Saturday, 10 May 2014

Coming out

For the first time in a number of years I attended my union's annual conference over the Easter holiday. One of the motions debated at Conference, proposed on behalf of the Executive Committee, was the following:
Tackling workplace homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
THAT Conference notes a recent YouGov survey revealing that 2.4 million people have witnessed verbal homophobic bullying at work over the past five years and that a further 800,000 people of working age have witnessed physical homophobic bullying at work. Further polling shows that over a quarter of LGBT people are not at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation.
Conference applauds the establishment of a union-wide network for LGBT members and those who are supportive of LGBT issues, and the keynote speech given by our general secretary at the Stonewall Education Conference. Conference notes the good work being done by ATL to eradicate homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in the classroom and applauds the Stonewall campaign 'Lots to do' to eradicate homophobic bullying in the workplace.
Conference calls upon the Executive Committee to continue to work with Stonewall, Schools Out, the Forum for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Equality in Post-School Education and other organisations:
(i) to raise awareness of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in the workplace
(ii) to issue guidance on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and harassment in the workplace
(iii) to update ATL's guidance on homophobic bullying and its model LGBT equality policy.
The prepared text of my speech opposing the motion is below. The speech as delivered differed in some respects from the prepared text due to the time limit (the aside in italics, for example, was omitted, and the two notes have been inserted for the benefit of readers of this blog). I was the only person to speak against this motion.
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family …” 
These are the opening words of the Preamble to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that I would commend to the Equality and Diversity Committee in the drafting of future Conference motions. 
I want to draw out an implication of those words “equal”/”universal” and “inalienable”.
The rights articulated in the UN Declaration belong to each and every human person, precisely because of their dignity and worth as a human person – or, in the opening words of the preamble – precisely because of their being a “member of the human family”. 
The rights are equal or universal – that is, they apply to each and every member of the human family without distinction, and without any regard to one characteristic or another that a member of the human family might manifest. 
They are inalienable – that is, they are not to be removed or taken away from any member of the human family on any grounds whatsoever. 
From the principle expressed by these words derives a principle of non-discrimination that applies to the life of peoples, the life of societies and the life of nations. 
And what I want to suggest, Conference, is that the embracing of a vigorous principle of non-discrimination is sufficient to underpin any work that ATL might want to do with regard to workplace bullying in general, and the particular examples of workplace bullying that are the subject of this motion. [Note: cf here the position expressed by Rocco Buttiglione]
My own commitment to that principle of non-discrimination is total and unequivocal. I would argue to the hilt that LGBT communities in countries such as the Russian Federation and Uganda are entitled to the same protections from violence and intimidation as their fellow citizens, protections that should be provided by a rule of law in those countries. I condemn the absence of those protections without qualification. 
However, I am going to vote against this motion today for two reasons. 
Firstly, I do not believe the motion adequately identifies a principle of non-discrimination such as that I have just outlined, and which I believe should be the basis for ATL’s work on equalities. It therefore gives the Executive Committee a blank canvass to continue to align ATL with whatever stance the different organisations named in the motion choose to follow. 
This, and the fact that Conference is being asked for its approval after ATL are already firmly seated at the top tables of those organisations, is not good news for an organisation that prides itself on member led policy making. 
Breaking “the gender binary of male and female” and including the terms “’undecided’ and ‘other’ for those who do not relate to the …essentialist categories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual”.  This is the proposal advocated in the Chair’s update in the most recent newsletter of the Forum for sexual orientation and gender identity equality in post-school education.  
 It is not a question of equality; it’s a question of insisting that we all sign up to a particular ideology which gives no objective content to notions of sex and gender.  It is not a question of an equal and inalienable right deriving from the dignity of a human person, but a kind of dictatorship of thought [Note: cf Pope Francis' words preaching at one of his morning Masses] as far as sex and gender are concerned. 
And the reverse intolerance that this involves is shown very clearly by Stonewall’s “Bigot of the Year” award. 
This award was described by a New Statesman column as “offensive and out of date”. That same column describes the intolerance shown towards one of Stonewall’s  award winners, Ruth Davidson,  in 2012. Ms Davidson was booed at the awards ceremony that year for suggesting that Stonewall should drop the “Bigot of the Year” award. 
And as an aside. 
Do not try telling me that the policy expressed in this motion represents “member led” policy. It’s first sentence is, bar a rearrangement of the word order to suit a conference motion, verbatim from a Stonewall press release. 
The figures need to be put into context, too, appalling as any bullying is. The YouGov data (from Nov/Dec 2011 – hardly recent)  is that just 6% of people witnessed verbal homophobic bullying in the workplace, and just 2% physical homophobic bullying, over a 5 year period. It would be interesting to compare these figures to corresponding figures for other forms of workplace bullying, so that we can judge whether or not the attention given to homophobic bullying is proportionate to the genuine needs of ATL members in the workplace. 
As I vote against this motion I make two very clear statements. 
I make a statement that I do not subscribe to the ideology of sex and gender represented by the range of organisations named in the motion and to which this motion indicates ATL’s alignment. I do not believe that this alignment is necessary in order for ATL to maintain a robust policy of non-discrimination with regard to LGBT persons. 
I make a total and unequivocal commitment to the principle of non-discrimination, based on the universal and inalienable nature of the rights that belong to each and every member of the family, rights that belong without regard to one characteristic or another that any such member of the human family might manifest.
 A member of Conference suggested to me afterwards that people saying the kind of things I said in my speech were now in a rather similar position to a gay person ten or twenty years ago.  It is not just a case of "how times have changed", but of just how rapidly they have changed. My own afterthought was to think of my speech as analogous to an LGBT person "coming out" ..... but in the opposite sense.

As I post this, Abbey Roads has a post that is worth reading alongside mine: Something about SSA.

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