Vice-president Gordon McKay opened the 2017 UNISON LGBT conference in Brighton this morning by thanking delegates for all they do – and appealing to them to do more.
To be asked to speak first was “a tremendous honour,” he told the hall: “Thanks for the work you do for our union, every day … most importantly, just being with people when they need someone.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself – your union is very, very proud of you.”
Attending in place of president Margaret McKee, who was with a trade union delegation to Palestine, he reminded delegates of some of the history of hate-filled attitudes toward homosexuality, from George V in WWI to dissenting voices 50 years ago in the year of decriminalisation.
“You lost,” he said of those voices, “get over it.”
Half a century on from the very “real threat of a man being jailed for loving another man,” he observed that we now have a reality where two men “can now publicly celebrate their love.”
“You did that,” he told them.
“However, bullying and harassment of LGBT people continues in schools and organisations, and the union will not allow any let up in the fight against such negative and life-damaging behaviours.”
And he added that “trans rights are a human right … and UNISON takes them very seriously.”
Looking at the wider political picture, Mr McKay described as “hatred for hatred’s sake” the the attitude toward LGBT people of the DUP to which Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May had promised public money in order to prop up her struggling government.
It was, he said, “a government that is plunging toward Brexit chaos, driven by a right-wing media and a few Brexit extremists – the sort of people who want to dismantle workers’ rights, are happy with the safety regulations at Grenfell Tower and with the tax avoidance of corporate giants.”
Conference applauded as he said that UNISON is fighting back and highlighted the extraordinary legal victory over the summer that saw the union defeat the government on fees for employment tribunals.
“You did that,” he said. “You did that.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for this union, but I’m still going to ask you to do a bit more. What you do makes a difference in people’s lives and that’s a talent,” he concludes.