UNISON Celtic Connections LGBT
Learning and Organising Training Weekend Belfast
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.
- 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.
- Supporting and engaging Bi and Trans members in UNISON:
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.
- 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
- humanise and use real stories (with permission) rather than
- there should be community involvement within and outwith UNSION
- incorporate homophobia and LGBT rights into the wider issues
of hate crime and civil rights.
- 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
- 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.
SCOTTISH LGBT DELEGATION, CELTIC CONNECTIONS
LEARNING AND ORGANISING TRAINING, BELFAST 2007