UNISON’s constant striving for equality and inclusion took a big step forward in Liverpool today, as national delegate conference backed the move to rename the union’s LGBT group as the LGBT+ group.
Introducing a motion for the national LGBT committee, Anu Prashar told delegates that, “when I came out, it seemed as though I only had two options – lesbian and bisexual.
“In my youth, ‘queer’ was a term of abuse … young people have taken it back from the bullies and made it positive.”
She said that “adding a letter here and a letter there” to ‘LGBT’ was not the solution, while, as a Black person, she was keenly aware that people in different ethnic communities don’t always use the very Westernised words that make up ‘LGBT’.
In Indian culture, for instance, there are many ways for people to define their sexuality and gender.
“Our remit will not change,” she said, before adding that the name change will bring UNISON in line with the TUC and the Labour Party.
Dave Cosgrave from Imperial College thanked his branch for submitting a supporting motion on the proposal. His is a small branch that had not put a motion forward to NDC before.
The name change would be “too late for me,” he said. “I’ve reluctantly come to terms with being ‘gay’ – sleeping with other men was water off a duck’s back, but in the 1970s, I was a punk rocker and I was most definitely queer!”
Jennifer Black for the local government service group executive emphasised that there is no definitive list of words that people use to help them self identify – “language continues to evolve,” said Ms Black, “… and people will find more ways to identify”.
Promoting such inclusivity has “never been more important,” she added, as we are living in a country that is going to the politics of the far right – exclusion and division, with a rise of hate crime against LGBT people in the last two years.
For the NEC, Sean Fox reminded conference of the painful process of changing from the union’s original lesbian and gay (LG) group to a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group delegates, saying: “I am exceptionally proud to see so many people sitting ready to speak for this motion – and nobody waiting to speak against it.
“We believe in inclusivity. This union was one of the first places I could feel safe as a gay man.
“People have the right to define as they see fit – not be placed in boxes.”
The motion passed unanimously. And a short while later, to applause, cheers and hugs, conference also backed the necessary rule change – also unanimously.
Three UNISON activists from the North West region, all of whom had been campaigning for the rule – and name – change outside conference all week, were jubilant.
Laura said: “It’s massive to know we’re an inclusive union. A lot of my members identify as different genders, non-binary. It just means that now they’re included and they can feel confident that they can come to us as a union, for advice and support … it’s just massive.”
Mike noted: “It makes the self-organised group more inclusive and, rather than come back, year after year, to add different letters, the ‘plus’ will cover everybody.”
For Adam: “It’s been fantastic to see the support from the whole union, supporting the LGBT+ campaign; understanding what it means, understanding why it’s so important for us to have had this rule change.
“It actually means, in terms of societal change, we’ve got a whole union full of people supporting us, supporting the LGBT+ movement. That’s why it’s so great that it has passed.”