Recent changes in the law mean that lesbians and gay men can now tackle any prejudice they encounter in work or in their everyday lives, but until the UK witnesses a real shift in social attitudes, homophobia and discrimination will continue to make life tough for many, the TUC warned today.

Addressing the TUC’s annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender conference later today, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber will remind delegates that the past 12 months have seen several important advances which have brought gay equality a step closer. He will highlight the introduction of civil partnerships and changes giving same sex partners similar access to pensions as that enjoyed by married couples.

In his keynote speech to the conference, Brendan Barber will say: “Unfortunately, while the legal framework may have changed beyond recognition, we’ve yet to see a parallel shift in social attitudes. For the most part we appear to live in a largely liberal, tolerant society – but scratch beneath the surface, and homophobia is alive and well.

“Most shockingly we see that in the violence directed at the lesbian and gay community. This year we remember Jody Dobrowski, who paid a horrendous price for being a gay man in the wrong place at the wrong time. His murder was one of the 1,300 homophobic crimes reported in London alone in the past year.

“But such statistics, however alarming, don’t begin to tell us about the day-to-day abuse suffered by gay people. The casual jibes, the bullying at school, the hotel owners who still refuse to host same-sex couples, or the football crowds and their offensive chants. And when a national newspaper runs a front-page story about a footballer with the headline “I’m no rear gunner”, you know the battle for hearts and minds is a long way from being won.

“It’s a battle we must fight in the workplace as well as in society. And despite the lengths some employers have gone to promoting diversity and tolerance, and rooting out homophobic bigots, others simply turn a blind eye, or actively encourage a workplace culture that makes it difficult for their lesbian and gay staff to be ‘out’ at work for fear of falling victim to the office or the factory bullies.

“Four in ten gay employees have faced abuse at work as a result of their sexuality. And new rights on the statute book mean nothing if they don’t have an impact where they are most needed. Encouraging a change of attitude towards gay people at work is vital if we are to tackle homophobic abuse head on. Unions will fight discrimination wherever it surfaces, be it in our schools, our workplaces or our communities. We will keep up the pressure on employers to raise their game and eradicate intolerance of every kind from all UK workplaces.”

Other speakers at the conference, which takes place today and tomorrow at Congress House, the TUC’s London HQ, include leading gay campaigning Labour peer Lord Alli, and a Jamaican asylum seeker who will talk about his relief at not having to return to his home country, where violence against lesbians and gay men is commonplace. Two speakers from Iraq will also address the 200 delegates about the dangers of growing up gay in a Muslim country.