“I want to make it easier for young people to come out”

Alastair Gittins
4 min readFeb 5, 2019

In November last year, the organising efforts of UNISON Cardiff County LGBT members were recognised at the UNISON LGBT national awards. Cardiff’s Natalie Forbes Smalley tells us more.

Accepting the award: Natalie, UNISON vice president Josie Bird, Helen O’Sullivan and Gemma Hill

Congratulations on your win. Why do you think you were recognised at the LGBT awards?

To win feels great; we are the only Welsh branch to our knowledge to have ever put ourselves forward for the LGBT awards.

We’ve thrown ourselves into everything not just the traditional Pride events. We’re showing we’re visible and active at as many events as possible. We’ve had lots of exciting initiatives thinking of the different ways we can get our message across. I was particularly conscious of the need to raise awareness of our group with Black members.

We’ve held an LGBT film night; we’ve run training and awareness sessions in the branch. We’ve held talks within Cardiff County Council, at Cardiff University. We were there at the Merthyr Rising festival.

At Black Pride

How would you describe this year for Cardiff County LGBT group?

It’s been interesting! This is our first year, we were only established in January 2018 and we’ve doubled the number of Cardiff County LGBT activists in that time. I’m on a learning curve too; I’m in my first year on UNISON’s national LGBT committee. Fortunately, the contacts I’ve made there have helped me a great deal and we’ve linked-in with national campaigns.

What is the LGBT group working on now?

The LGBT self-organised group is campaigning to be renamed to “LGBT+” (plus) to boost inclusivity for those in the LGBT community who identify in a different way such as queer or non-binary. I’ve got a real passion for recruiting young LGBT workers into UNISON and the question of the name was brought up by them. We need to make sure the group is more inclusive to young people. Using the plus encompasses so much.

Cardiff County Council is a Stonewall Diversity Champion?

That’s right. We’ve got an excellent working relationship with Cardiff County Council. We’ve met with them, provided them with model policies — such as UNISON’s policy on trans employees. We were the only trade union to participate in the LGBT voices event and now we’re included as a matter of course in any review of equality policies at the council. And 80 per cent of the workforce are wearing LGBT network lanyards following a joint distribution / awareness venture between the authority and our LGBT self-organsised group.

Stall at Cardiff council LGBT network event with branch secretary Emma Garson

UNISON Cardiff County had an LGBT event at the Iris film festival?

Being at the film festival, which is run in LGBT history month, gave UNISON a platform to discuss equality at work and the progress we’ve made and where we need to go. LGBT+ people don’t get the leads in Hollywood films; they don’t get to see themselves on film or their issues being discussed that often. The three short films we showed are worth checking out; each five minutes long and you can probably find them online. Cecil and Carl reflects concerns of an older LGBT couple, one of whom suffers with dementia; Yellow is about non-binary young adults and Ariel is about a Black, homeless, trans woman.

At Pride Cymru

Why did you decide to get active?

I have to thank Stonewall and the BAME LGBT role-model course. It brought to light the question– who is your role model? I didn’t know. I had to make a hard personal journey and didn’t come out until my 30s. I want to make it easier for young LGBT+ people.

I’ve been empowered through the union. I went to a LGBT branch officer training event in March at UNISON Centre and it was a revelation. I was able to network with others and there was a workshop on how best to assist non-binary members. So much is already covered by the Equalities Act and that spurred us on to do more research ourselves.

London Pride, Soho Square

What’s your message to branches/LGBT members?

My message to other branches would be: if there are activists displaying an interest in equalities, that needs to be encouraged and we want the region to support us too.

To members I would say, UNISON will help you if you want to go to LGBT conference. You can do so without coming out to your branch; the same with LGBT training, which happens away from the workplace. It is important to offer this on an anonymous basis and to know there is a community to support you.

I feel proud we are working to ensure all genres of LGBT+ community can feel they have a voice in the union.