The LGBT world is not short of acronyms. Today is Idahobit: the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
The date is significant. It is now almost 30 years since the World Health Organisation decided to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases on May 17 1990.
Unfortunately, prejudice has not been removed from society, and LGBT people continue to suffer discrimination and harassment at work and elsewhere.
To coincide with Idahobit 2019, the TUC has just published a much-needed report into the sexual harassment of LGBT workers.
It is timely and necessary. Previously very little was known about the true extent of sexual harassment of LGBT people at work in Britain.
The research interviewed more than 1,000 LGBT workers; the findings are shocking.
Just under seven out of 10 (68 per cent) of LGBT people said that they had been sexually assaulted at work.
Almost half said that colleagues had made unwelcome comments or asked unwelcome questions about their sex life.
Too often this is a hidden problem. Two-thirds said they did not tell their employer about the harassment, and quarter of those said they didn’t report it because they were afraid of being “outed” at work.
Gay men were less likely than other groups to report their experiences of sexual harassment to their employer. Where gay men had reported their experience of sexual harassment they were less likely than others to say it was taken seriously and dealt with satisfactorily.
Among LGBT women, over a third had experienced unwanted touching. That proportion rose to half of LGBT disabled women and more than half of LGBT BME women.
The impact on mental health is significant: around one in six LGBT workers said that sexual harassment at work affected their mental health; a similar number left their job as a result, some without another job to go to.
The rate of sexual assault at work was particularly high among trans women. Over one in five experienced serious sexual assault or rape.
Trans women are still curiosities in too many people’s minds. One trans woman described her experience of “unwanted touching from a manager in charge” who had, “a curiosity about my breast growth.” Sexual touching at work is not OK.
Lewd comments — often dismissed as “banter” — were all too common. A lesbian respondent described being asked about her relationship and then being exposed to unwelcome jokes about her and her partner having sex and her being the “male.”
Responding to the report, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This research reveals a hidden epidemic.
“In 2019 LGBT people should be safe and supported at work. But instead they’re experiencing shockingly high levels of sexual harassment and assault.
“Workplace culture needs to change. No-one should think that a colleague being LGBT is an invitation for sexualised comments or inappropriate questions — let alone serious acts of assault.
“Government must change the law to put the responsibility for preventing harassment on employers, not victims. And anyone worried about sexual harassment at work should join a union.”
While government must certainly act — to strengthen legislation and introduce a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work — they alone cannot change society.
Employers must review existing policies and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination and harassment, and unions need to negotiate robust workplace policies and run workplace campaigns.
The challenge is huge but when working people organise and support each other through effective unions, we can change society.
Debbie Hayton is a member of the TUC LGBT+ Committee.
* This article was first published by The Morning Star on 17 May 2019: New TUC report reveals scale of LGBT harassment at work.
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