Union marchers at Pride 2013 in London. Photo: Laurie Smith/CWU
Unions react to LGBT rights victories and challenges
News of the decision of the US Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the “Defense of Marriage Act” was picked up around the world in minutes and was warmly greeted by everyone campaigning for LGBT equality in Britain. Delegates to the TUC LGBT conference, meeting in London on 27-8 June, were cheered by the news and sent their congratulations to their sisters and brothers across the Atlantic.
In the USA, the decision had an immediate impact as government bodies raced to identify the many rules covering same sex couples that now needed changing. It was reported in the British media how the ruling had at the last moment prevented the deportation of an individual who could now claim to be a citizen’s spouse. At the same time people in California rejoiced that they could join the other states that already enacted same sex marriage when the Supreme Court also struck down proposition 8, which had for years blocked the right of LGB people to marry in the USA’s largest state.
A major part in the campaign to get rid of DOMA was played by the trade union confederation AFL-CIO, whose president immediately published a statement welcoming the change. The equality work of the AFL-CIO echoes that of the trade union movement in Britain.
Richard Trumka’s statement rightly pointed out that “while justices ruled on the right side of history today, there is far more work to be done in the pursuit of equality”. How true this is. During this same momentous week, the law banning “homosexual propaganda” in Russia was enacted – Vladimir Putin’s own section 28. Protesters were beaten up and arrested by the police.
In the USA, where the modern Gay Liberation movement was born, in Britain where veterans of GLF had a place of honour in the enormous Pride celebration in London on 29 June, in France where François Hollande’s government has beaten Britain to the line with same sex marriage, we can rejoice at gaining an enormous step forward for our right to be treated as equal citizens after decades of fighting against exclusion, condemnation, abuse, and criminalisation. It is evidence of our success that for a younger generation of LGBT people partying in central London in the sunshine, that struggle has become as old as the people who bravely stood up for our rights.
But to see it like that is a mistake, even in this country. Sweet though it is that the bigots who brought us section 28 are now licking their wounds in a corner, in a massive minority even in the House of Lords, we know too well that trans people are still far too likely to be victims of hate crime; that prejudice continues unabated in playgrounds and football grounds; that this government’s austerity is hurting those most at risk of crime; that young LGBT people fleeing their family homes are losing services they desperately need; that some faith schools are using their Gove-given freedoms to undermine the requirements of the public sector equality duty; and that many employers know there is a law against discrimination, but don’t have a clue about dealing with harassment in the workplace on grounds of sexuality or gender identity.
The TUC LGBT conference affirmed, again, its strong commitment to promoting LGBT rights in countries where they are under attack. But it also highlighted the many issues still to solve in this country. Like our brothers and sisters in the USA, we should celebrate our victories but never forget that the reality facing too many in our communities is not yet the equality that we want.