As the summer kicks off, Pride events will be hosted throughout the nation, with Unite playing a decisive part as it continues in its critical work in supporting the LGBT community – both in and out of workplace.
At the largest Pride event hosted in London tomorrow (June 26), Unite’s members will assemble at noon at the junction of Blanford and Baker Street, where they will march from Oxford Street to Whitehall.
Unite chair of the national LGBT committee Jenny Douglas said that Unite will have a particularly strong presence this year, and will march alongside the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a group whose support of miners in Wales during the miners’ strike was last year immortalised in the runaway hit film Pride.
“It’s going to be a really great event this year,” Jenny noted. “We’re going to have banners and a Unite stall. We’ll have a very visible presence at Pride events in different parts of the country as well.”
Jenny condemned the way in which Pride has been appropriated by corporate sponsors. This year’s Pride organisers have chosen to place sponsors such as Starbucks, Barclays and Citibank, at the front of the parade — a move that was criticised by many trade unionists, who’ve argued it stands against the spirit of the event, which has historically been centred on protest and solidarity.
Although Unite and its predecessor unions have long been champions of LGBT rights, Jenny noted that Unite’s LGBT committee has in the past few years played a pivotal and growing role within the union.
“We support the LGBT community in numerous ways, and not just problems within the workplace such as bullying, but also in various stages of life. We give support to LGBT youth who may just be coming out, many of whom are made homeless as a result. We’ve joined together with various other organisations, such as Hope Not Hate, and have supported each other through fundraising drives.”
United we stand
Betty Gallacher, former chair of the Unite LGBT committee, has played a central role in her longstanding fight for LGBT rights within the union, the workplace and the community. She first organised Betty’s bus at London Pride, which has since become a cornerstone of the union’s presence at the event.
Betty encourages everyone—whether gay or straight— to attend Pride events.
“United we stand and divided we fall – that’s the important thing to remember,” she said. “When I was at a conference in Eastbourne, I told the people in the hall, ‘Every single one of you is connected to someone who is gay. If you’re closed-minded, you could have a son, a daughter, a granddaughter who’s afraid to come out because of how you feel.”
“Homophobia still exists everywhere, and we’ve got to stamp it out,” she added. “And the more people who join us and show solidarity, the more likely we are to stamp out homophobia. That’s the only way we’re going to do it – by uniting the people.”
Betty, who is from a mining family and is a veteran of both the union and LGBT rights movement, has attended Pride events for years.
“The London Pride parade is an incredible event and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger every year,” she said. “When you’re standing on top of the bus and you look out into the masses of people – it’s truly phenomenal.”
‘We must remain vigilant’
This year’s Unite stalls at Pride events will distribute materials encouraging people to join, Jenny noted.
“It’ll help make people aware of what we do, not just for the LGBT community but for all working and vulnerable people. If we reach just five, ten or fifteen people and have those conversations about what we do and how we can affect real change, that’ll make all the difference.”
Jenny argued that the fight for LGBT rights continues despite the gains we’ve made.
“Over the past few years, we’ve definitely come a long way – the right to marry being a key turning point. But we still have a long way to go. When we make big wins, we sometimes become complacent and we start to take our eye off the ball.”
Jenny pointed to the newly elected government’s vicious austerity cuts agenda, and how it will have a deep impact on the LGBT community.
“Many of the programmes that support LGBTs will be cut because they’re seen as a soft, easy target – they’ll be cuts by stealth,” she said. “But it’s this very support that we need the most and so fighting austerity must be a key goal for us.”
“We also have to remember that many of the aims of this government are to dismantle our rights and the gains that we’ve made — their proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act is just one example of this,” Douglas added. “We have to remain vigilant.”
Interested in joining Unite at tomorrow’s Pride event? Find out more information here.
And don’t forget that there will be Pride events throughout the summer in cities and towns up and down the country – dates and locations can be found here.