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Fighting Homophobia: What Should Be Done?

21/09/2013
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In part 2 of his guest blog, Simeon Elliott asks what should the British Left, particularly the Labour Party, be doing to fight homophobia in the UK, in Russia, and internationally.

Simeon Elliott start2

The Labour Party needs clear policy and leadership on LGBT rights.  It is pleasing to hear Labour leader Ed Miliband say that Brighton Pride “is our opportunity to speak with one voice against homophobia, hate crimes and discrimination”, yet Miliband failed to whip Labour MPs to support the same-sex marriage legislation.  What other equal rights issue has been treated as a question of conscience?  A Labour leadership statement on how the Party will fight homophobia is urgently required, particularly on combatting Russian homophobia.

 

proxyThere were few, if any, official, organised Labour Party representatives at recent demonstrations against Russia’s new anti-gay laws, unlike the visible presence of the Labour Party at Brighton Pride and elsewhere.  The Labour Party must consistently and visibly support all marginalised and minority communities to fight discrimination and injustice.  It was pleasing to hear Labour MP Chris Bryant speak powerfully and also find Purna Sen, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion, present at the latest demonstration against Russian homophobia on 3 September 2013.  However, chatting with those around me at recent demonstrations, many doubted the willingness of Labour’s leaders to tackle social injustice, including homophobia.  Leadership, policy and visible support for equalities campaigns are vital.  Individual members demonstrating solidarity between the labour movement and LGBT campaigners, including campaigners from the RMT union and the LRC, are a welcome start.

 

Generally, the British Left must stress the common interests of all groups oppressed by neo-liberal economics.  The Labour Party needs to unify LGBT citizens facing international discrimination, the poor facing austerity, British migrants facing prejudice whipped-up by the Coalition’s racist advertising campaigns on “illegal” immigrants, Muslims facing routine Islamophobia inspired by the far-right groups like the EDL, and other oppressed people.  I was disturbed by a heated conversation overheard between an anti-EDL campaigner and a gay campaigner protesting against Russian homophobia.  The gay campaigner falsely alleged “all” Muslims were homophobic and extended this to the anti-EDL campaigner.  This was most definitely not the general opinion of the recent protests, and it is essential that we are not divided in this way.

Simeon with LRC flag

The Left must clearly demonstrate the common themes of social injustice and point out how our opponents prosper when we are divided and fight against each other.  All groups affected by prejudice, poverty and social injustice must unite together.  Around the world we share the same experiences of prejudice and violence directed toward us due to oppression and disempowerment.

 

Linda Taylor waves LRC flagThe Labour Party must make clear how poverty, made worse by austerity policies, combine with growing prejudice to negatively impact minority communities, ultimately violently, as witnessed in the 1930s.  Poor communities made poorer by austerity are highly susceptible to influence from the right, as shown by the rise of UKIP in recent elections.  The far right exploits public concern about unemployment and poverty among (white) working class voters to advance a rhetoric which demonises migrants and minority groups.  People seeking an explanation for the deterioration in their living standards are being encouraged by Britain’s right-wing press to scapegoat minority communities, rather than to rightly blame the banks and the collapse of the financial sector.  Rising anti-Muslim violence reflects Labour’s failure to tackle the Coalition’s policies on so-called “illegal” immigrants.  Labour must speak out against the demonisation of communities –to expose myths, such as the “job-stealing” migrants, “benefit-rich” claimants, or “marriage-destroying” LGBT citizens.  Labour must seek to educate where the general public may have latent prejudices due to ignorance and a lack of knowledge of other cultures.

 

Fascism has thrived around the world where the Left has allowed poverty and right-wing provocation to combine without serious challenge; leading to institutionalised prejudice of all kinds, including attacks on disabled people, homophobia, racism, sexism and anti-semitism.  Clearly minority groups have a common interest in resisting the rise of the far right.  Labour’s leaders must offer an alternative to austerity policies in order to provide Britons with hope and the vision of an alternative future.

(c) Alice Bell

(c) Alice Bell

Is history repeating itself?  UKIP’s rise in austerity Britain – with clear prejudices against Eastern Europeans, virulent Islamophobia and homophobia, and increasingly extreme statements on women and disabled people – has been based on taking votes from both Tory and Labour parties.  Statements like the slut furore caused by Godfrey Bloom and Eric Kitson’s “Islam is a cancer which needs to be cured with radiation” are cause for grave concern, as is UKIP’s national policy to oppose equal marriage for same-sex couples.

 

logo-m300rh_jpegThe protests of 3 and 10 August and 3 September 2013 highlighted the new anti-gay laws in Russia, Putin’s macho posturing and the extreme homophobia of the Russian Orthodox Church.  It is much easier to incite violence against any minority group when income inequality thrives and disempowered communities live in poverty, as in Russia and, increasingly, in the UK.  If the Labour Party wishes to tackle homophobia – in the UK, Russia or anywhere – it needs not only to tackle homophobic rhetoric and legislation in the UK and internationally, but must also tackle the poverty which creates the conditions in which homophobia and all other forms of hatred thrive.  To do this the Labour Party must actively oppose the Coalition’s failed austerity policies and advocate a real alternative – not austerity-lite.  Simultaneously Labour must also fight against all forms of homophobia and other discrimination expressed by politicians, other parties and the media, both nationally and internationally.

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