This article is part of a series sharing learning from the EIS’s visit to the Australian Education Union and Sydney WorldPride 2023.

“In a world that is seeing increasing backlash to the advancement of LGBTI rights across contexts, education trade unions must stand in solidarity with our own LGBTI members, our students and their families, and the broader LGBTI community. LGBTI rights are a human rights issue and importantly, are a union issue.” – Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary of Education International

Education International (EI) is the global voice of education trade unions, working to defend the right to education, represent workers in the education sector and amplify our voices within international policy spaces. As a member of EI, the EIS was invited to join international colleagues in Sydney for WorldPride 2023, contributing to the global conversation on the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all other sexuality and gender diverse people’s rights.

The labour rights movement emerged in response to oppression, inequality, and abuses of power – for all workers to live, and to live well. At the core of trade unionism is collectivism, and building solidarity across movements is the key to us standing stronger together, advancing rights for all. The wins of marginalised groups are wins for us all, and their fight must therefore also be ours. We simply cannot afford to lose progress in any equality area, as this risks allowing the growth of the far-right to inhibit all of our ability to live well and authentically in the future.

Far right movements have always attempted to stir up hatred to divide and conquer, attempting to undermine the power of collectivism and freedom of expression. The scapegoating of LGBT people is sadly nothing new, however its narrative and pathways may appear different today. As more and more progress is made in some areas – backtracking may as swiftly occur in others.

Reflecting on the current state of play

Opportunities such as Pride should be used to demonstrate our solidarity and re-commit to embedding LGBT rights across education, and trade union efforts, throughout the year.

As part of the EIS’s visit to Sydney WorldPride, EIS President Andrene Bamford and EIS National Officer Selma Augestad took part in the Diversity in Education Conference organised by New South Wales Teacher Federation, a branch of the Australian Education Union. Reflecting on the conversations had at the conference, Mel Smith Deputy Secretary and LGBTQIA+ Officer said, “We are very pleased to have taken the opportunity of Sydney WorldPride to create a platform to bring education trade unionists together to discuss LGBTIQA+ matters in schools.

“The conference provided us with the opportunity to raise the profile of LGBTIQA+ inclusive education in our classrooms and educational settings and provide the space for members to reflect on where they and their workplace is up to in relation to creating safer spaces for LGBTIQA+ teachers, students, and their families.”

The EIS held a workshop at the conference which explored the progress made thus far in realising the Scottish Government’s national requirement for LGBT inclusive education (rolled out from 2021), and some of the challenges that remain.

Mel Smith continued, “The conference allowed us to reflect on the gains won over many years, while also being alert to the fact that these gains can be too easily eroded by those with agendas of hate and fear. Current examples of both circumstances allowed us to reflect on where we are in the spectrum of progress and what we can learn from others, around the country and the world, to ensure that our own path to equality, freedom, dignity and respect can be successfully achieved and maintained.”

One such example of gains being challenged, was provided by our American colleagues from the National Education Association

(NEA). Hilaro Benzon, Associate Director at the NEA Centre for Racial and Social Justice told us that, “The National Education Association (NEA) believes public schools are places where everyone is welcome and every student deserves a safe, just, and equitable learning environment. that prepares them for their future.

“However, many of our LGBTQIA+ students and educators are scared, anxious, and feel threatened. Students and educators across the country are reporting hostile and hateful environments in their schools and communities.

“So far in 2023 across the United States, we are tracking over 960 pieces of LGBTQIA+ related legislation introduced or pending in the 2023 legislative session – over 750+ of which have harmful impacts on the LGBTQIA+ community.”

The situation in the US will sadly be familiar to many of us across the pond, as unfortunately, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain a significant issue also in Scotland. An LGBT Youth Scotland’s 2022 survey found that the number of LGBT young people in Scotland who feel happy with their life has fallen drastically since 2012 (from 66% to 37% and to only 28% for transgender participants). If we are not ourselves LGBT, these are our pupils, students, colleagues and comrades.

The EIS believes that all pupils and students have the right to learn, and teachers and lecturers have the right to work, in an educational environment that is free from discrimination, where the rights of all are equally upheld.

Trade union solidarity

Stressing the critical role trade unions can play in halting the pushback on LGBT Rights, Hilario Benzon said, “NEA is leaning into our core values and asserting the purpose of public education, calling out bad actors for fuelling divisions, and calling for collective action to provide solutions to the real issues facing public schools. At NEA, we work on creating a public school system that honours, supports, and values all students and all educators, and encourages them to stand proud in their authenticity. The hearts, minds, wellbeing, and joy of our schools, our educators, our students, our communities are at stake.”

Trade unions and LGBT rights activists have a long history of solidarity and joint campaigning in the UK – from NALGO’s (predecessor of UNISON) winning through strike action in defence of a gay member who had been victimised, to the mutual solidarity of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, to the role of trade unions in organising to repeal ‘Section 28’ – a piece of legislation preventing schools from talking about LGBT relationships.

The rollout of LGBT inclusive education in Scotland is an exciting opportunity to further embed the human rights of LGBT people in Scotland. As well as having human rights2, children’s rights to an identity must be respected, as should, their right to privacy, and to have their views heard in matters affecting them. However, the commitment comes at a time of increased LGBT hate crime reports, and divisive media rhetoric leading to misinformation about LGBT rights. It is clear that we must continue to press for Scotland to deliver on its promise of progress.

Taking Pride in Teaching

“Being a delegate at the World Pride Human Rights conference was a once in a lifetime opportunity to listen to speakers from all over the world on inclusion and diversity. Listening to the lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ people from every continent, and hearing of the persecution and crippling inequality that is still faced by members of the community was something that, once heard, can never be unheard.

“One of the most inspirational speeches was by Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He shared some very harrowing experiences of trans people in South America. But he concluded his speech by stating, “Until we’re all free, none of us are free.” This was a message that really resonated with me and gave me deeper resolve to ensure that in the trade union movement, we must not stop actively seeking to be truly inclusive until every member feels free and safe to have their voice heard.” – Andrene Bamford, EIS President 2022-23

The EIS’s time in Australia reinvigorated delegates’ shared solidarity with global LGBT rights and affirmed the role trade unions must play in taking forward the equality agenda. The EIS will shortly release a new booklet entitled ‘Taking Pride in Teaching: The Power of LGBT Inclusive Education’. This guidance offers advice for EIS members on how we can play our part by helping to create safe, supportive and inclusive educational settings, which allows everyone to thrive.

To find out more about EIS LGBT equality work, and to join the EIS at Pride events near you, visit: