Blog: Celebrating our Black LGBT+ activists

To all our Black LGBT+ activists past and present, we thank you for your activism and for making our union what it is today

Graphic for UNISON celebrating LGBT+ History Month

This month we lit up our UNISON Centre in Pride colours to celebrate all our LGBT+ members during LGBT+ History Month.

As this is UNISON’s year of Black workers, I also want to celebrate our Black LGBT+ activists, both from our past and present, who’ve led the way in the struggle for equality and LGBT+ rights both within UNISON and across the UK.

Rizwan Sheikh was a leading activist in lesbian and gay, and Black members groups. He became a senior activist in his region and then nationally. He was very proud to be the first Black co-chair of UNISON’s national lesbian and gay committee (as it was known at the time, now the LGBT+ national committee) and campaigned for supporting migrant workers in the Northern region.

Then there’s Bev Miller, our first ever lesbian chair of the national Black members’ committee and a tireless advocate for Black LGBT+ rights for many years in UNISON.

Dave Merchant’s activism on trans rights was pioneering. He was the first trans man to co-chair the national LGBT+ committee and drove the work on trans equality in workplaces and within UNISON itself.

Tim Roberts is now Eastern regional secretary, but he has always been an influential advocate for equality, whether it was on our national LGBT+ committee, or challenging racism and discrimination in the workplace. Tim led the way for UNISON to have continued representation at UK Black Pride.

We also can’t forget Ted Brown and Dirg Aaab-Richards, both national lesbian and gay committee members who led a successful campaign against media homophobia in the 1990s. They organised an advertising boycott of The Voice, until it issued an apology for a homophobic comment piece about Justin Fashanu and pledged to include positive coverage.

Another prominent activist at this time was Claire Andrews. She had big ideas about where we were going as a movement and what that meant for Black lesbians and gay men. She served on both the national lesbian and gay committee and Black members committee and ensured that there was space in both to debate their issues and set union policy.

Anyone that has been to LGBT+ conference over the years will know Paul Amann, who has been part of the LGBT+ standing orders committee for 20 years! Paul has led campaigns for LGBT+ refugees and was a strong advocate for LGBT+ rights at the Qatar World Cup. He was a vocal critic of the World Cup being held in a homophobic country.

These are just a small number of our activists that have made our LGBT+ Black history. To all our Black LGBT+ activists past and present, we thank you for your activism and for making our union what it is today.

The national LGBT+ committee’s Black caucus have created a quiz and presentation that can be used by UNISON members in their LGBT+ history month activities. You can find it here.