Trade Unions and LGBT Pride: We're not going away

 Thursday 4th JUne 2015


Despite tensions over sponsors, we urge you to march with Pride, writes PETER PURTON

THIRTY years ago, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) banners led the LGBT Pride parade in London. On June 27, NUM banners, a band from the Welsh valleys and the reconstituted Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) will lead the trade union section on Pride in London.

The TUC wants this to be the best and biggest trade union contribution ever to Pride. The reasons are simple: trade unions were champions of equality before, and their support continues to be vital today.

When LGSM was established to generate solidarity between two communities facing oppression, none of the rights now enjoyed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people existed, and under the ruthless government of Margaret Thatcher it was hard to see any light at the end of this particular tunnel.

But the solidarity forged between a few LGBT activists and the year-long miners’ strike in 1985 was repaid by the votes and voices of the NUM at Labour and TUC conferences that year and opened the door to winning the victories for equality that would follow after Labour took office in 1997.

Trade unions were representing their LGBT members long before they had any legal rights against discrimination and trade unions were instrumental in pushing the first Blair government to introduce the first ever protection at work.

Trade unions were also instrumental in pushing the second Blair government to extend that protection to the area of goods and services. As recent legal cases have shown, that is an area of law vital to our equal place in society.

At a time when much of the movement against the infamous section 28 that killed off attempts to promote equality in schools had given up the protests and started to turn our annual Pride events into a party, the trade unions continued to fight the prejudices that remain widespread to this day.

At a time when the big corporations whose record on equality is shameful are now recognising the business benefits of celebrating diversity, the trade unions are still campaigning for the removal of the remaining legal discrimination faced by members of the community, such as the inequality in survivor pensions for same-sex couples or the “spousal veto” ruining the lives of many trans people who need to gain recognition in their new gender.

Two years ago, the largest ever scientific survey of workplace attitudes (carried out by the Manchester Business School) confirmed that ignorance, stereotyping and prejudice are rampant across workplaces in every sector of the British economy. The most alarming evidence was how many people could not see that their bullying behaviour was homophobic.

That it is still vital to challenge homophobia and transphobia in schools and that the national sport continues to be a “safe place” for the voicing of bigoted opinions shows how far there is to go before genuine social acceptance is achieved. Trade unions are essential to winning these battles.

The board of Pride in London, in its wisdom, has dropped the original proposal that LGSM should lead the parade with the trade unions behind.

Now the unions will be in Section C of the parade, and in solidarity, LGSM will join us there. No matter: what is important is the message of solidarity that LGSM encapsulates in its very existence, and the messages that will sound out loud and clear from the trade union section.

More than ever, we need trade unions to protect the interests of workers and of all sections of society that will be attacked by this government.

Governments change, the organisers of Pride London change (more frequently than governments do), but the trade unions have been, are, and will always be here to champion workers’ rights and equality for all.

That’s why the TUC calls on trade unionists to bring their banners and themselves to Baker Street on Saturday June 27 to join the trade union section of the Pride parade, and to use the occasion to explain our message of solidarity to LGBT people and their supporters on the parade, on the streets of London and finally in Trafalgar Square.

  • Peter Purton is the TUC’s LGBT policy officer.
  • The Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) will be leading the Birmingham Pride Parade (Photograph: Geoff Dexter)