CWU general secretary (GS) Billy Hayes declared that equality issues are central to the role of any trade union in representing its members.
Addressing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender conference in Bristol, Billy reiterated that equalities are bread and butter issues for the union. “If you face problems in the workplace regarding sexuality, colour of skin or disabilities and we are not there to defend you then it is less of a union,” said Billy, who claimed it was as much of a responsibility of the union to challenge transphobia as it was to fight for agreements on overtime. ”The union must be there to defend you all the time. What you are doing here is not a side issue. It is about sustaining this union. It’s about fighting for equality in and out of the union.”
Billy highlighted the under reporting of hate crime, quoting the Stonewall statistic that 25 per cent of such offences go unreported. For those who do report such crimes, 20 per cent experience discrimination from the police.
“We need to strengthen the reporting and conviction rate by the police,” said Billy who highlighted other areas of concern such as homophobic bullying in schools.
The GS also attacked the football authorities for failing to act to counter homophobia in sport. “There is a failure in the leadership of the Football Association,” said Billy, who claimed two thirds of fans would not have a problem if players came out.
Billy also warned of the danger represented by the electoral breakthrough of the BNP and called for more representation from the CWU workers on gay pride events.
Equality officer Linda Roy told how the CWU was writing to the Polish embassy to complain about homophobia in Poland that has seen an increase of 18.3 per cent rise in homophobic hate crime over the past year.
Linda pointed out that one in five lesbian and gay people were victims of homophobic aggression over the past five years in the UK.
“The rights enshrined in the law took years to gain and we must not lose them now,” said Linda, who quoted Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s commitment to make hate crime a top priority of his government.
Michelle Bridgman, project manager for the Gender Trust, quoted Gandhi’s saying in relation to the struggle of transgender people, namely they ignore you, then ridicule you, then fight you and then you win. “They’ve stopped laughing and are now fighting,” said Michelle.
At least 10,000 people in the UK have changed their gender since birth while 300,000 are struggling with their gender.
Michelle told how the problems for transgender people all arise out of the attitude of people in society. “People react the way that they do because they feel shaken out of their little boxes,” said Michelle, who told how young transgender kids are not taking the abuse any more. “We must celebrate differences and get out and take some risks.”
NUT and LGBT history activist Elly Barnes highlighted how all the policies were there for the LGBT community but it remained for them to be implemented. “Homophobia is caused by ignorance, there is no way we are going to be forced back in the closet,” said Elly, who told how academies and private schools oppose the celebration of LGBT month.
Elly called for LGBT to be celebrated not tolerated in schools and workplaces. “Teachers are scared because it can come back to them personally,” said Elly, who said it was about time that people acknowledged LGBT existed, especially given that they make up 10 per cent of the population.
Elly told how working in school she has endeavoured to integrate LGBT into all departments, including religious education, science and drama. “Role models are important, people have got to be out at work, they must be brave and do it,” said Elly, who told how once educated the homophobic attitudes disappear.
In debating the motions, concerns were expressed over the links of the Conservative Party with homophobic parties in Europe. There was also questioning over Stonewall’s negative attitude to unions and concern over the Jan Moir column in the Daily Mail attacking the LGBT community at the time of the death of singer Stephen Gateley.
Dave Daniels of Grampian and Shetlands saw the article as a sign of the dangerous reactionary forces that are seeking to reverse the gains of recent years. “These rights have been won after long battles and the attacks must be repelled,” said Dave. “The article is typical of the right wing backers of David Cameron and the parties that he is being associated with in Europe.”
Another motion passed expressing concerns over fundamentalist Christian churches claiming to be able to perform exorcism on lesbian and gay people to purge them of homosexuality. “It is highly insulting that they see homosexuality as a disease in need of curing,” said Gary Williams of the Solent branch.