Histories of the struggle for LGBT equality rarely say much about the labour movement and Peter Purton’s book is intended to fill that gap.
Some gay liberation activists of the 1970s may have seen the labour movement as an ally - a Gay Liberation Front banner was taken on a demonstration against the Tory Industrial Relations Bill of 1971 - but their stance was not at first reciprocated. Yet gay activists were already organising within the unions against workplace discrimination. A milestone was reached when threatened strike action in 1976 among local government workers forced management to reinstate an unlawfully dismissed gay social worker. LGBT teachers and other public sector workers also organised against discrimination at this time.
The 1984-5 miners’ strike was a key turning point, not just because of the money raised by LGBT groups - although more than £22,000 was raised by the London group alone - but because the miners reciprocated by participating in the 1985 London pride march, all famously dramatised in the 2014 film Pride. The same year the TUC adopted policy in support of lesbian and gay rights.
Union banners were prominent in the marches against Section 28, the Tory law banning the ‘promotion of homosexuality’. After this, the battle lines switched to union conferences, pressurising the Blair government and judicial reviews. Unsurprisingly, this is a less exciting story to tell.
Readers might think they are living in one of the countries in the world that is least hostile to LGBT rights. But asylum seekers fleeing persecution on grounds of sexuality have a very different experience: disbelief, an expectation that they keep their sexual orientation hidden, or worse, that they ‘prove’ they are gay. Trade unionists have battled against this but Home Office attitudes have changed little.
Other challenges remain. Attacks on LGBT people constitute 13% of all hate crimes, with rising numbers of attacks on trans people. The struggle for equality, and the role of unions in that, is far from over.