Chelmsford TUC

Equal Opportunities

Lesbian and Gay Rights

Although, in the main, trade unionists have played a positive role in advancing the interests of male/female equality, it is probably fair to say we were never in the vanguard as far as gay rights were concerned. Progress has come slowly and many problems remain to be resolved, both within the trade union movement and in society generally.
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Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association

However, significant progress has been made but it is our view that trade unionists should never allow the clock to be turned back - we have to create a climate within society that enables all citizens to achieve their full potential and exert all their rights regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

When John Monks, the former General Secretary of the TUC, stated that everyone should have the right to fair treatment at work regardless of their sexuality, and that unions can do a lot to help create a new culture of respect in the workplace, he was speaking for millions, including Chelmsford Trades Union Council.

The TUC holds an annual Lesbian and Gay Conference and has an Advisory Committee. It has published a TUC Charter for Equality; this promotes the case for equal rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual workers, makes the argument for inclusive equal opportunities policies, provides a bargaining agenda for negotiators, and offers advice on how to make a trade union responsive to lesbian, gay and bisexual members. The twelve-page pamphlet is available from the TUC.

Many trade unions have already made positive statements, adopted rules, or carried resolutions in support of gay rights; some have gone considerably further and have established lesbian and gay groups within their internal democratic structures. They have also published excellent leaflets and pamphlets setting out their views on lesbian and gay rights at work.

The Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, the National Association of Probation Officers, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, are amongst those unions that have ensured that lesbian and gay issues are integrated into their equal opportunities training courses.

The National Union of Teachers also holds an annual conference on lesbian and gay issues in education. NATFHE has a national network, and a reserved place for a lesbian or gay man on its Executive; MSF holds an annual conference, has a website and a self-organised group. The Communication Workers’ Union has established an Advisory Committee. BIFU, the Fire Brigades’ Union, MSF, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Institute of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, have all publicised a help line telephone number for lesbians and gay men.

However, it is possibly fair to say that the union that has made the greatest strides for lesbian and gay rights is UNISON. Even at branch level, there is provision for a network of lesbian and gay groups. These meet to discuss local service conditions, build support for members facing problems at work, and provide a forum for debating lesbian and gay issues. Also, within the network, members are helped to gain confidence to get involved in other sections of the union.

UNISON’s Code of good branch practice makes it quite clear that branches are expected to facilitate the establishment and development of self-organised groups for lesbian and gay members (as well as for women, black members and disabled members). Branches are obliged to agree appropriate levels of funding for lesbian and gay groups, in accordance with union rules.

There is a lesbian and gay group in each of UNISON’s thirteen geographical regions; within each region there is a full-time official whose remit is to service lesbian and gay members. Indeed UNISON is the only union in the world to employ full-time staff to service gay and lesbian self-organisation. Each group has the right to send one or more representatives to the regional council, with the right to be represented on the council. Each regional lesbian and gay group also elects one woman and one man to the National UNISON Lesbian and Gay Committee. This committee co-ordinates lesbian and gay self organisation and is recognised as part of the union’s structure. It meets with other national committees and national negotiators to ensure that lesbian and gay rights are taken up in every forum and at every level of the union. In addition, the committee organises an annual national lesbian and gay conference, which is the biggest event of its kind in the UK, with around 500 participants. The conference can also send two motions and two delegates to UNISON’s national delegate conference. UNISON also has a black lesbian and gay members’ caucus, a disabled and gay members’ caucus and a newsletter, Out in UNISON.

Some Examples of Progress

UNISON has negotiated the inclusion of sexuality in the equal opportunities policies of Local Government employers, the NHS and most National Health Service Trusts. The Communication Workers’ Union and the Society of Telecom Executives have secured the same agreement with the Post Office and British Telecom. BIFU has negotiated this policy with First Direct, Royal Bank of Scotland and several other financial institutions.

Unite has negotiated to extend "family accident protection" insurance to cover lesbian and gay partners of members. UNIFI has negotiated the inclusion of lesbian and gay partners in the Barclay’s Bank health care scheme.

Unite has negotiated free travel for lesbian and gay partners of employees at British Airways. The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association has done the same on London Underground.

The GMB has secured inclusion of same sex partners in bereavement leave at Nestlé.

The Communication Workers’ Union has a Lesbian and Gay Advisory Committee and has negotiated the inclusion of sexual orientation within harassment policies at the Post Office and British Telecom.

If you have any information on gay and lesbian activities in your union and you would like them to be included on our website, please contact the Secretary.