February 11, 2017
LGBT History Month – Blog #2
As part of LGBT History Month our Learning and Regional Organiser, Kris Hendry, will be writing about LGBT history and reflecting on the next steps for LGBT equality in PCS.
You can read his previous blog here.
‘People with homosexual tendencies deserve to be treated with the same degree of sympathy and understanding as anyone else with personality or sexual problems… The labour movement would best serve the interests of its homosexual members by providing counselling and the appropriate psychiatric help.’
For this week’s LGBT History Month blog, and in recognition of Heart Unions week, I thought I would reflect on a little bit of history for LGBT equality within PCS, a show of solidarity that helped to set the path to where we are today.
For many years homosexuality was seen as a mental disorder however this theory, thankfully, began to change in the 1970s. You may be surprised then that the quote above in fact comes from the December 1989 letters page of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation Assessment, the IRSF one of PCS’ predecessor Unions.
Back then Thatcher’s Section 28, banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality and condemning many LGBT people to lives of misery and despair, had recently been introduced. Fear and mistrust of LGBT people was spread by the mainstream media, portraying us as perverts intent on corrupting society.
So was this the reason for the letter? No. It was in fact an act of solidarity from the IRSF. The previous month’s newsletter reported the Executive Committee decision to remove Scarborough as a potential location for their Annual Conference as the local council had banned any use of their facilities by the Federation Lesbian and Gay Group.
It would be a decision which helped set some of the first steps to what has today become PCS Proud. In September 1990 FLAGG relaunched with a formal action plan to organise and campaign for lesbian and gay members, supported by the National Union. One of their key issues became the prevention of discrimination based on sexual orientation, a major risk at the time as legislation to ban the practice did not come into effect until 2003 meaning they were putting their own livelihoods at risk as well.
By the mid 90’s the merger of the IRSF and National Union of Civil and Public Servants was underway with FLAGG and NUCPS members agreeing on the formation of the new Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union group – PTC Proud, eventually becoming PCS Proud in 1998 following the further merger of PTC and CPSA, that would campaign on behalf of all LGBT members.
Since its formation Proud, our members and allies have continued the tradition of organising and campaigning set out by those who went before us. Our National Committee have organised activities such as the launch of the Proud Charter which has been used during elections to push candidates to pledge their support to LGBT equality.
We’ve also had international success with campaigns such as the #IAmGay campaign, launched in response to LGBT phobia in Russia which reached millions through social media and even drew a response from the Russian Kremlin.
Within PCS there has also been a lot of progress for LGBT equality. Annual Conference has debated and successfully carried motions on a range of issues including supporting same sex marriage, ensuring appropriate support for LGBT victims of domestic violence, austerity and its impact on LGBT homelessness as well as the creation and rollout of trans awareness training, the first of its kind among the Trade Union movement.
Indeed we have seen many great advances for LGBT equality since that letter was published in 1989, yet the fact remains many LGBT people today still face similar attitudes. It may be in their workplace, at home or on the street.
That show of solidarity the IRSF showed in 1989 remains just as important today as it did back then so why not get involved?
Join PCS and Proud and help to support the fight for equality, not just for the LGBT community but for all, so that one day everyone is able to be themselves without having to face discrimination and hate just for being who they are.
*Parts of this piece have previously appeared in OR&CLE, the R&C Group magazine. I’d like to record my thanks to David Eales who carried out the initial research on this subject*