On Sunday 31st of July we went to Pride. The event, which has run since 1997, moved to the Forest this year for the first time, having grown too big for the Arbo. A sign of success perhaps? Certainly, if you measure success by the number of corporate sponsors Pride is happy to attract, and the success of the pink pound at the expense of making any political point or protest about discrimination and homophobia, which are still experienced by LGBTQ people.*We went to a fringe meeting called ‘Dying to Come Out’. What with the Cheeky Girls headlining the Pride bill, and the ‘Gay Speaker’s Corner’ stuck behind the main stage and next to Gregory Boulevard so it wouldn’t bother the cross-class love-in, it was the only bit of Pride worth attending. Pride seems to have become a state sponsored safe event by marketing itself as a LGBTQ lifestyle which you passively consume; an off-the-hook identity you buy into, about as intrinsically emancipatory as TK Maxx. Can I just say again “THE CHEEKY GIRLS”!! I gather that they were the inspiration for this fringe meeting in the first place 😉
The meeting critiqued what Pride has become and reminded us that it was the radicalism of working class and ethnically diverse lesbians and gay men in New York in 1969 that drove the Stonewall riots, which the Gay Liberation Front which grew out of. The GLF established Pride the following year as a protest, not a parade.
The meeting featured Claire Jenkins, Skye Chirape and Peter Tatchell and was explicit about trying to make Pride political again as well as fun. It was also very focussed on the experience of LGBTQ people around the world, and not least asylum seekers. The organiser is very active in the asylum area and as such the meeting genuinely linked the two issues and made them feel like one struggle, for the liberation of everyone!
Skye’s talk was most interesting to me. She is a Zimbabwean lesbian refugee (try being a lesbian in Zimbabwe!). She talked about the experience of LGBTQ people particularly in Africa and ex-colonial countries. But she also talked about the experience of LGBTQ people in the asylum system here. While she was in it, she experienced both serious racism and homophobia and it changed her in a new way as she realised that although life might be a bit less dangerous for her than in Zimbabwe, it wasn’t going to be a bed of roses. The complacency of Pride as an institution is a real problem, because although it celebrates diversity it does little to expose and confront what is happening to LGBTQ people in the asylum system. I learnt loads from hearing her talk, for example about how homophobia globally is not inevitable or indigenous, but is the legacy of Victorian missionary values and laws passed by colonialists that have simply never been successfully challenged or repealed by the post-colonial states. It’s the state, not each other that we have most to fear from.
Anarchists think we need to move beyond liberal values and new legislation. Anti-hate crime and equal opportunities legislation may tackle some of the symptoms of homophobia (although we’d critique the general framework and application of this) but it does little to tackle the root causes of discrimination of all kinds, because these also result from economic forces in society. It isn’t enough to challenge this stuff just on a cultural level (Pride as it: we must move beyond the category of consumer! Capitalism cannot liberate us!) or legislatively (e.g. within parliament, or whatever).
Skye also made points echoed by Claire that our understanding of ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ is socially conditioned and not universal either. This is something that LGBTQ members of the Anarchist Federation and others have been pointing out for ages, but it still isn’t acknowledged generally. **In an anarchist world, we wouldn’t even need to use such labels. The more you break it down, the less difference there is between the ‘sexual’ and ‘gender’ identity of apparently different ‘types’ of people. So it’s not just that discrimination is ‘unfair’. There isn’t really a factual basis to the distinctions it makes on in the first place. In fact these distinctions are not universal and have not necessarily been made by historical societies and other cultures. Claire was focussing on Transgender people specifically, who aren’t universally treated like freaks or as mentally ill, as increasingly happening here she says.
Peter Tatchell also made the point that the colonial era was crucial. In spite of the ‘human rights’ ethos enshrined in the British Commonwealth constitution, for example, the Commonwealth has never once condemned homophobic atrocities that take place in its member states. Here we’d make the same observation as above about legislation, whilst it might improve aspects of peoples’ lives, rather masks the problem.
Talking to some other anarchists afterwards, we were puzzled that Peter Tatchell seemed to be advocating letter-writing as a way to change this situation in the Commonwealth. He has never been slow to get stuck in to some direct action, and successfully: ‘direct action gets the goods’ as we are fond of saying. The audience was more ‘moderate’ than he is and tended towards supporting a ‘drip, drip, drip effect’, and I think he didn’t want to exclude other peoples’ way of working (and the police were there too!). Anyway, anarchists reject figureheads and advocate self-activity: so it’s your turn and our turn to get stuck in folks!
Finally – the Nottingham angle! Amongst the many cuts that the Labour council has made and which we need to fight, the Youth Service’s Outburst programme has been scrapped and the youth worker’s job gone. The users of this really important project are fighting back. They had already gone from their stall at Pride when we went to talk to them and offer solidarity, but they had left some leaflets and say they can be reached on 0115 9152882 or 07940761160 and email@example.com
I’d give you the link to them on the council website too, but they seem already to have been invisible-ised by Jon Collin’s boys!
Oh, it turns out that there were two bits of the main event that others enjoyed…One was the less-than-scary sight of 12 ludicrous Islamist homophobes making a stand against the parade when it reached the Forest…and we hear that there was an audience for the speakers’ corner later on, by accident, when the toilet queue got so long that it snaked past it!
* Lesbian-Gay-Bi-Trans-Queer. Although throughout the meeting ‘LGBTI’ was used , I as in Intersex. I hadn’t come accross this before and mentioned it to the Anarchist Federations national LGBTQ caucus. They explained that anarchists don’t tend to use ‘Inter-’ because it assumes that inter-sex people see themselves as necessarily as having the same sorts of issues and concerns as people not fitting gender ‘norms’, which intersex people don’t have to address. Of course they may experience prejudice and homophobia (the two may be quite distinct in this context) and may identify with LGBT people and under the umbrella ‘Queer’, but many don’t and the UK Intersex Association does not formally engage with LGBT issues. When anarchists use ‘Queer’ it is mainly because it critiques the concept of distinct sex/gender/sexuality identity, which a lot of anarchists prefer to being either L G B or T. But it would be great to have your thoughts on this……
** LOADS of people are transgender. Some AF comrades refer to themselves as ‘female-bodied’ rather than ‘female’, for example, and to me that seems to take us closer to realising that we are sexualised as part of a spectrum rather than being at one of two poles.