Trade unionists united to ensure LGBTI rights at the workplace

“Education International has been one of the world's leading unions in the fight for the respect of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex workers,” Education International's Executive Board member Daniel Lafrenière reminded at a top trade union event.

A strong teacher union delegation participated at the Education International (EI)/Public Services International (PSI) lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex (LGBTI) Forum, held on 30 October in Geneva, Switzerland, prior to the 30th PSI World Congress and aiming to provide an opportunity to exchange good practices, strengthen alliances and share information on current trends and guidance for future work.

PSI/EI LGBTI Forum: a safe learning environment is a safe working environment

More than 80 delegates from all regions followed the welcoming opening remarks by PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli, EI Executive Board member and Centrale des Syndicats du Quebec’s Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Lafreniere, as well as a panel discussion on fighting for inclusion and equality, moderated by Meredith Peace from the Australian Education Union.

Alexandra Bojanic from the French SNUipp-FSU presented her union’s work on education against homophobia in primary schools, which includes educational materials for use in the classrooms on how to address homophobia in primary schools. She explained that there are three annual sessions on sex education in the school curriculum and how they can be used to address issues of homophobia and respond to children’s questions about affective relations.

The LGBTI working group of the German education union GEW explained their journey, supporting LGBTI teachers and educators and fighting for acceptance of sexual diversity in education for 40 years. They insisted that LGBTI visibility is crucial for acceptance. However, since coming out to colleagues, students or parents is always a personal risk, it must be a personal decision whether to come out or not, a decision which should be supported by the LGBTI group and the union. GEW works in cooperation with the German trade union council DGB on LGBTI rights.

“Human rights need to be clear and need to be implemented as well,” stressed Shauna Olney, Chief of the Gender, Equality and Diversity and International Labour Organisation (ILO) AIDS Branch, outlining the ILO work on "LGBTQueer": leaving none behind. Shauna raised the importance of the standard setting process on violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work. The ILO Pride project promoting diversity at work carried out an internal ILO Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity tolerance survey in 2012, which found that almost 40% of LGBT respondents were not open due to fear of negative impacts. Last May 2017, the ILO headquarters unfurled the rainbow flag to mark the International Day against Homophobia.

Olney also referred to the 1997 ILO Recommendation of the Private Employment Agencies No 188 and the ILO HIV AIDS Recommendation No 200, which includes specific clauses on non-discrimination on grounds of orientation, and the ILO Convention No 111 which includes provision for the inclusion of other grounds of discrimination. 

Protecting LGBTI students and educators

During a panel discussion, the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU) outlined some of the continuing challenges that the union faces to strengthen protection for LGBTI children and LGBTI educators. The JTU noted that, while school practices vary considerably, many are still not LGBTI friendly and the national curriculum did not include issues concerning the human rights of LGBTI students.

For the International Trade Union Confederation’s General Secretary Sharon Burrow, “the journeys of unions have been remarkable on LGBTI rights, but if we are not inclusive of all the communities we can’t build up the global unions and the workers’ power that we represents”. She asked participants to think about how the Global Unions can drive LGBTI rights more effectively through the trade union movement and the LGBTI working group recently set up by the Council of Global Unions, particularly in countries outlawing LGBTI people. She also raised the importance of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as the basis to promote due diligence on human rights in the global supply chains and ensuring that human rights included LGBTI rights.  

Eric Brown, National Education Association (NEA) Executive Committee member and a high school biology teacher in the US, spoke about how important it is that “students lead us”. He explained how NEA has successfully used the court system to promote marriage equality and transgender students’ rights. However, even in relatively progressive States, LGBTI students face violence and that is often compounded in cases of LGBTI students of colour, he condemned. Welcoming the UNESCO work on homophobic and transphobic violence, NEA is also educating members to ensure that they are trained on LGBTI issues and grounds its work on the principle that a safe learning environment is a safe working environment.

The final session provided trade unionists with space for brainstorming on future steps and make concrete suggestions to their respective Global Unions. Public Services International discussed its draft resolution and upcoming action plans, and the EI delegation was able to brainstorm ideas on actions related to the implementation of the 2015 EI resolution and suggested actions leading up to the next EI Congress around LGBTI issues.

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