TUC LGBT+ workers conference, 2019
NUJ delegates Marina Kazakova, Guy Thornton, Ann Galpin & Adam Christie - © nuj
A minute's silence was held for Lyra - © private
9 July 2019
Delegates at the TUC LGBT+ conference held a minute’s silence in memory of NUJ member Lyra McKee, the journalist who was killed during disturbances in Derry in April.
Lyra, aged 29 when she was shot by the dissident republican group the New IRA while witnessing members attack the police in Creggan, was well-known for her blog Letter to my 14-year-old self, written when she was 24 which described the challenges of growing up gay in Belfast. Her journalism campaigned on issues including mental health, suicide, inequality and social exclusion.
Maria Exall, chair of the TUC LGBT+ committee, called for the minute silence. Adam Christie, NUJ national executive member, called for Lyra’s vision of a more equal and compassionate Northern Ireland and added that Belfast and district branch member Cairán Ó Maoláin's had said that Lyra had "planned to propose to the love of her life, Sara Canning from Derry, knowing that they were denied the right to marry in Northern Ireland. Lyra never gave up hope on that; Lyra was hope”.
Her funeral was attended by prime ministers Leo Varadkar and Theresa May, Irish president Michael D Higgins, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou MacDonald. "Whatever we may think of their individual politics, they turned out for a proud union member and LGTB+ campaigner," said Adam.
Nick Trier, national executive member and delegate for the National Union of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers, told conference he had been in Belfast the night Lyra was killed, had joined vigils in her honour and was moved by the emotion displayed for someone so widely and strongly admired and loved. A book of condolences for Lyra was opened at conference.
The minute’s silence followed the opening of conference by Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary. She thanked the delegates for all their work: “Great campaigns. Amazing victories. An inspiring struggle for equality, justice and love. But - let’s be honest - this is also a year when the political dinosaurs have staged a comeback.” She referred to Ester McVey (Conservative) who wants to deny children same-sex education at school, Roger Godsiff (Labour), who took sides against teacher trade unionists to tell homophobic protestors outside a Birmingham primary school that they had a just cause and Ann Widdicombe (Brexit Party - provisional wing) who advocates 1950s-style gay conversion therapy.
Frances O'Grady referred to the homophobic attack of two women on a London bus. “The images shocked many, but sadly not the LGBT+ community. Because this was no isolated incident,” she said. “Over the past five years, hate crime against LGBT+ people has doubled. One in 10 of all hate crimes are motivated by sexual orientation. Today we send our support and solidarity to Chris and Melania.” She spoke about the need to support the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland, who are treated as second-class citizens. “Three-quarters of the Northern Irish public support it - we demand equal marriage rights now.”
She said the TUC was campaigning for a legal duty to be imposed on employers to prevent all forms of harassment at work; a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment that includes LGBT+ workers. One in five LGBT women who have worked in the past five years reported being sexually assaulted at work, according to a survey published by the TUC on Friday 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
NUJ delegate Ann Galpin told delegates that Pride in London had changed its rules of access for journalists covering the parade, leaving many without access to areas they needed to be in. She said that the NUJ had stepped in and within 24 hours the problem had been resolved. She said:
"Professional news photographers should not be excluded from a public event in this way. This is not a security or health and safety issue, it is a serious attack on press freedom that undermines the ability of journalists to carry out their work. While disappointed and frustrated, the union hopes to ensure the arrangements next year are more suitable and respect the role professional photographers play. As other have already pointed out at this conference, Pride London is a political march which is fast becoming a corporate takeover. We need to ensure unfettered access to the press to highlight the celebration all things LGBT+.”
Adam Christie seconded a GMB motion which called for a change in the law to make it compulsory for employers to facilitate LGBT+ inclusive sexual harassment awareness training and protection against sexual harassment from colleagues and third-party harassers. Adam, who is also the NUJ health and safety committee chair, told delegates how journalists faced stalkers, online abuse and physical molestation while working, for example when carrying out vox pops. He said the Health and Safety Executive said no-one should witness or experience unacceptable behaviour, including bullying and harassment, at work.
He called on reps to use the HSE Talking Toolkit which gave useful advice to reps taking potential and actual incidents to employers which caused workers stress or harassment and set out the legal powers available to them. He later said: "While calling for stronger legal redress after harassment, safety reps at the conference acknowledged that they could make a real impact in lessening the hazards, especially of third-party harassment for those on jobs away from their normal places of work."
Angela Rayner MP
Conference heard from Angela Rayner, shadow secretary of state for education. There had been a panel session on the need for a more LGBT+ inclusive education system and she said a Labour government would make sure there was no opt out from equality – in schools or elsewhere. The MP for Ashton-under-Lyne talked of the need for alliances such as the Lesbians and Gays for the Miners, portrayed in the 2014 film Pride. “Two communities hammered by a right-wing government – coming together. Solidarity at its very best,” she said. She said: “Transphobia today reminds me of the open homophobia I saw growing up in the eighties and nineties. Bigotry should never be acceptable.” She said she agreed with Jeremy Corbyn who said trans people must be able to live full, healthy and happy lives. She said she hoped to see delegates at the Pride march in London. “It’s a celebration, but also a protest. As a trade unionist, I know that working people were never given anything. Everything we have gained, we have fought for.”
Conference heard a session headed by Dr S Chelvan, barrister and human rights expert, who pointed out homosexuality was illegal in 72 counties and punishable with the death penalty in eight.
The NUJ delegation also included Guy Thornton and Marina Kazakova who voted on a range of motions, including: protection for those living in countries where homosexuality is illegal; full access to the AIDs prevention drug PrEP; the end of detention of LGBT+ asylum seekers; equal marriage in Northern Ireland; data collection to be more inclusive of trans and non-binary people; trans equality; opposition to the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education’s statement on gender identity; and the banning of conversion therapy.