Amid global strife, glimmers of hope for LGBTI+ rights

published 13 May 2024 updated 22 May 2024

There are serious concerns around the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and all other persons whose sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression differ from the social norm (LGBTI+) globally. However, the latest University and College Union (UCU) LGBTI+ webinar showed reasons for hope and testimonies of ongoing efforts from education unions and civil society organizations to fight back and guarantee those rights.

Misinformation, disinformation, and a false "moral threat"

To prepare for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on the 17th of May, UCU hosted a webinar series discussing the rights of LGBTI+ persons globally. Lainie Keper, coordinator at Education International, noted an overall increase in visibility and awareness into LGBTI+ issues in the last decade, but with this visibility has come a rise of misinformation and disinformation concerning LGBTI+ rights.

She added that in too many occasions, LGBTI+ lives are painted as a false "moral threat" to society, to distract from failed austerity policies and remove broader civil and human rights.

Legislation regarding LGBTI+ issues in education, particularly around inclusive curriculum, sexual and reproductive health programmes, campus bathroom policies, gender-affirming pronouns and the use of inclusive language, and LGBTI+ student and teacher safety, is intentionally ambiguous. It focuses education staff and their unions to pivot quickly, while also making sense of how they can teach and advocate in a legal grey zone, Keper also acknowledged.

On the role of colonialism and geopolitics, she insisted that, in exploring global trends around LGBTI+ rights, it is important to bring in the historical and current role of colonialism in establishing the many of the discriminatory legal frameworks, societal mores and norms which exist today.

She also explained that many current anti-LGBTI+ laws being passed in the Global South are heavily influenced by US and EU–based organisations, and that there even are forces pushing to both undermine LGBTI+ rights and use LGBTI+ rights to sow division and weaken broader human rights in United Nations spaces.

EI Quadrennial Survey on LGBTI+ Rights in Education

Keper also presented the first outcomes of the latest EI Survey on LGBTI+ Rights in Education to be formally launched at the 10th EI World Congress in July 2024, exploring the work of education unions to further LGBTI+ rights.

Stressing that, compared to the last LGBTI+ survey by EI in 2014, the number of responses almost doubled from 59 to 114 and the distribution between the regions was more balanced, she said that more education unions are seeing LGBTI+ as a trade union issue.

Amongst those answering the questionnaire, she stressed, a considerable proportion of unions (42.1%) already carry out advocacy or research activities to support LGBTI+ rights at a national level, the highest proportion being found in Latin America.

In general, researchers found that unions typically take a more progressive stance than their governments with regards to LGBTI+ rights, even in the most challenging contexts, and the nature of the activities unions are taking varies greatly.

EI affiliates at the forefront of the struggle for LGBTI+ rights all over the globe

Keper went on highlighting outstanding work done by EI member organizations fighting for LGBTI+ rights:

  • The Italian Federazione Lavoratori della Conoscenza (FLC-CGIL) has put in place local helpdesks for teachers and students who wish to discuss issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • In Costa Rica, the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Educación Costarricense (SEC) organises workshops and trainings for union members, including workshops facilitated by LGBTI+ persons, with positive outcomes on the union members’ understanding of the topic.
  • In Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), in a major win, has won paid gender affirmation leave in every single public university in Australia which has a negotiated agreement with NTEU.
  • In the United States of America, the National Education Association (NEA) has taken an activist approach with their NEA Speak Up and Out!: LGBTQ+ Educator Voice Engagement project, training members from all over the country on how to use their voice to advocate for LGBTI+ rights at their local, state, and national levels.

UCU members mobilize to counter anti- LGBTI+ attacks

Taking stock of the situation in the UK, UCU’s David Murphy said that LGBTI+ people and rights have endured increasingly negative attacks and negative press attention in recent years. The union is constantly looking for constructive ways of organising and campaigning for LGBTI+ rights at branch level. To that aim, it developed the UCU LGBT+ charter to identify actions that branches can take to promote LGBTI+ equality and liberation, Murphy said.Union branches can feed into the support for this charter by way of a UCU LGBTI+ forum that will enable the union to establish what actions branches are taking and what questions/barriers branches have in their LGBTI+ work.

LGBT+ rights activists take action

Focusing on the higher education sector, Dr Frances Hamilton and Tahlia-Rose Virdee, both researchers at the School of Law at the University of Reading, UK, introduced the LGBT+ Travel Tool. This interactive tool has been designed to assist both higher education institutions and businesses in the development of policies and processes which are mindful of the concerns and experiences of LGBTI+ colleagues (both students and staff), who are considering travelling internationally for the purposes of work or education.

Muwonge Gerald, founder of the Foaster Foundation for Health Care Uganda (FFHCU), underlined the need to protect homeless LGBTI+ people in Uganda and asked for a mobilization to support them. Saying that Uganda has passed some of the strictest anti-LGBTI+ laws and has been actively trying to shut down NGOs that serve the queer community, he reminded that the FFHCU runs programs on HIV education and prevention, a shelter space for members of the queer community, and economic empowerment programs that include urban gardening. The FFHCU is currently facing the loss of their office and shelter space.

Mini Saxena of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)-University of London also presented on the diverse judicial cases marking the evolution of the restrictive and penalizing Indian legislation concerning LGBTI+ and legal efforts to support and expand their rights.

Participants and LGBTI+ allies are encouraged to speak out in solidarity with the LGBTI+ community on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), May 17th.