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Interview with Simon Whittaker

LGBT+ History Month 2021
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This year, Accord's Equality Diversity & Inclusion group felt it was time for the union to promote the good work of LGBT+ trade unionist - both inside our own union and further beyond.

We know it's important for us to have role models to inspire, educate and encourage those that may not ordinarily wish to be seen in the spotlight. Accord is an inclusive union, and represents members from diverse backgrounds. We caught up with one of our active Accord reps, Simon Whittaker.

Simon Whittaker

So, tell us a bit about yourself Simon

My pronouns are he/him. I’m 40-something and been working for Lloyds Banking Group for just over 19 years now. I've been an Accord rep for over 12 of those years. I live in Manchester with my husband, Michael and my miniature schnauzer, George. I'm an LGBT+ advocate inside and outside of work, and passionate about protecting the rights of LGBT+ people. In my spare time I'm an avid Doctor Who fan, a keen reader (mainly in horror, thrillers and dramatic novels) and – I am told – have an unhealthy obsession with the popstar, Cher.

Why are you interested in LGBT+ rights? (what have you got involved in?)

I was bullied while growing up for being different – even though I didn’t really know what was different about me. Many people are bullied, and I realised I could do something about that as I didn't want others to go through what I did. It’s unfortunately a journey that lots of LGBT+ people go through, but nobody should have to. It's ultimately this feeling of making a stand that got me involved and actively supporting people. I've been lucky enough to have a supportive network of family and friends of my own choosing, with gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual and gender fluid members in that family. Not everyone is as lucky as me and not able to live their truth. 

As a gay man, I've always had an interest in LGBT+ rights and supporting my local LGBT+ community and beyond. I'm a member of the Lloyds Banking Group LGBT+ alliance - Rainbow - and try to attend as many Pride events as I can (it's a protest, to stand and be counted, as well as a chance to party). Accord has supported my nomination to join the TUC LGBT+ committee for 2021 - I look forward to the election results!

Who in the LGBT+ community inspires you?

There are many people that inspire me. Sir Ian McKellen is a big influence, his courage in coming out to fighting 'Section 28' in 1988, even though he was concerned it would have an impact on his acting career. Again, there is courage from Alan Turing who most people now know played a crucial role in cracking the German Enigma codes during the second world war, but it was only more recently that his achievements were really recognised - all because he was gay at a time when this was viewed as abhorrent. LGBT+ activists fought for his pardon which eventually came in 2013 - it's led to pardons for many thousands of others who were persecuted because of who they are.

What is Section 28? When we talk about Section 28, we're talking about Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 in England, Wales and Scotland. It stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". It was repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in the rest of the UK after many years of campaigning by LGBT+ activitists.

How have these people influenced you to become active in the union?

The actions of people like Sir Ian McKellen, showed me that we can't sit quietly when injustice and inequality happens. That applies to anyone, regardless of whether they identify as LGBT+ or not. If something isn't right, if people are being treated unfairly or their views are not being ignored because of who they are, then this shouldn't go unchallenged. This is why I decided to become a union rep for Accord and provide members with the support and guidance they need. 

What I love about Accord is that I'm recognised s a person with feelings, opinions, hopes and dreams. My sexual preference is just a small part of who I am, and I know that I won't be treated differently because of it. 

I'm proud to be part of Accord – it’s a grown-up union for a grown-up world. It’s not about shouting the loudest to be heard; it’s about having open and honest adult discussions with the business. We ask what our members believe are the important issues, so that we can improve the things that matter most.

Simon Whittaker

Tell us more about your role as a union rep. 

Workplace reps are often the first point of call for our members, offering support, information, guidance and advice. By having reps in the workplace, we resolve a lot of our members' queries quickly and without needing to resort to more formal policies. This means seeking solutions to colleagues’ issues at a local level - through discussions with managers and colleagues, and representing members' concerns if they need to take it further.

What advice would you give a to a member thinking about becoming a rep? 

Speak to another rep to find out what the role entails, I promise you won't regret it. It's demanding work, but worthwhile. There's nothing quite so rewarding than helping others when they're dealing with an issue and need that helping hand. That’s what you are – a helping hand, guiding and supporting members to a resolution.

You mentioned earlier that Accord had supported your nomination to the TUC LGBT+ committee. Can you tell us a bit more about why you decided to get more involved with the work of the TUC?

Sure. Having been a union rep for some time now, I wanted to explore other ways of supporting Accord members. The TUC represents most union members in the UK with all the major ones being affiliated - just like Accord. The work of the LGBT+ committee sounded interesting when I heard about it, there's a lot of work to do right now with the pandemic and a mental health crisis. It felt like an important moment in time to get involved and continue supporting people as I love to do.

In a few words - why should LGBT+ workers join the union?

Being in the union, your voice is heard. And we fight to protect your rights and interests.

Thanks Simon.

The TUC LGBT+ conference will take place on the 25th & 26th February. It's open to all LGBT+ union members, and will be held virtually over Zoom.

Register for the TUC LGBT+ conference

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