Thursday, 12 July 2012

LGBT rights: Sexuality, austerity and socialism

Kick the EDL Out of Bristol
Anti-Racist and Proud @ Bristol Pride Parade 
Assemble 11am at Berkeley Square (BS8) for march to College Green, more details here

Article from: The Socialist newspaper, 4 July 2012

Leeds Pride 2011, photo Leeds Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)

In 78 countries, homosexual acts are still illegal. In five of these the maximum penalty is death. In Ukraine a law is currently being considered that would make it illegal to talk about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) issues in the media. As internationalists, socialists oppose oppression around the globe.
This year's London Pride event will be World Pride. The Socialist Party and its LGBT group will be participating and putting forward the ideas outlined in the articles here. We will have a new pamphlet available - Sexuality, austerity and socialism - a collection of articles from the Socialist as well as some new ones.

Many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) people are looking for an alternative to the non-political scene that has been the backdrop to our lives for the past 15 to 20 years. Yes, much has been achieved - anti-discrimination laws, civil partnerships and adoption rights to name a few legal reforms - and social attitudes have changed for the better, but homophobia, biphobia and transphobia have not gone away.

Many LGBTQ people face discrimination on a daily basis, including being unable to come out for fear of family, workplace or social rejection. Passing laws banning discrimination does not end prejudice. Growing numbers of LGBTQ people, especially young people, are coming to the conclusion that legal reform is not enough. How can we win not just LGBTQ rights but also liberation?

The key issue in politics today is the austerity plan being imposed by the Con-Dem coalition against public services and the welfare state. This will hit all working and middle class people. Economists have said that as of spring 2012 only around 10% of the planned cuts have been implemented. There is much pain promised until well beyond the next election, scheduled for 2015. This applies whoever is in government, as Labour plans cuts too, but at a slower pace.

Cuts will hit LGBTQ people especially hard. There will be direct attacks on some services specifically used by us, such as youth groups and voluntary sector organisations. Galop, the police monitoring and liaison organisation, and Broken Rainbows, the LGBT domestic violence advice and support service have already been threatened with funding cuts, though this was fought off the first time it was attempted.

Plans to chop up and privatise the NHS will lead to a loss of expertise and specialist services used by LGBTQ people. If GPs are commissioning services they may not have the necessary knowledge or be accountable. This will particularly hit trans people looking for gender reassignment, which is already limited.

The abolition of incapacity benefit will have a massive effect on people living with HIV/AIDS, whatever their sexuality. Introducing "individual budgets" to buy support services will be no good if appropriate services don't exist. Many sufferers will be forced on to Jobseeker's Allowance or could lose their benefits entirely.

Will there be direct attacks on our rights, like Section 28, the Thatcher government measure banning the "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities? Section 28 was part of an act which forced local authorities to put council services out to be privatised and attacked jobs and conditions for local government workers.

The viciously homophobic propaganda campaign around Section 28 was used to scapegoat LGBT workers and divert attention from the effects of Tory policy. Left-wing councils were accused of wasting money on lesbian and gay centres and groups.

Many in the LGBTQ communities remember Section 28 and hate the Tories for it. Have the Tories changed? Prime minister David Cameron and some other top Tories conspicuously claim to be 'gay-friendly'. The coalition leaders are looking towards some form of marriage equality but probably not giving differently sexed couples the right to enter into civil partnerships.

Socialists support marriage equality as a democratic right but Tories claim to support marriage equality to "strengthen the family". By this they mean that family members should do the caring work, often without financial support and on very meagre benefits, which should be done by social services and the NHS.

Cameron wants to "decontaminate the Tory brand" and gain the support of a layer of wealthy LGBT people. His record belies his claims. He opposed the repeal of Section 28, opposed equal adoption rights and the Tories sit, at his behest, with homophobic far-right parties in the European Parliament.

An open and direct attack on LGBTQ rights is less rather than more likely at present. With the LGBTQ communities being more visible and better organised than in the 80s, this would inevitably outrage and radicalise wider layers especially of young people.

Probably the biggest current threat is that cuts can lead to scapegoating. Recession and austerity raises tension within society and some will look to blame and take out frustration on minorities. It is no coincidence that homophobic hate crime in the West End of London increased by 21% in the year to the end of February 2011. This area includes Soho and is promoted as the safest place for LGBTQ people in Britain with numerous bars and clubs.

Scapegoating will be encouraged, even if not openly, by elements in the Tory party. There were a number of attacks on gay rights and marriage equality by Tory MPs and journalists in the early months of 2011 just as the cuts started to bite. At some stage any capitalist government under pressure may resort to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to divide workers. Capitalist politicians need a reservoir of reactionary ideas in society, which they can draw on if they are under threat.

Attacks against LGBTQ communities will lead to a fightback - just as a mass campaign opposed Section 28 and brought LGBTQ communities together against a common foe. This gave confidence, visibility and led to many of the advances of the past 20 or so years.

Capitalism diverted the mood of confidence down a commercial route and into the opening up of bars, venues and festivals. Pride events became depoliticised. LGBTQ people need somewhere to meet and socialise, but the commercial scene excludes those who don't feel they 'fit in', can't afford to go out drinking or clubbing in an environment where prices can be very high or just live too far away from the scene. Many perceive the scene as trashy and over-sexualised. Outside big cities there may be no Queer or LGBT 'alternative' scene.

Socialist Party members campaigning at Pride, photo Chris Newby

Only working class action can create unity against prejudice and root out backward ideas. As the effect of cuts and the fightback against them grow in society as a whole, LGBTQ people will want a piece of the action. Strike action and mass demos will inspire and draw in whole layers of our communities.

The Socialist Party calls for a mass demonstration, organised by the trade unions, in particular their LGBT Groups, and LGBTQ community and campaigning organisations for full marriage equality and against the cuts. This could cut across any attempts to scapegoat LGBTQ people, make clear that we are not prepared to accept a legal reform, however important, as a sop from a government attacking our living standards and build unity with other workers and oppressed groups fighting attacks.

The Socialist Party's aim is the transformation of society, with the vast wealth of global society being democratically controlled by the currently disenfranchised 99%, not used for the super-wealthy 1% that capitalist governments work for. On this basis, services could be expanded, not cut, with human relationships being revolutionised for the better, including an end to oppression and prejudice. This is the only guarantee of LGBTQ liberation.

The Socialist Party calls for:
  • The immediate introduction of equal marriage rights for same sex couples and the right for couples of different sexes to enter into civil partnership
  • No penalisation of trans people in marriage proceedings
  • Investment in job creation, decent housing and public services to reduce economic pressure on relationships
  • A mass movement against the cuts, led by the trade unions and involving community campaigns, minority groups and young people
  • Rebuilding a militant LGBTQ movement to fight for equality and genuine liberation for all
  • Pride not profit: keep big business out of Pride events
  • A new mass workers' party to offer real political representation for ordinary people, including all minorities

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