On 17 May 1990, the WHO removed homosexuality from its Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, a milestone in the long struggle for LGBT+ rights. Since then, the day has been marked as the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Yet, LGBT+ people still face discrimination, harassment and even violence, including in the workplace.
On 17 May 1990, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, a milestone in the long struggle for LGBT+ rights. Since then, the day has been marked as the International Day Against Homophobia, biphobia and Transphobia and in the intervening 30+ years, tremendous progress toward equality and inclusion has been made. Yet, LGBT+ people still face discrimination, harassment and even violence, including in the workplace. Trade unions can seize the opportunity to acknowledge LGBT+ workers and our participation in – and exclusion from - the world of work.
LGBT+ people experience marginalisation, are often over-represented in precarious and irregular work, and are particularly vulnerable to harassment and violence
LGBT+ people experience marginalisation, are often over-represented in precarious and irregular work, and are particularly vulnerable to harassment and violence. Many LGBT+ workers cannot be open about themselves at work for fear of discrimination, harassment, or dismissal. Even in jurisdictions with LGBT+ legal protections, workers still face repercussions simply for their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
In a recent study, Stonewall, the British campaigning organisation, reported that one in five LGBT+ workers in the UK had been the target of negative conduct or treatment from co-workers and that one in eight transgender workers had been physically attacked by colleagues or customers. Another study by the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles Law School found that 46% of LGBT workers experienced unfair treatment at work and 34% had left a job because of poor treatment by their boss.
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, has concluded “that COVID-19 has (had) a disproportionate impact on LGBT persons (and) with few exceptions, the response to the pandemic reproduces and exacerbates the patterns of social exclusion and violence”.
A dark cloud now hangs over our progress toward equality rights and social inclusion. The rise of authoritarian leaders and the emergence of reactionary movements accelerated during the Covid pandemic, has accentuated hostile rhetoric targeting LGBT+ people, migrants and other marginalised groups.
Amidst these worrying trends, trade unions can step up, building on our long history of advocacy and activism for safe and healthy workplaces. Our toolbox includes the International Labour Organisation’s violence and harassment convention, known as C190. The convention was adopted on 19 June 2019 after years of hard work by the global trade union federations but has been ratified by only 14 countries to date.
The convention establishes for the first time the right to work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment and is the first international law to do so. C190 is complemented by Recommendation 206 (R206), which gives more detailed guidance on how the Convention should be implemented at the national level.
Recommendation 206 states that reference to vulnerable groups and groups in situations of vulnerability should be interpreted in accordance with applicable international human rights and labour standards. Clearly, this must include LGBT+ workers. In jurisdictions without legal protections for LGBT+ people, C190 provides a foundational standard to address violence and harassment. The right to decent work and safe workplaces must be enforced globally, especially as we look to build a more equitable post-pandemic world.
On 17 May, let us renew our efforts to tackle homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia by demanding our national governments ratify ILO C190 and implement the related recommendations.
Find out if your country has ratified C190 here.
Download the Global Unions’ Train the Trainers Toolkit on the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention (No. 190) here.
Check the Council of Global Unions’ Solidarity Charter here.
Bookmark the Council of Global Unions (CGU) LGBTI Workers website: https://lgbtiworkers.org. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok and YouTube.