Champions of Equality
Trade unions and LGBT rights in Britain
‘It was active campaigning in the trade union movement, especially in the workplace, that helped us win LGBT equality. And Peter’s book explains how that happened.’ - Angela Eagle MP
This book explores the work done by the unions in supporting LGBT+ equality in the workplace and beyond, redressing a gap in the history of LGBT struggles. Trade unions have contributed immensely to the successes achieved, all the while protecting jobs and securing equality for thousands of LGBT working people.
There is a big hole in the history of the LGBT movement in Britain. Each step towards equality for LGBT people, every positive move in public opinion, was the result of campaigning. But while individuals and lobby groups loudly promote their role in the victories, one major player has been written out of this history: the unions. This book fills the gap.
From the first strike action organised by trade union members to save the job of a victimised gay colleague in the 1970s, through the mutual solidarity of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, to the Trades Union Congress taking the initiative to save London Pride in 2012, and much more, trade unions have contributed immensely to the successes achieved, all the while protecting jobs and securing equality for thousands of LGBT working people.
Peter Purton was the TUC’s first LGBT officer. His book, of interest to everyone interested in equality and trade union history, reveals how LGBT trade union members organised to win recognition, then support, and how trade unions supported the struggles of LGBT communities in Britain and across the world.
This is an inspiring tale, and in the dangerous world of the twenty-first century, it is a warning call to the LGBT community and those supporting it, to wake up to new threats, to remember how past victories were achieved. The labour movement has much potential as an active participant in the unfinished fight for equality, but this book shows the need for mutual engagement to make change possible.
Acknowledgements and bibliographical references
A note on language
Foreword, Frances O’Grady
Foreword, Maria Exall
Introduction: Champions of Equality
1. Early interactions with the labour movement
2. Coming together in the 1970s
3. Breakthrough: the early 1980s
4. Old and new issues, continued progress and laying firm foundations
5. Trade union champions of equality
6. Global outreach
7. LGBT+, trade unions, and new challenges
‘Peter Purton was at the forefront of the battle to convince Trades Unions that the fight for LGBT equality was part and parcel of the fight for working people’s equality everywhere. That victory was crucial in securing the Labour Movements’ commitment to equality, and crucial to the whole range of legislative changes that then took place under a Labour Government. This book tells the story of how it was done. ’
Lord (Chris) Smith, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge
‘This is an important book that brings together the missing pieces of trade union activism – both within and outside the trade unions – on the long and often winding road to LGBT equality. More still needs to be done and by examining the past. Peter Purton shows us a way forward.’
‘It was active campaigning in the trade union movement, especially in the workplace, that helped us win LGBT equality. And Peter’s book explains how that happened.’
Angela Eagle MP
‘Peter has articulated the voices of grassroots LGBT+ trade unionists and their experiences as pioneers of equality…’
Maria Exall, Chair, TUC LGBT Committee
‘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.’
– Mike Phipps, Labour Briefing
‘The tentative steps of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and later more radical strategies from the Gay Liberation Front … were taken up in unions. The most exciting section of this book is Purton’s account of how individuals and groups of LGBT+ workers acted on those ideas to organise in the 1970s. Incredibly brave individuals “came out” or were forced out at work by bullying, discrimination and the threat of the sack. They started to organise.’
– Michael Dance, Socialist Review
‘A detailed overview of the development of LGBT+ workers’ rights and the way our unions have supported it over the years. It covers the subject in detail, and is very well referenced for those who want to dig down into particular areas of the struggle.’
– Linda Newn, Working Class Movement Library
‘Peter Purton’s book … gives us a wealth of treasures. I am fortunate to have worked for National and Local Government Officers’ Association (NALGO) and then UNISON on LGBT equality since 1990. Our group’s history goes back to the early 1970s. It’s only fairly recently that we’ve started to document it. What Peter has given us in his book is a much more detailed and contextualised picture.’
– Carola Towle, Amnesty UK Blog
‘This book catalogues past struggles […] giving voice to activists who were directly involved. It is a call to keep aware, to be always mindful and active in promoting and giving voice to diversity, and to seek alliances that may not be easily won but may take the cause far further than might otherwise be achieved.
– Seth Atkin, LGBT History Month UK