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FIGHTING HOMOPHOBIA: ISSUES FOR THE LEFT

14/08/2013
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Guest blog by Simeon Elliott, 14 August 2013

Simeon Elliott start2

PROTEST AT RUSSIA’s SECTION 6.13.1

On Saturday 10 August, 2,000 people – mostly from the LGBT community – joined the London protest against Section 6.13.1, a new law passed by the Russian state Duma by 436 votes to 0 in June 2013.  In violation of the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia has signed and pledged to uphold, Section 6.13.1 punitively fines any person or organisation providing information about homosexuality to people under 18 and has been seen to give a green light to LGBT hate crime in Russia.  To UK equality campaigners, this echoes the Tories’ hated Section 28, which legitimised a wave of virulent homophobia in the UK in the late 1980s and 1990s before its repeal by Labour.

crowd scene with colourful placards

logo-m300rh_jpegRisibly described as non-discriminatory by the Russian government, Section 6.13.1 has encouraged individuals, organisations and the Russian state to engage in vicious physical attacks and the verbal abuse of LGBT people.  The arrest of 60 LGBT equality campaigners in the St Petersburg’s Gay Pride parade this June – some of whom received horrific injuries in police beatings – is evidence of this.  The response of the Russian LGBT Network identifies the growing inability of the Russian government to manage and control far-right groups who openly raise racist and homophobic banners with a blatant disregard for the truth.  This should have worrying echoes for us all.

Olympics rings without the rainbow flag

Concerns about Russian state and individual homophobia have recently crystallised around the position of international visitors and athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  In line with Section 6.13.1, Russian Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko, said that foreign athletes will be punished if they “propagandised” for LGBT rights.  Alexander Zhukov, head of Russia’s National Olympic Committee, added that ”People of non-traditional sexual orientations can take part in the competitions and all other events at the Games unhindered, without any fear for their safety whatsoever” as long as they don’t “put across” their views ”in the presence of children.”

Russian dolls of IOC shame

This presents a problem for the International Olympics Committee – which is now being asked to enforce its long-standing commitments to non-discrimination.  The protest in London highlighted the call to strip Russia of the 2014 Winter Olympics because of its new anti-gay laws.  Celebrity and LGBT campaigner Stephen Fry had compared the current situation in Russia to the scapegoating of Jews during the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany and this view was reflected in some demonstrators’ placards.  These included numerous examples of Putin depicted either with a Hitler moustache or in drag.

Olympic nooses

Worldwide protests against Russia’s anti-gay law Section 6.13.1 on 10 August 2013 have drawn attention to the plight of LGBT people in Russia and shown how communities can organise very quickly around issues of shared interest.  The presence of national LGBT celebrities, such as Stephen Fry and the veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, attracted media attention to the determination of the protesters to tackle Russian homophobia.  Disappointingly, there was little visible support from the mainstream political parties, with LGBT Labour having no national organised presence at a demonstration which was well-attended by Labour members.  Individual members did attend from the LRC, other left groups and trades unions including RMT and PCS; but where was the organised support of the British Left expressing solidarity with the LGBT community?

Simeon with LRC flag

 

SO DIFFERENT AT BRIGHTON PRIDE

Teachers united in PrideJust a week earlier on Saturday 3 August, Brighton and Hove Gay Pride attracted an estimated 160,000+ people onto the streets in a celebration of diversity and equality.  About 60 groups joined the parade, including political organisations, trades unions, public and voluntary services.  It was great to see these groups happily align themselves in solidarity with Brighton and Hove’s LGBT communities.  It was particularly heartening to see the National Union of Teachers’ bus, since the NUT has campaigned tirelessly for LGBT teachers’ rights over many years as various governments did little to defend LGBT rights for workers in the education sector.

2013 Brighton Pride themes were “icons” and solidarity with the Russian LGBT community. 100 placards declaring “Brighton Supports LGBT Russia” were dispersed through the parade.  They were supported by the Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus performing “Banned’ in solidarity with LGBT Russia, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

Thatchell_Commonwealth collusion

At the end of the parade Peter Tatchell and representatives from Cameroon stood with great dignity holding placards to remind Pride revellers of the plight of LGBT communities in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa and the Commonwealth.  For many, one of the highlights of the entire day was Peter Tatchell’s speech against international homophobia.

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Labour’s strong local support for LGBT communities in Brighton & Hove and Russia was demonstrated by the presence of Labour Group leader Warren Morgan, our new Labour councillor – Emma Daniels, many other councillors and Labour’s local parliamentary candidates, including Nancy Platts.   The jubilant atmosphere of the Brighton parade reflects the high degree of LGBT acceptance and integration locally where Pride is enjoyed by all-comers as “a really positive, friendly and inclusive event.” (Warren Morgan).

 

WE MUST BE PROUD TO PUT POLITICS BEFORE COMMERCE

Pride car in park

Regrettably, the message of solidarity with LGBT Russia was overwhelmed by the party atmosphere and prevalence of commercial interests in the parade.  Pride’s official merchandise included no items mentioning Russia, suggesting lipservice more than solidarity.  If anyone wanted to proclaim their support for the Russian LGBT community they had to have brought a homemade item, or get hold of one of the excellent “Brighton Supports LGBT” placards (two of which later reappeared at the London demonstration) – but it is rumoured that these were produced by a local individual, not by Brighton Pride and unlike the official merchandise it was noticeable that they did not bear the official Brighton Pride logo.  Our local rag, The Argus, made no mention of solidarity with LGBT Russia in its online report, nor did the council’s tourist information website.

Dave Arthur

Pride is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the intrinsic worth of LGBT citizens, and to bear witness to the homophobia and health-related difficulties that many LGBT citizens face, whether in the UK or overseas.  The pay-to-enter Pride festival at Preston Park is somewhat contradictory to the wellbeing of the LGBT community.  For example, should Pride diminish people’s health by the very active promotion of alcohol consumption within the Park, when external and internalised homophobia results in the known high incidence of alcohol-related ill-health amongst the LGBT community?  Or, should Pride promote materialism by engaging so conspicuously with commercial sponsors?  It was depressing to see big business excessively promoting expensive cars, luxury hotels and jacuzzis in a time when most have had no pay rises and we need to reduce carbon consumption.  While it is necessary to raise funds for Pride to go ahead, we must be aware that unaffordable lifestyles diminish wellbeing and excess consumption damages our environment.

Hilton sponsors Pride

 

ISSUES FOR THE LOCAL LGBT COMMUNITY

Health issues are of great concern to the LGBT community.  Brighton & Hove has the highest rate of HIV infection outside London with 1,387 residents or 7.59 per 1,000 people having HIV, compared to a UK average of 1.5 per 1,000.  Gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by HIV as approximately 90% of infections are in men, with sex between men being the most likely route of transmission.  Health promotion, the fight to preserve NHS services for HIV/AIDS, specific services promoting lesbian health, and the particular health needs of the transgendered community are all key issues for our community.  Yet Coalition health “reforms” have transferred the public health responsibility for HIV to local authorities while ending ring-fenced funding for HIV care.  Like Tory-controlled West Sussex County Council, despite a dramatic increase in rates of people living locally with HIV, many local authorities have failed to acknowledge the seriousness of this responsibility in their budgets.

Nancy Platts pledges to raise mental health issues

At Brighton Pride, statutory and voluntary sector organisations presented an excellent range of stalls offering advice and support to the LGBT community on health and safety issues.  So why were these facilities only available to those who were able to pay £20 to pass through the massive steel barricades that separated the Pride parade from Pride in Preston Park?  A huge number of young and poor people were thus denied access to resources which had been specifically designed for the LGBT community.  Doubly unfair in a time of such great austerity!

rainbow flag

Even in progressive Brighton & Hove homophobia still exists. In October 2012 the gay quarter of Kemptown was said to be “fast becoming a no-go area” by the Chair of the LGBT Community Safety Forum after a number of serious physical assaults.  Verbal abuse is also far from unusual, especially from visiting football fans.   In April 2013 there was widespread national publicity for a local campaign highlighting the homophobic abuse faced by Seagulls fans from at least 72 per cent of their opponents in the 2012/13 season – in at least 70 per cent of away games and 57 per cent of their total matches as at April 2013.  But will fans notice any difference when the 2013/14 football season starts or will the abuse kick-off again too?  It did at Brighton’s pre-season friendly against Leeds, even as both cities were celebrating Gay Pride.

LRC flag waved behind Linda Taylor

 

MOVING FORWARD

It appears that the balance between private sector and local government funding for Pride needs to be re-balanced, while the scope and nature of Pride’s activities needs to be addressed. The demonstration against Russian homophobia in London was mobilised with no commercial sponsorship; but it achieved far greater national publicity for the fight against homophobia and issues of concern to both the LGBT community and socialists.

The LGBT community very rarely has such an opportunity to be heard.  What more should we have been shouting about?

Boycott Sochi

 

 

 

 

 

 

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