Tips on LGBT+ Organising – Part 1

Read Time 10 mins | Tuesday 8 June, 13:41

Jayne Love (she/her) - Organiser at Pharmacist's Defence Association Union (PDAU)

The latest UWU blog is by Jayne Love (she/her), Organiser at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU). As part of her role as Organiser, Jayne leads on equalities, and in particular coordinates the women’s and LGBT+ networks. Here, she provides some tips specifically around LGBT+ Organising.

Understand the sector you are working in

Prior to working for the PDAU, I worked for education unions, where LGBT+ Organising is well established. Within these unions, members were able to attend events as well as engage with democratic processes at branch, regional and national levels around equalities issues. They also had opportunities to get involved in LGBT+ events and conferences externally through the unions’ affiliations, such as the TUC’s Equality Conferences, including the LGBT+ Workers’ Conference, for example.

Additionally, education staff have had to embrace LGBT-inclusive education since April 2019 when the government announced new regulations for teaching Relationships and Sex Education in England. The regulations mean that at primary level, all schools must teach about different family types, including LGBT+ families, and at secondary level, all schools must teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. This has led to greater awareness of LGBT+ issues amongst education staff from a professional perspective, alongside a long history of education unions championing the cause.

In contrast, when I moved into the pharmacy sector just over a year ago, it became clear to me that members’ background knowledge in LGBT+ issues could not be taken for granted in the same way, and that union democratic processes and structures around equalities are not as well established as they are in education. This is understandable given that the PDA Union was established in 2008 and therefore does not have the long history that education unions have. This means that pharmacy on the whole is a relatively newly organised profession, and we continue to engage, develop and support all of our members and rep networks, including our equalities networks.

The PDAU’s launch of its LGBT+ Network in April 2020 was groundbreaking as it was a first within the pharmacy sector. At the same time, the PDAU also launched its BAME and Ability networks, to sit alongside the National Association of Women Pharmacists (NAWP), which had become part of the PDAU in January 2020.

Whilst RSE has now been in place in schools for 2 years, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) only approved new standards for the Initial Education and Training (IET) of pharmacists very recently in December 2020. These standards include ‘having a greater emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion to combat discrimination and address health inequalities.’ It is not yet apparent how this will be actioned, but the GPhC’s plan will be implemented in various stages ‘over the coming years.’

My experience has highlighted to me the disparity between the different points that the education and pharmacy sectors are at in terms of equalities, both as professions and from a union perspective, so I would recommend researching the sector you plan to organise in, especially if it is new to you.

Be aware of members’ different journeys

Continuing the comparison of the education and pharmacy sectors, let’s look at some statistics. A poll conducted at NASUWT’s LGBTI Teachers’ Consultation Conference in 2018 revealed that 30% of LGBT+ teachers reported not being out at school. This figure seems rather high at first glance, but is significantly lower than statistics disclosed in a 2021 survey conducted by the PDAU, in which around 50% of pharmacists reported not being out to colleagues in their pharmacy setting. So, it seems that the work environment and inclusivity within a profession has a big impact on whether or not an employee feels comfortable being open about their sexuality and/or gender identity.

Whilst these statistics are useful to provide an impression, it is important to remember that behind these numbers are real people with diverse lived experiences of being LGBT+. Now as an openly bi/pansexual woman, I often reflect on my own journey, remembering that I wasn’t always out, and thinking back to what that felt like. This guides me in my work with members as I support them with their journeys, whether they are not out to anyone yet or whether they are confident in their identities. If you are involved in LGBT+ organising but don’t identify as LGBT+, you might like to consider what other challenges and prejudices you have had to face and how this has brought you to a place of LGBT+ allyship.

Be inclusive and avoid jargon

Do you remember the first trade union meeting you ever attended? I don’t know about you, but I came away feeling completely baffled by a particular union branch’s seemingly endless obsession with the placement of full stops and semi-colons as they pored over the minutes from a previous meeting (at which I had not been present) and made grammatical ‘corrections’ for what seemed like (and probably was!) hours. At another meeting, I became very confused about the difference between a JCC and a JCNC. Perhaps that was just me, but this very specific focus on language and the use of acronyms that I didn’t understand did not help me to feel included.

Now imagine this type of experience happening to a member attending an LGBT+ event for the first time… Whilst to you it might be usual to introduce yourself in an LGBT+ space with your pronouns as well as your name, this might be perplexing to a newcomer who has never introduced themselves in that way before. Similarly, terms such as ‘Cis’ or ‘TERF’ without proper explanation could be off-putting to new members.

When I first attended a local Labour Party meeting, a glossary of common acronyms was provided on a handout on arrival, and I found that useful to understand what was happening during the meeting. Something similar could be put together around common LGBT+ acronyms, available as an online resource to be shared with your network, as well as being accessible as a physical handout for when face-to-face meetings resume post-Covid. Additionally, the first time a term is used in a meeting (whether face-to-face or online), it could be said in full and briefly explained, before moving on to using acronyms from then onwards to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Focus on issues that are important to members

Whilst our own ideas as Organisers might be great, the best campaigns are driven by our members. I had a wealth of experience from my time in the education unions, so had plenty of suggestions when I started working for the PDAU. However, my preconceptions about what LGBT+ pharmacists wanted were not always accurate, especially given the sector differences mentioned above. Carrying out a survey of the LGBT+ Network members and holding several virtual gatherings as well as having one to one conversations has informed my work with members in order to be more impactful. This has led to working with members to design some pronoun badges for them to wear at work, and an accompanying flyer has been created to explain the purpose of the badges to help our workplace reps and other activists to promote them. The badges will be produced soon, so watch this space!

Another issue raised by members is that NHS systems do not accurately reflect gender identity and pronouns. Currently, the binary approach to recording this information can lead to people not being invited to vital screening programmes, for example transgender men may not receive an invitation for cervical screening. This is something that members are looking to address, alongside working collaboratively to produce some guidance around inclusive language for addressing patients appropriately. A committee has just been elected for the PDAU LGBT+ Network, so I look forward to seeing where we will go next!

Putting members at the heart of our organising work and being a catalyst and facilitator for their engagement, learning and activism is crucial to developing our PDA Union structures and sustainability.