UNISON opinion: Supporting our LGBT+ members is crucial

Today’s international day against homophobia, bi+phobia and transphobia comes as the UK has slipped down the rainbow map rankings

Christina McAnea, arms folded, in front of conference stage - 'Fighting for our future'

By UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea

Today is the international day against homophobia, bi+phobia (IDAHOBIT) and transphobia. It’s always been an important date for UNISON since its creation in 2004. Each year since then, we’ve reflected on how we can combat LGBT+-phobic discrimination and harassment.

Of course, some progress has been made over the last couple of decades, but I’m saddened to say that in some ways, LGBT+ equality is going backwards in the UK.

The 2024 ILGA Europe rainbow map was released just a couple of days ago. It ranks European and Central Asian countries in terms of how inclusive the country is for LGBT+ rights. Disappointingly, the UK has dropped to 16th place after ranking first right up until 2015.

The Conservatives’ culture wars have certainly contributed to our diminished standing on the rainbow map. In particular, ILGA Europe highlighted the lack of a ban on conversion practices, no self-determination legal framework for gender recognition and the passing of the Illegal Migration Act that could send LGBT+ asylum seekers to Rwanda, a country that is not safe for LGBT+ people.

Our union has a long, proud history of fighting for LGBT+ rights. I’m delighted that this year, our Year of LGBT+ Workers, has been embraced wholeheartedly by members. It’s been great to see the various launches, events and workplace activities that have been taking place across the UK to celebrate the year.

And we do have a lot to celebrate – the campaign has already been successful in encouraging members to step up to become leaders, with over 40 branches electing an LGBT+ branch officer since the start of the year and regional LGBT+ SOGs reporting a surge in new members coming along to meetings.

The young LGBT+ network is now 300 members strong, many of whom have gone on to other avenues of activism within the union.

Our trans equality campaign, which has been a key campaign of ours, has been wildly successful. Over 4,000 members have now been trained on how to be a good trans ally and over 70 of our trans, non-binary and gender diverse members have now completed a programme on how to deliver the trans ally training.

UNISON continues to lead the union movement in pushing for greater LGBT+ rights and inclusion. We have recently established an asexual (ACE) and aromantic network, which is a first for a UK trade union. We are focused on making workplaces inclusive of ace/aromantic workers, who are often misunderstood and many of whom experience appalling discrimination and harassment at work.

We have a lot more to do. The theme for this year’s IDAHOBIT is “no one left behind: equality, freedom and justice for all.” At UNISON, equality is at the heart of everything we dohardwired into our DNA.

I look forward to being part of the Year of LGBT+ workers activities throughout the rest of this year and promoting why UNISON really is the union for LGBT+ public service workers.