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From: The Socialist issue 261, 5 July 2002: Change This Rotten System!

Search site for keywords: Pride - Workers - Transgender - Lesbian - Gay - LGBT

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers: Fighting For Real Equality

AS LESBIANS, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people hit London's streets on 6 July for Pride, the LGBT communities can see formal equality at least in sight.

Wayne Lovett, Socialist Party Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Group & AMICUS member

Article 13 of the European Union's (EU) Amsterdam Treaty requires member states to introduce laws against anti-gay employment discrimination by December 2003.

European Court action by transgender workers forced the government to introduce limited regulations on transgender rights at work. This will be the first time the words "sexual orientation" appear in an act of parliament on employment.

At the moment employers can refuse to employ lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, take no action against harassment of LGB staff, deny us and our partners equal treatment on employment benefits, and sack us because of our sexuality.

Over the years a stream of LGB workers have taken their employer and the UK government to court at home and in Europe, only to be told laws like the Sex Discrimination Act do not cover sexuality.

All the government would offer was a voluntary 'code of conduct'. This would have left workers depending on bosses' goodwill rather than having proper legal remedies.

During the EU debate, Labour tried to exclude sexuality from Article 13, and when this failed again pushed a voluntary code in the place of legislation.

Ultimately Article 13 came down on the side of binding protection. But British objections resulted in exemptions for religious organisations. These would allow an employer with a religious 'ethos' to continue to discriminate where it can demonstrate a "genuine occupational requirement".

Potentially this could affect hundreds of thousands of workers in sectors such as education and care. In religious schools alone there are 100,000 teaching jobs.

Labour is refusing to define which employers have a "religious ethos". An activist has predicted this will have the effect of passing "the difficult decisions to judges and tribunals, leaving justice to luck and the well-heeled" (Gay Times May 2002).

LGBT trade unionists must help to mobilise the strength of the trade union movement to ensure the final legislation doesn't enable religious employers to drive a coach and horses through employment protection for lesbian, gay and bisexual workers.

We demand full equality for every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender worker!


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