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Friday 28 June 2019

Taking Pride: FDA members on their union’s fight for LGBT+ equality

Roland Zolner representing the FDA at Liverpool Pride

Now a familiar sight at annual Pride marches, the FDA banner caused quite a stir when it first appeared in 1998. “Within the FDA we needed to be out and visible,” says Roland Zollner, a former Crown Prosecutor and FDA equality officer. “We knew our banner would get noticed. I remember someone from the crowd crying out in total surprise, ‘Oh, look, that’s my union!’ So, it was about saying, yes, we’re working for equality too, and you can join us.”

Since Iain Buist’s heroic stand in the 1970s and 1980s,  the FDA has worked hard to support and encourage LGBT+ members who want to come out at work, and a visible presence at LGBT+ events and conferences has been an important part of that.

“The whole point of our equality and diversity agenda is to make an individual able to be themselves, to hold down their job in a workplace that’s welcoming and enables them to feel comfortable,” Roland adds.

FDA Executive Committee member Barry Snelgrove from the Ministry of Justice, says this is why he became involved with the union in the first place. “I feel passionately that [LGBT+ people] should be allowed to live their lives as individuals. It’s a human right just to be able to live your life,” he explains.

In 2018, Barry sponsored motions to both the FDA and TUC LGBT+ conferences promoting equal rights for trans people because, he explains, “they are now on the forefront as we were in the seventies and eighties.

“Trans people have more violence towards them, more health issues and more suicide risks than anyone else. I was well into my thirties when I had the courage to come out as a gay man, but to come out as a young trans person – that’s an amazing thing that people do to be themselves.”

Barry is part of a team who have helped to set up a new FDA network for LGBT+ members. As part of the FDA’s delegation at this year’s LGBT+ conference, he’ll be moving a motion calling for the  Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis treatment to fight against HIV infection to be available for all.

Craig Stephenson from the National Assembly of Wales is another FDA member who has championed LGBT+ equality as both manager and trade unionist. Stephenson, who founded OUT-NAW, the LGBT network for Assembly staff, says his experiences as a young civil servant in the 1980s still serve as his motivation.

“I remember walking down the corridor and people saying things like, ‘Get your backs up against the wall, boys’,” he says. “You didn’t feel empowered, you felt marginalised and that’s why people used to lie to their colleagues… Nowadays I would make a fuss and make sure something was done about it. That’s a measure of how much we’ve achieved.”

Despite occasional problems with “banter” and “queer bashing” in wider Welsh society, Stephenson believes the National Assembly – rated by Stonewall as one of the UK’s top five employers for LGBT people, shows what employers, unions and LGBT+ groups can achieve together.

“In this workplace, you can be out, you can be comfortable, you can bring your whole self to work – people perform better when they can be themselves,” he says. “It really pleased me when somebody who joined recently said: ‘It took me three years to come out in my previous jobs and three weeks to come out at the National Assembly… Here, I’m the new guy, not the new gay.’”


Interested in getting involved in the FDA's LGBT+ Network? Get in touch by emailing equalitymatters@fda.org.uk
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