June usually represents a time when we come together to celebrate Pride in a spirit of love, acceptance and inclusion; a time when we honour the memory of the original Stonewall activists and organise to face the challenges still ahead.
Sadly, the devastating effects of the coronavirus have meant the cancellation of over one hundred Pride events across the UK, depriving the LGBT+ community of much needed social contact.
The current health crisis has been particularly hard on members of the LGBT+ community; many usual avenues of support have been closed off, leaving people vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Discrimination and inequality mean LGBT+ people are more susceptible to mental health issues, and these can be exacerbated by the lack of available safe spaces. Homelessness and job insecurity precipitated by the virus are also difficulties, with those identifying as LGBT+ already disproportionately affected by both issues.
UNISON recognises that it has a responsibility to support it’s LGBT+ members through this crisis and we want you to know that we’re here for you. We spoke to some of our regional activists to discuss how they’ve been coping, and what Pride month means to them.
Dave Caplin (pictured above with members of Solent Gay Men’s Chorus) is LGBT+ Officer, steward and Chair of the University of Southampton Branch.
‘During this difficult time, and particularly with recent events in the USA and here in the UK, I am proud to be a UNISON member for the strength and encouragement that we feel as one united body. I sing in the Solent Gay Men’s Chorus and we would normally be attending the various Prides in our region, but due to the Covid 19 threat, these events have been cancelled. However, the voices of LGBT+ UNISON members can still be heard, we are still visible and we still fight injustice and stand together in solidarity. UNISON has always championed LGBT+ rights and the groups and friendships made through the union continue to make us stronger‘.
Fellow branch member Adam Taussik sings with Dave in the chorus and agreed with his friend:
“I think it’s great that UNISON supports Pride and increases awareness of LGBT+ issues, both at our University and across the nation.”
The Chorus are a familiar part of many local Pride events and have recently recorded a fantastic new version of ‘(Something Inside) So Strong’.
“In the final weeks of recording and editing, its message as a civil rights song resonated more strongly for us, in light of the #BlackLivesMatter protests and increased transphobia in the media and politics of both the US and the UK.”
UNISON’s regional staff are always focused on developing the next generation of activists and are delighted to have young member Bertie Russell (pictured, above left) as Branch Secretary at New Forest District UNISON.
Bertie: “I’m really proud to be part of an organisation that accepts and values me and fights for the rights and recognition of the most marginalised in our society.”
Tash Hosking-Davies, (pictured, above right) Communications Officer at the New Forest branch told us:
“I love being part of an organisation that understands the importance of celebrating diversity and equalities. Whilst Pride parades have been cancelled and we’ve been locked down, my wife and I have been taking advantage of the many online streaming platforms currently highlighting some of the best queer films to add to watch lists!”
Vikki Cole (pictured, above) is the Disabled Members Officer at Surrey County UNISON and one of the activists behind Surrey Pride March, which was launched last year.
“I’ve been working with Pride in Surrey alongside my role in UNISON. Pride in Surrey have seen the needs of the community during lockdown and looked to meet the need to connect. With a higher rate of mental health issues, loneliness and people not always being able to be ‘out’ at home, we wanted to try and build hope at a time when so many were losing it, seeing Prides cancelled everywhere. We especially wanted to show that the visibility Pride brings is important all year round, not just for one month. All are welcome to join the amazing online activities we have; there are some great acts coming up over the weekends so please do go and check out what is happening at our website!“
Medway Pride is another group that has had to rethink how it delivers its events this year, and Kent Police and Justice Branch LGBT+ Officer Olivia Naylor (pictured, left) is sorry not to be marching.
“For me Pride month is important as it recognises the hard won rights that many have campaigned for over the years, and celebrates all aspects of the LGBT+ communities. UNISON was the first organisation I’ve been involved with that actively promotes these ideals of inclusion, and it’s allowed me to connect with many like minded individuals and share ideas and common matters that affect our members who identify as LGBT+.”
If you’re a UNISON member who identifies as part of the LGBT+ community then you’re very welcome to join our private Facebook group where you meet new friends and find out what’s happening in your region.