Education International
Education International

Trade unionists commit to building strong alliances for LGBT rights

published 19 July 2011 updated 24 August 2011

More than 150 trade unionists and equality campaigners have concluded an historic meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, to celebrate the biggest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender event in Africa.

The third Education International (EI) and Public Services International (PSI) LGBT Forum took place from 18-19 July. It was attended by education and public sector workers from 45 countries around the world who engaged in debates and workshops before proposing a plan of action for LGBT rights.

In a panel discussion on ‘The ways forward and challenges after the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) resolution’ EI Coordinator Rebeca Sevilla reviewed the implications of the recently adopted resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, while Junéia Batista from PSI affiliate FETAM (Brazil) spoke about her experience of representing civil society and unions on this UN panel. PSI Coordinator Chidi King reminded participants about the importance of International Labour Organisation Conventions 100 and 111 for equal pay and non-discrimination in employment. She also highlighted the new ILO Global Report ‘Equality at work, the continuing challenge’.

Fatima da Silva, from EI affiliate CNTE (Brazil), addressed a panel discussion on ‘Building a global platform for LGBT human rights’ by describing the success in securing rights for LGBT citizens and workers. She credited the state and union-supported ‘Brazil without Homophobia’ and ‘Schools without Homophobia’ programmes for this success. Phumi Mtetwa, from South Africa’s Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, stressed the importance of civil organisation to make meaningful alliances with unions: “We have to challenge the categorisation of rights, putting a hierarchy of minorities, or of women and lesbians, a poor straight woman having more rights than a poor lesbian for example.”

Delegates concluded by issuing a statement “recognising the international momentum to protect rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the diversity inherent in LGBT communities.” They shared experiences about the forms of discrimination, violence and inequality LGBT people face, focussing on strategies to secure rights in schools, workplaces, and public services.

The Forum adopted a series of recommendations for consideration by EI and PSI’s Executive Boards. These include calls for both global unions to provide trade union input to the UN Study of the High Commissioner for Human rights regarding acts of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as specified in UNHCR Resolution 17, to encourage and coordinate the involvement of member organisations at the 19thsession of the UN Human Rights Council, and to ensure the Council of Global Unions’ Quality Public Services Action Now! campaign fully encompasses and reflects’ equity and diversity, including sexual diversity.

PSI’s LGBT Forum co-chair Junéia Batista thanked delegates for their work and noted the large participation and contribution of African colleagues. She encouraged delegates to “turn words into deeds” when they returned home to their countries and unions. EI’s LGBT Forum co-chair Bob Chase – former NEA (USA) President – closed the event by thanking PSI representatives at event and wishing EI participants success at their sixth World Congress from 22-26 July. He also expressed appreciation for the increasing support and participation of ‘straight allies’ in the EI-PSI LGBT Forum.