Education International
Education International

Workers demand LGBT rights on birthday of Nelson Mandela

published 18 July 2011 updated 20 July 2011

More than 150 trade unionists and equality campaigners have gathered in Cape Town to celebrate the African continent’s biggest-ever Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights event.

The third Education International (EI) and Public Services International (PSI) LGBT Forum, is taking place from 18-19 July, attended by education and public sector workers from 45 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin and North America.

EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, welcomed participants to South Africa, a country which he commended as having “the world’s bravest constitution with regards to LGBT rights.”

Mr van Leeuwen also congratulated the country’s ‘international icon for human rights’, Nelson Mandela, who turned 93 today, and called on governments around the world to take a lead from the former President’s commitment to equality and social justice for all.

PSI General Secretary, Peter Waldorf, praised the achievement of EI and PSI’s 50 million worldwide member for their track-record of campaigning for LGBT rights: “Our record in taking the lead among Global Unions in denouncing discrimination against LGBT workers and promoting equality and human rights for all people is laudable.”

As he condemned continuing violations against LGBT rights in countries, Colombia, India and Uganda, among others around world, Mr Waldorf warned delegates: “We cannot be complacent about the challenge. We have made a start but we are a long way from the finish line.” He challenged delegates to “translate recommendations into concrete actions.”

The rallying call for LGBT rights was taken up by the key note speaker, Zackie Achmat, from the civil society organisation Equal Education and the Treatment Action Campaign, who said that “education is the basis of change everywhere. It has an enlightenment value that we need to achieve when we speak out about LGBT equality.”

He commended the EI-PSI LGBT Forum as being indispensible to economic, social and gender justice and called on the trade union delegates to “build our future for social justice by organising and challenging human rights violations everywhere.”

Other speakers on the first of the two-day event included Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah from the Public and Commercial Services’ Union (UK) and Gabriella Bonilla Pacheco from EI’s Latin America Region, who led deliberations about practical actions that education and public sector unions are engaged in, including drawing up specific policies promoting LGBT representation; organising and recruiting LGBT workers; establishing LGBT networks, mainstreaming LGBT issues within union and government agendas and ensuring LGBT human rights are included in education and training.

The Forum is being chaired by Bob Chase (NEA, USA) and Juneia Batista (FETAM, Brazil).

Learn more about how to celebrate International Mandela Day here.