone, it gives us a way to challenge unfair treatment but it doesn’t mean people wake up the next day and have lost their prejudices. Millions of British people continue to be prejudiced against us. Trade unions see this in workplaces; but also in schools, on football grounds, on the streets. The austerity imposed by the government has seriously weakened the LGBT voluntary sector and cut statutory services at a time when issues like mental health problems for young LGBT people, some of it down to homelessness caused by the housing crisis, and hate crime against us are at very high levels.

Our goal is to win genuine acceptance that we are equals. Let’s campaign to end remaining legal inequalities (unequal survivor pensions, the “spousal veto” blocking trans people from gaining their Gender Recognition Certificate) but more than that we must challenge people’s prejudices which are usually based on ignorant stereotypes.

Trade unions can help with the workplace which is a very good place to start. Our work colleagues’ acceptance of us 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, taking on today’s battles.

Peter Purton is the LGBT officer for the Trades Union Congress.

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