Trade unions and us

Joint editors, Lee Williscroft-Ferris and Annette Pryce, reflect on this years TUC LGBT+ conference, and why it is necessary to be in a union.


There was a tension in the air as we went into this year’s TUC LGBT+ conference. Anti-trans groups had circled as the GRA consultation went live; the Morning Star published its most grotesque article yet and Brexit is looming  large over the horizon.
It’s a well known fact that young workers are the least trade unionised workers in the country, and probably most likely to be LGBTQ+ and open in their workplace. And if the stuffy, male, pale and stale environment of the trade union movement is putting you off, you need to get to this conference and see what the issues that affect us really are. Because they don’t differ depending on the job we are in, or sector we are employed by. Discrimination and oppression are round every corner, and that’s where unions lie, in that place, to lift us out of the cycle of oppression.
Now, they aren’t perfect; some of them even have very questionable policies, or representatives or full-time union officials! See here in a previous TQ article: Trade unions: Is solidarity really forever?
But in this room full of LGBTQ+ workers, the sense of solidarity is palpable and real; people feel stronger here, and we need that, we need to be as strong as we can, because what comes next will need strength.
So, what was the overall vibe of this year’s conference?
Lee: This was undoubtedly the most ‘political’ TUC LGBT+ Conference in years and thank the gay Gods for that! For quite some time, the annual gathering of LGBTQ+ trade unionists had recycled very similar motions and was at risk of becoming somewhat tired.
There was a distinct ‘trans’ focus to this conference, with an understandable lean towards the GRA. The speakers on the related motions, trans and cis alike, spoke passionately of the need to depathologise the road to gender recognition and many examples were cited of countries where self-declaration had proven to be a success and, crucially, not pose any threat whatsoever to the rights and spaces of cisgender women. All trans-related motions passed unanimously, with an extremely powerful one regarding self-declaration being chosen by delegates to go forward to TUC Congress.
The conference is still noticeably unrepresentative in terms of race and this was eloquently pointed out by one of the relatively few BAME delegates who rightly lay down the gauntlet to activists present to engage BAME colleagues to make the conference more reflective of the UK’s LGBTQ+ workforce. Few would disagree with that sentiment.
There was also a huge emphasis on mental health this year and with good reason, given the shocking statistics around LGBTQ+ people and mental ill-health. Next year, it would be good to hear more about physical disability and the distinct issues faced by LGBTQ+ workers with such disabilities.
Overall, this was a lively, vibrant conference, with some fantastic speeches by some incredibly passionate trade unionists. This conference is where trade unionism truly comes into its own and where the potential power of unions as vehicles of social change becomes clear. Here’s to 2019!

Annette: The most significant debate was on the GRA (Gender Recognition Act) consultation and how it – and the awful press attacks – have caused a frenzy of lies and half-truths to spread like a virus across the internet and mainstream press, because there’s no such thing as positive propaganda; it’s only ever negative. The opposite of negative propaganda is the truth. Anti-trans activists have spent the better part of the last year and beyond spouting propaganda about the GRA to anyone who would listen. What’s worse is that some people you think should know better have been taken in by it.
If it’s hard to understand how this happened, here’s how: these people have engineered a narrative around a vulnerable minority community as some sort of threat. Why? Because fear works, you see, and who better to help them out with this than the mainstream press. They create a ruckus, they harass people online, they form a little group with a veneer of ‘civility’ and ‘respectable discussion’, all the while feeding information into the right-wing press with hype and spin, only for the press to spit it back out again, thereby giving them credibility and feeding the ongoing narrative they’ve created.
Then, they wheel out their token ‘lesbian’; cue the twits who blocked Pride in London, sponsored by your friendly Mayday4Women (see below), because apparentl,y lesbians are ‘vanishing’…… oh wait , they’re not.
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And they think that if they can be seen to defend lesbians, this again feeds their narrative against trans women – forgetting completely that these 2nd-wave feminists shunned the lesbian community in the 60’s and 70s.
As a cisgender lesbian feminist, I do not ascribe to any form of feminism that seeks to exclude and further marginalise an already marginalised group of women. The letter in last week’s Morning Star was a clusterfuck of propaganda; you could well have read the same in the Daily Mail in the 1980s, when they suggested that all gay men must be paedophiles because one paedophile happened to be a gay man. That’s how it reads.
If ever there was a time for our community to put aside its nuanced disagreements and speak with one voice, this is it.
Let’s end this propaganda war by making sure the truth gets out there. Trans men are men, trans women are women, non-binary people’s identity is real; that is the start and end of it.
Follow Annette and Lee on Twitter (@lgbtexec) (@xixianykus)
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