CONTENT NOTE: (Fictional) White Supremacism
I have watched the developing story about London Pride this week, in which they have allowed UKIP LGBT to join the parade, to the dismay of many. It now transpires that the organisers wanted to acknowledge the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (immortalised in the film Pride) and allow them to march at the front. Unfortunately, they don’t want to acknowledge the unions at the same time, so union members are not permitted to be at the front of the parade.
The thinking is that Pride should be apolitical, and therefore treat all political allegiances equally. David Norton in the piece linked above, writes:
As the LGBT movement has become increasingly mainstream, many individuals have ceased to connect Pride with larger struggles for social and economic justice. It now appears possible to conceptualise the Pride parade as a politically “neutral” space no less consistent with Ukip’s vision than LGSM’s. An apolitical Pride erases the history of militant activism that was necessary for many queer people to live more “normal” lives, as well as the connection of this history with other radical movements for justice.
Now, it is perfectly possible to be both gay (or lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, etc) and also support UKIP on other areas. A person’s sexuality does not, and should not be assumed to, define their entire existence, opinions, or status in the world. And therefore it is perfectly possible for someone who wants to celebrate being LGBT to also want to keep immigrants from entering the country, to sell off the NHS and whatever else UKIP are suggesting these days. There’s a scene in The West Wing where Josh confronts a gay Republican congressman over the conflict between being gay, and being in a political party that seeks to deny gay rights, and the congressman makes precisely this point.
It feels wrong to me to tell someone that their political views should exclude them from a sexuality, or the inverse, that their sexuality should determine their views on other matters.
However, an event like Pride can never be apolitical. It must either endorse groups (by allowing them to join as a group) or reject them (by excluding their banner from the parade). Excluding UKIP LGBT need not mean excluding their members, who I am sure would still be welcome if they turned up not as an organised group but as individuals.
Given that sexuality need not determine political views, let’s conduct a quick thought experiment. Suppose organisations called “Gays For White Supremacy” and “Gay Pride 4 White Pride” wanted to join the parade? Suppose an organisation opposed to marriages (same-sex or opposite-sex) between people of different races wanted to join? There’s nothing that makes this inconsistent or improbable organisations. Whether they do exist or are (as yet) just the products of my hideously twisted nightmares, there’s no reason why the couldn’t exist.
Would London pride organisers say, “We’re an apolitical event, so of course they can be a part of our parade,” or might they think, “Hang on, this might just make us look bad and upset a lot of people we’d like to join in, so maybe we should tell them ‘no'”?
If you won’t draw the line anywhere and would allow LGBT neo-Nazi type organisations to join in just as much as any other organisation, then you associate yourself with those groups and their agendas and end up excluding the people they want excluded (because those people will not feel safe enough to join in). But if you would exclude those groups for their racist hate speech, then you are, after all, having to take a political stance. So why not exclude UKIP, for its racism and hate speech?
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I believe Ukip’s presence is an affront not only to queer people, but also to immigrants, people of colour, and the working classes. That’s why I started a campaign for a Pride free from racism and prejudice of all kinds.
An apolitical Pride erases the history of militant activism that was necessary for many queer people to live more “normal” lives, as well as the connection of this history with other radical movements for justice.
It is wrong to assume that sexuality should determine political views. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that, not only is there a moral case for anyone to oppose the exclusionary policies of UKIP and its rightwing agenda, but also there is a vested interest for LGBTQ movement to take a broader view of the struggle and to recognise that what harms one group will be a lever to harm other groups who are traditionally excluded by the White, Male, Cis, Het, Capitalist (i.e. middle-class) establishment.
To suggest that union members should not be at the front is, as Norton says, to ignore and erase the history of combined struggle that LGSM represented. Lord knows, intersectionality has proved perplexing and challenging to many groups, and it’s not unusual to find in any excluded group examples of racism, homophobia, transphobia, whorephobia, class prejudice, sexism, with the only thing not being present being the one that that group directly suffers from (e.g. LGB groups don’t display homophobia as a general rule, but you’ll find racism, sexism, classism, whorephobia and transphobia). The measure (at least for organised groups) is, “Are you getting better? Are you putting effort into improving? How do you respond when someone points out you got it wrong?” But at least there should be some recognition that advances on one front tend to help on other fronts, so long as those advances are not made by selling out or deliberately excluding other groups (for instance, when supposedly LGBT groups seeking equal rights would frequently take trans rights off the table in order to win concessions from the other side).
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You can’t be apolitical when you organise a parade like London Pride. Every decision you make has political ramifications, whether you want them to or not. The decisions made this year that have been reported combine to produce the impression of a White, Cis, Middle-class event that is more interested in pulling up the ladder behind itself than about furthering the causes of equality, liberation and rights.
And that is sad.