NATIONAL LESBIAN AND GAY COMMITTEE REPORT TO THE 11TH
NATIONAL LESBIAN AND GAY CONFERENCE
CONSULTATION ON WHETHER THE UNISON LESBIAN AND GAY GROUP SHOULD
BECOME A LESBIAN, GAY BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER GROUP
TO LGBT OR NOT TO LGBT?
Consultation within UNISON's lesbian and gay group has made clear
that members want a debate at this year's Lesbian and Gay Conference
on becoming a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group. A
majority of members appear to be in favour of such a change. There
are strongly held views on both sides. The debate must be conducted
in a respectful manner.
This report to the 11th National Lesbian and Gay Conference
gives information about the consultation undertaken this year
by the National Lesbian and Gay Committee on whether to extend
the remit of the self-organised group to include bisexual and
transgender members. The document summarises the consultation
process; degree of engagement; responses received; arguments that
have been made for and against change; and the resulting proposal
put to conference by the NLGC.
All this still represents only the beginning of a process. Questions
have been asked about how exactly we would go about making the
change, should it be agreed. This report - like the consultation
itself - does not seek to answer these questions. However, the
NLGC recognises that some assurance is needed that this will be
properly addressed, so has included a brief final section on the
way ahead. It may be possible to bring a further report to conference,
with more detailed proposals on this, though any proposals would
be subject to consultation.
Since UNISON came into being in July 1993, the rules have allowed
for certain groups of members to ‘self-organise' at branch, regional
and national level (Rule D.4). These groups are black members,
disabled members, lesbian and gay members and women members. There
is no ‘test' as to who qualifies for membership - how black, disabled
or gay you have to be! It is up to individual members to decide
whether they identify as part of that group.
The 10th UNISON Lesbian and Gay Conference debated
a proposal for a rule change, which would extend the lesbian and
gay group to include bisexual and transgender members. The proposal
was not carried. Much of the debate centred not on the proposal
itself but on the rights and wrongs of debating a rule change
before there had been full consultation and discussion of the
issues within the self-organised group. The National Lesbian and
Gay Committee therefore agreed to lead such a discussion and bring
any proposals to the 2003 Lesbian and Gay Conference.
The National Lesbian and Gay Committee had a full discussion
about the arguments for and against change at its Policy Weekend
in mid March. Representatives of eleven out of the thirteen regional
lesbian and gay groups and both the black and disabled lesbian
and gay members caucuses participated in this discussion.
Following this discussion, in April a consultation document was
circulated to regional lesbian and gay groups. This document set
out the legal framework; the timetable for consultation; the arguments
for and against change that the NLGC had identified; and sources
of further information on bisexual and transgender issues. The
legal framework and arguments for and against change are reproduced
as Appendix A to this report. The document made clear that the
NLGC also welcomed responses from branch groups and individual
It was recognised that some regional groups had already begun
to discuss the issues. However all groups were asked at that stage
to hold full discussions in order that they could feed back to
the NLGC by the 9 June. The consultation timetable is attached
as Appendix B.
The matter was also discussed at the regional lesbian and gay
group convenors day on 10 May.
RESPONSES FROM REGIONAL LESBIAN AND GAY GROUPS
Most regional lesbian and gay groups invited members on their
mailing list to a meeting at which the issue was discussed as
the sole or major item on the agenda. Many groups choose to circulate
the NLGC consultation document to all members on their mailing
list and encouraged comments from those unable to attend the meeting.
Some groups had more than one meeting. A number of regional groups
invited bi or trans people, or representatives from other union's
groups that have already become LGBT groups, to assist them with
Debates were reported as being lengthy and intense, with emotive
and complex issues being discussed.
Written responses - which were received from 12 out of the (then)
13 regional groups - varied greatly in formality, length and detail,
ranging from one sentence to many pages! This range (and informality
of some) makes it inappropriate to include the responses in full
and difficult to fairly summarise their contents. The following
table summarises their conclusions:
Broadly or strongly in favour of change to Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual and Transgender Group
Majority in favour of change to Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual
On balance or strongly against change
Members of the group evenly split between those in favour
of change to LGBT group and those in favour of no change
Many of the responses reiterated points made in the consultation
paper. Other points included:
‘There was a strong view that, if the change were made, then
it must be real, not just adding one or two letters [to the name].'
‘Everyone agreed that it was important that there was a full
and informed debate at Conference.' (Northern)
‘We hope that the debate at Conference this year will be a full
and frank one, but one within which all members feel able to express
their views and opinions in a constructive and acceptable way.'
‘There were some reservations expressed about the organisational
and social/behavioural issues that may arise in the event of this
change but the group noted that the NLGC were committed to further
implementation consultation and were content to wait to make further
contributions at that point.' (South East)
‘UNISON is a Trade Union and as such gives support to its members
but it is not a support group' (South West)
PROPOSALS TO 11TH NATIONAL LESBIAN AND GAY CONFERENCE
The NLGC considered the responses from the regional lesbian and
gay groups at its meeting on 5 July. The NLGC recognised that
there is a range of feelings about the change and strongly held
views, both for and against. However, what came through was a
strong expectation and desire that there be a debate on this matter
at this year's lesbian and gay conference.
The NLGC therefore agreed to submit the following motion for
the preliminary agenda proposing a change to a LGBT group:
Conference welcomes the comprehensive consultation exercise
on a possible extension of the lesbian and gay group to include
bisexual and transgender members and the report that has been
produced as result of that exercise.
This Conference believes the UNISON lesbian and gay self-organised
group should become a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
self-organised group, and that the rules should be changed
to facilitate this.
Conference instructs the National Lesbian and Gay Committee to:
1. draw up practical proposals for the implementation of this
2. to consult widely on these proposals;
3. actively encourage the involvement of bisexual
and transgender members in the consultation that takes
4. bring recommendations on changes to the group's
organisation and structure for approval at the 12th UNISON
Lesbian and Gay Conference. ‘This Conference believes
the UNISON lesbian and gay self-organised group should
become a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender self-organised
Conference instructs the National Lesbian and Gay Committee
to draw up practical proposals for the implementation of this
change, to consult widely on these proposals, and bring recommendations
on changes to organisation and structures for approval at
next year's conference.
In addition the NGLC will submit a proposal to Lesbian and Gay
Conference to change Rule D4.1.4, which defines the group, to
go forward to the 2004 National Delegate Conference (NDC). The
NDC is the supreme decision making body of UNISON, and is the
only body that can change the union's rules. To fully effect the
change, it would be necessary to amend other rules as well. If
Lesbian and Gay Conference agree to the change, the NLGC will
ask the NEC to submit the other rule changes in the name of the
NEC, as Lesbian and Gay Conference may only put two proposals
to each NDC.
In thinking this though, the NLGC has realised that the rules
anyway need amending to make explicit the whole union's commitment
to seek to ensure equality for, and tackle discrimination against,
transgender people, whether or not the lesbian and gay group becomes
a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group. The NLGC will
raise this with the NEC.
CONDUCTING THE DEBATE AT CONFERENCE
To provide for informal discussion of the issues prior to the
formal debate on the motions, the NLGC has requested that the
Standing Order Committee timetable the debate for Sunday morning.
This will give the opportunity to discuss more informally during
the discussion groups on the Saturday afternoon, and there can
be some debate in regional and service group meetings, as well
as around conference.
It is important that everyone feels able to participate in this
debate, whatever their experience of the issues or views on the
preferred outcome. However, it is of paramount importance that
the debate is conducted respectfully and in accordance with UNISON's
rules on equality of treatment and anti-discrimination. There
is a vital distinction between strongly held personal views and
prejudiced views. Sometimes it may seem as though there is a fine
line between these two, but it is vital that we stay the right
side of that line.
The Conference Guide will, as usual, include guidelines on working
together which every person at conference is expected to follow
at all times.
THE WAY AHEAD
If the motion is carried at Conference, the NLGC will draw up
practical proposals for discussion on the organisational and structural
changes that will be needed to make the transition from a lesbian
and gay group to a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group.
The NLGC realises that in order to be meaningful, the change must
be much more than in name and who is entitled to membership.
As well, as consultation within our group, we will speak to other
trade unions and organisations which organise as LGBT groups.
It will also obviously be vital to find ways to involve bisexual
and transgender members in the discussions.
EXTRACT FROM CONSULTATION PAPER
As we start these discussions, it is important to be clear about
the legal framework in which UNISON operates. We cannot choose
structures that would be unlawful. Anti-discrimination employment
legislation applies to unions as well as employers. Legislation
allows for positive action to address disadvantage, which is why
it is lawful for the union to provide opportunities and facilities
for certain groups of members, such as lesbian and gay members.
However, the union must provide such opportunities and facilities
without discriminating on any other ground. For example, the lesbian
and gay group must be open to ALL lesbian and gay members, irrespective
of their gender identity (transgender status).
To put this more plainly, transgender members who identify as
lesbian or gay are welcome to participate in the lesbian and gay
group. A small number of lesbian and gay transgender members have
been active members of the group since UNISON started.
This consultation is about whether to extend the group to include
ALL transgender members, not just those who identify as lesbian
ARGUMENTS FOR STAYING AS A LESBIAN AND GAY GROUP
What follows are not necessarily all or even the best arguments
for staying as a UNISON lesbian and gay group. But these are some
of the arguments that the NLGC has identified which may help discussions.
- The group works well as it is, so there is no need for
When UNISON came into being ten years ago, it was agreed to
form a self-organised group for lesbian and gay members. Nothing
has changed since then that calls that decision into question.
If it was right that it was a lesbian and gay group then, it
is right that it is a lesbian and gay group now.
- Some transgender people don't want to work with lesbians
and gay men
One of the ignorant attitudes transgender people have to face
is people making assumptions about their sexual orientation.
Transgender people may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight,
or in a period of questioning their sexuality, just like every
other human being. Some transgender people who identify as straight
do not want to organise with lesbians and gay men.
- Bisexual and transgender members could set up their own
We recognise the benefits of self-organisation in tackling
discrimination but believe that - just as lesbians and gay men
have done - bisexual and transgender members should set up their
own groups. The very nature of self-organisation is that members
of a particular self-organised group share the same oppression.
- Lesbian, gay and bisexual workers face discrimination because
of their sexual orientation. Transgender workers face discrimination
because of their gender identity. These are not the same.
There is widespread confusion amongst the general public about
the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.
Changing to an LGBT group would reinforce this confusion. The
law recognises the difference - protection for transgender workers
is under the Sex Discrimination Act, an Act which has never
been successfully used to tackle sexual orientation discrimination.
Transgender workers have been protected by the law (albeit to
a limited extent) since 1999. Protection on grounds of sexual
orientation will not come into force till December of this year.
- A European Court of Human Rights ruling means the UK will
be forced to change the remaining laws which discriminate against
Lesbians and gay men continue to face discrimination under
the law in many areas of our lives. Lawful discrimination against
transgender people will soon be a thing of the past. This makes
a fundamental difference between work in the two areas.
- Extending the group will mean our work loses its focus
The lesbian and gay group is already stretched by the number
of issues we have to deal with. We have a great challenge in
building effective lesbian and gay organisation at branch and
regional level; we want to reach isolated members; we need to
have more impact on the bargaining agenda; we need to address
issues of under-representation within our group, such as improving
involvement of lesbians, and of low paid and part-time workers;
we want to ensure all UNISON representatives understand our
issues and that lesbians and gay men are represented in all
parts of the union. We are campaigning against Section 28, against
the long-term repercussions of discriminatory sexual offences
legislation, for equal pensions, for comprehensive anti-discrimination
laws, for effective statutory promotion and enforcement bodies
- the list goes on. Taking on two whole new groups of members
and their issues would stretch our limited resources to breaking
- Extending the group would risk losing the sense of it being
a safe space
One of the benefits of the lesbian and gay group is that people
can do at least some of their union work in a group of people
with the same experience of discrimination. This means we do
not have to constantly explain ourselves or be on our guard
against others' ignorant attitudes. This makes the group a safe
space for lesbians and gay men experiencing discrimination at
work to come for help. Some may have already had a bad experience
with other UNISON members. Extending the group would jeopardise
- It would make our organisation so complex as to be unworkable
Our group already has caucuses for lesbians, gay men, black
lesbians and gay men and disabled lesbians and gay men. If we
extend the group to include bisexual and transgender members,
the need to provide for proper representation of them as well
would make the structures unwieldy if not unworkable.
- If we extend the group to an LGBT group now - where would
ARGUMENTS FOR CHANGE
What follows are not necessarily all or even the best arguments
for changing to a UNISON lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
(LGBT) group. But these are some of the arguments that the NLGC
has identified which may help discussions.
- Extending the group is the right thing to do
No one disputes the fact the bisexual and transgender workers
face prejudice, harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
We believe that self-organisation plays a key role in tackling
discrimination. Bisexual and transgender members should have
access to self-organisation - the only group that can offer
this is the lesbian and gay group.
- Bisexual and transgender members want the lesbian and gay
group to become a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group
This may not be the view of all bisexual and transgender members,
but many have expressed this view over the years.
- Bisexual members and transgender members will never be
able to form their own self-organised groups as the numbers
are just too small
Nobody knows how many bisexual people there are. What we do
know is that bisexual groups are very small and few in number
compared to lesbian and gay groups. The transgender group Press
for Change estimates that about 5000 people in the UK have changed
gender in the last 30-40 years. And even if bisexual or transgender
members were able to get together to lobby for their own group,
UNISON would be extremely unlikely to agree the principle of
new self-organised groups for these members, let alone the necessary
- The laws may be different but workplace issues facing lesbian
and gay, bisexual and transgender members have enormous overlaps
Being lesbian or gay and being bisexual are not the same. Indeed
the experience of being a lesbian worker is not the same as
being a gay worker. But in terms of the employment discrimination
these groups face because of their sexual orientation, the similarities
far outnumber the differences.
Transgender workers face discrimination because of their gender
identity, which is not the same as their sexual orientation.
But there are enormous overlaps in the manifestation of this
discrimination. Few of those who harass and abuse lesbian, gay,
bisexual or transgender workers stop to ask themselves whether
they find the person so unacceptable as a colleague on grounds
of their sexual orientation or on grounds of their gender identity.
What fuels their abuse is fear and ignorance of anything that
challenges their security about what ‘real' men and women should
be like - ie dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, with
appropriately feminine or manly body language, and having sex
with people of the opposite sex only.
LGBT workers all face issues of outing and confidentiality,
non-recognition of our families, a wall of silence or intrusive
questioning about our private lives, prejudice about our suitability
to work with vulnerable people, discrimination in recruitment
and promotion, pensions provision - the list goes on.
- The fact that some of the ways the law discriminates against
transgender people may be changing does not mean that discrimination
Decades of sex and race legislation have not made discrimination
go away. And the proposed changes - while welcome - are unlikely
to cover all transgender people, just those who have undergone
- UNISON is increasingly out of step on this issue
Most other unions, the TUC, ILGA and the wider community, now
organise as LGB or LGBT groups. Many bodies (including the TUC)
have changed over the last few years. The groups that have made
this change have not found it has damaged their focus or effectiveness.
Rather, it has added to their reach and authority.
- Fears about losing a safe space are unfounded
Such fears demonstrate an unrealistic idea of what we have
now. The UNISON lesbian and gay group is already a very diverse
group and already has the need and the ability to welcome difference
(be that of gender, political opinion, race, disability, age,
class, occupation or whatever) and to tackle prejudice and discrimination
between members of the group. We should also remember that we
are a trade union, not a support group.
- Fears that change will make our organisation impossibly
complicated are unfounded
If the principle of change is agreed, we can then work out
how to reflect this in our structures and organisation. Other
groups have managed this - we can work it out.
- We don't all use the same labels to describe our sexual
orientation, and some of us use different labels at different
times in our lives
Although many lesbian, gay and bisexual people are very clear
about how they describe themselves, others find the labels set
up artificial barriers. This may be particularly true for people
outside the metropolitan centres. Some regional groups say people
find it ‘easier' to identify as bisexual than lesbian/gay, particularly
when they first come out.
- There is nothing to fear from change!
National Lesbian and Gay Committee Policy Weekend agrees
its view of the main arguments for and against change
Consultation circulated to regional lesbian and gay groups
Discussion at regional convenors day
Deadline for responses from regional groups
NLGC considers responses and agrees any proposals to Lesbian
and Gay Conference
Deadline for motions to Lesbian and Gay Conference
Deadline for proposals for rule changes to be submitted
to National Delegate Conference from Lesbian and Gay Conference
11th National Lesbian and Gay Conference