Impressions from a meeting in Rio de Janeiro
by a Netwerk Roze FNV delegation
All the participants abhor the new president of Brazil. "Amar Sim, Temer Não" they have written on large posters. "Yes to love, no to Temer" is one possible translation. But is has a double meaning. "Temer" also means "to be afraid". "Yes to love, no to fear" would also be a viable translation.
It is characteristic for the creative and militant atmosphere in the meeting of the inter-American LGBT committee of Public Services International (PSI), Mid-November in Rio de Janeiro. A committee that partly came about as a result of a co-operation project with the Dutch trade union organisation FNV (originally Abvakabo FNV, which merged into the FNV organisation). A delegation of two persons from Netwerk Roze FNV (the Pink Network in the FNV) participated in this Rio meeting as the final contribution to the co-operation, that ends by December 2016.
Looking back upon the years of co-operation we can see that it has not been in vain. The trade unionists that participate in the committee have grown in political awareness, degree of organisation, confidence. The current co-ordinator of the committee, Eurian Da Nobrega Leite, told how he became a trade union member when the project started, and how his connection to unionism had grown over the years. That was a story that many people recognised, also the people for whom this was the first committee meeting they attended. Not only people who called themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, because the committee has a strong support from straight allies, also represented within the committee. They also want to fight for LGBT rights.
This is necessary, because since the project started, the political climate has deteriorated in many countries. Not only was Dilma Roussef expelled and replaced by the corrupt politician Michel Temer, in Brazil. The political situation in Argentina and Chile have also changed and created a less gay- or trans-friendly climate, while the influence of right-wing evangelical groups is growing. I don't even have to recall who has been elected as the next president of the United States of America and add this to the tendencies of the rollback of LGBT rights in the Americas.
The link with the Caribbean Isles is still problematic. Originally, this meeting had been planned to take place somewhere on a Caribbean isle. However, despite several attempts of cooperation with local organisations, it had to be relocated to Rio. Most of the Caribbean isles are still dominated by a very macho and anti-gay (anti-LGBT) culture; in some of the Caribbean countries same-sex sexual behaviour is even illegal.
The committee's collaboration contract with ILGA LAC (the regional chapter of ILGA, for the Latin American and Caribbean region) which sytarted two years ago in México DF has lead to very positive results such as the overview of LGBT-related legislation in all the countries concerned. Unfortunately, it also affected the clarity of the committee's work area: was it a Latin American and Caribbean committee or an Inter-American committee? Based on a suggestion by the FNV delegation, the committee will now also seek collaboration with the North-American chapter of the ILGA.
At the meeting, we discussed how to strengthen the ties with the trade union groups and movements in those countries that did not participate in the committee on a regular basis. A division of tasks by region. Also, we talked about the future collaboration. Because now that the collaboration with the Netwerk Roze FNV has come to an end, the committee would like to continue working together with a European partner. Fortunately, the German League of Trade Unions (Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) has agreed to this.
Several issues from the presentation of Netwerk Roze FNV were discussed in the committee meeting. One was the trade union campaign against domestic violence, an issue that was on the agenda of the ILO last October. The Canadian trade union campaign "Safe at home, safe at work" has contributed a great deal to the awareness about the issue, and FNV has been able to augment this awareness. Representatives of the Nurses Union in São Paulo recognised the fact that domestic violence within lesbian relationships is kept silent by a double taboo.
Another issue was the position of bisexuals. Current research in the Netherlands has shown that bisexuals at work suffer more from bullying, bad jokes, stigmatisation and marginalisation than lesbians, gays or straight workers. Therefore, Netwerk Roze has plans to focus more on the problems bisexuals face at work, and seek solutions. However, they are underrepresented in the active core group of Netwerk Roze FNV, and completely absent from the Inter-American committee, it turned out.
As for the situation of intersex people, a group recently added to the working area of Netwerk Roze FNV (ILGA previously added this group of people to its working area), the Inter-American committee did not show eagerness to automatically follow this extension of the focus.
It has been a learning experience for the Dutch representatives, too. The developments in Latin America clearly show how important it is to have good legislation and directives, and how, when legislation or directives fail, government personnel is generally better protected against bullying and discrimination than workers in private companies. In (Latin) America the privatisation of public services is not only bad at political level because it damages the democratic policy control and quality checks and at labour level because the labour conditions and work climate of the people working in these areas deteriorate. It is also bad because LGBT workers in private companies tend to be more marginalised, excluded, bullied, and discriminated against than those in government institutions.
An inspiring and instructive co-operation project has been completed. We wish you good luck in the future, friends of PSI's Inter-American LGBT committee!