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UNISON Celtic Connections LGBT

Learning and Organising Training Weekend Belfast 2007

  1. Introduction
  2. The Celtic Connections Learning and Organising Training weekend is an annual event where the Northern Ireland LGBT Committee and the Scottish LGBT Committee work together on joint areas of concern and share best practice. The host region pays for all the accommodation on an alternating basis. The Scottish delegation included two new transgender members of the committee and three newly active members on the committee.

    The focus of the weekend was on updating how we tackle homophobia in the workplace, sharing good practice in Northern Ireland, supporting and engaging Bi and Trans members in UNISON and Joint Work between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  3. Reducing Homophobia in Communities: best practice from Foyle - Sean Morrin

Sean gave a very interesting talk about Derry, which has in the past been called the ‘homophobic capital' of Britain. Sean is founder of the Rainbow Project, ostensibly a gay & bisexual men's health and community organisation, but in practice used by the wider LGBT community due to a lack of services for lesbian and Trans people.

2˝-3 years ago, violence such as attempted murder and face slashings were not unusual in Derry. An increase in such incidents was accompanied by an increase in reports to the police (Police Service in Northern Ireland, PSNI) due to the project encouraging people and helping to build confidence. However, this approach could not stop homophobic crime and a different way to tackle it had to be found.

Hate crime legislation came into force, making the criminality of these acts real; and Section 75 of the Good Friday Agreement states that equality must be shown (including sexual orientation). Rainbow approached the police and asked what they were planning to do in order to tackle homophobic hate crime. A good relationship was formed, leading to the development of a Protocol in conjunction with over 40 Partner Organisations including social services, councils and housing associations and UNISON etc. The Protocol looked at issues surrounding hate crime such as homophobia, domestic violence and suicide.

Putting homophobia into the context of hate crime allowed communities to see it as part of a wider issue and made it less acceptable. An action plan was drafted, in which the Rainbow Project took a back seat, ensuring that other organisations played their part in implementation. Quarterly meetings review the action plan and ensure that needs are met; for example, a training refresher for all ranks of the PSNI is planned.

Lots of publicity of the new initiative led to an increase in the number of incidents reported to the police or Rainbow because people could see that things were being done. The publicity humanised situations, using photographs of real people and telling their stories rather than using statistics.

Prosecutions through the hate crime legislation were slow in coming, but the Rainbow Project questioned the police on this and progress has been achieved, (although with a reduced incidence rate, the need to prosecute is less). 3 years on, although homophobia is still a daily occurrence in Derry, the LGBT community is now more visible within the community and while the rate of homophobic crime in Northern Ireland has risen by 175%, it has fallen in Derry by 87%.

  • The previous 25 police forces in Northern Ireland have been amalgamated into seven and RP has a good relationship with two of the seven chief police officers. Through these positive contacts, it is hoped that the protocol can be rolled-out to the rest of Northern Ireland. In addition, Strathclyde Police have contacted the Rainbow Project and expressed an interest in the protocol.

    1. Supporting and engaging Bi and Trans members in UNISON:
    2. The session on "Supporting and engaging Bi and Trans members in UNISON" was much needed and the Northern Ireland Committee had arranged an excellent choice of trans speaker who emphasised the need for non-trans members to be careful not to forget that transsexual people who undertake a hormonal and surgical transition process often have different issues and concerns from various other types of transgender people who do not undertake a permanent transition process.  The session also highlighted a variety of tensions around the use of labels within the Trans communities and the need to allow people to self-define rather than making assumptions.

      Unfortunately, there was insufficient time within the session to explore the extensive and important differences between the experiences and concerns of Tran's men and Trans women.  There is a real danger of non-trans members assuming that Trans women can automatically speak for the issues and concerns of Trans men when actually most Trans women have only a very limited knowledge of Trans men.  It was reassuring to note that the session was able to act as a catalyst for further informal discussion regarding this later in the weekend.

      It was noted that dialogue regarding supporting and engaging Bi members is currently trailing even the Trans inclusion attempts.  Therefore, it is very important that specific effort be taken to build links with external Bi activist networks and events such as Bi-Con.  It was generally agreed that further training and discussion regarding both Bi and Trans issues is required if Bi and Trans members in UNISON are to feel adequately supported and engaged at Regional Committee level.

    3. Homophobia in the Workplace and recruiting within UNISON:

Discussion took place to raise awareness that homophobia impacts on us all including family and colleagues. Society is structured on the assumptions that everyone is heterosexual in society. This heterosexism affects attitudes in schools, public services and media. The impact on LGBT members can be indirect and may mean that our members are reluctant to talk about themselves and family, while other heterosexual colleagues openly talk about partners and relationships without fear of prejudice or impact on promotion or the workplace. It was felt that we should focus on how attitudes are shaped within society and build on a campaign of awareness raising. Achieving a steep change in attitudes to LGBT members rather than looking at LGBT as victims or being seen to be politically correct would be the best way forward.

Our discussions focused on the need to move beyond labels. Points that are seen as key to the success of any campaign include:

  • humanise and use real stories (with permission) rather than dry statistics
  • there should be community involvement within and outwith UNSION
  • incorporate homophobia and LGBT rights into the wider issues of hate crime and civil rights.

    1. Follow up action from the Celtic Connections Learning and Organising Training Weekend

The facilitated discussion as always produced lots of ideas on what we would like to see happen. The following actions from the Celtic Connection weekend were collectively agreed upon by both LGBT delegations:

  • To check the technical steps to engage with the UNISON structures in order to disseminate the Foyle experience.
  • To organise a presentation and discussion on extending the use of the Protocol at National LGBT conference to be held in Glasgow in November 2007
  • To arrange for a Rainbow Project UNISON member to visit Strathclyde Police Branch to obtain their buy-in to the protocol and tie it in to UNISON Scotland.
  • Ideas from weekend to be written up and distributed for comments to focus on key message and methods for joint campaign.
  • A sub group to be formed and initial report back by end of May 2007 on a remit for a joint Scotland and Northern Ireland campaign. The Campaign should be inclusive and focus on updating how we tackle Homophobia, not as victims but on how we change attitudes.
  • Investigate use of Equality Network website to host more regular discussions about campaigning with Northern Ireland LGBT Committee.
  • Sub Group to prepare an action plan and circulate to gain commitment at branch level.
  • Scottish LGBT Committee to use the UK Government Hate Crime Tool Kit to work with Partners including the Scottish Parliament to promote good practice on behalf of UNISON members.

Scottish LGBT Committee will address these action points and begin make arrangements for hosting Celtic Connections Learning and Organising Training 2008 at next committee meeting.