Link Above: Radio show discussing the history of LGBT and Queer movements and the future for a socialist-feminist queer politics. The discussion includes James Butler, Juliet Jacques and Huw Lemmey.
I have taken a break from blogging recently, but im brewing some more stuff, so watch this space…
We have seen Russia’s anti-gay law pass almost unanimously in the Duma this year, and resistance to continuing attacks on LGBTQ people, have been met with the boots and fists of the Russian police, and anti-gay supporters. However there is a context missing from an awful lot of mainstream reporting around the rapid escalation of homophobia and transphobia in Russia.
The anti-gay law is not just another law that seeks to villify LGBTQ people and their very existence, but this move by regime is a capitulation to Russian neo-Nazi organisations to further terrorise LGBTQ people. Police complicity with fascists already has a history in Russia and Putin’s regime has sponsored nationalists in the Rodina party, and the neo-nazi Nashi youth organisation to attack and discredit challenges to the regime from the Communist Party and Russian youth. From watching videos of the recent attacks on LGBTQ people, police often stand back and let homophobic and transphobic assaults continue with little or no intervention. Protesters recall previous pride demonstrations (which have been increasingly bigger targets for anti-queer violence) where cops were seen allowing fascists into vans where arrested protesters were being held, suggesting the police work with or are members of neo-Nazi groups.
Neo-Nazi group Format18 and their infamous spokesperson Maxim Martsinkevich (nicknamed Tesak, or ‘hatchet’) have lead the attacks on LGBTQ youth that claim to target paedophiles on the internet. However this is a lie; they put up fake profiles on social networking sites and arrange to meet with LGBTQ youth for a date, only to kidnap, torture, rape and even kill them – all without prosecution by the state. Many of the young people that this group have targeted have subsequently had videos and photos of their kidnap and torture put on the internet, causing them to be outed, humiliated and often driven to suicide.
The victims of the far-right are not just LGBTQ people, the fascists also attack black people, immigrants and various religious groups, in order to scapegoat them – one high profile attack in 2006 by neo-Nazis in St. Petersburg ended in the death of a Sengalese student, Lamzar Samba.
In order to secure the future of Putin’s regime he is trying to build a strong national identity based around “traditional values” (you know, because LGBTQ are just a recent phenomenon right?) to combat any oppositional threat to his political power, or challenges from below from left-wing / liberationist agendas. His capitulation to the fascists is very convenient, and his allies in power are just as keen to see queers wiped off the face of the earth.
Some liberals have been quick to called Putin and the regime explicitly fascist, which I think is an over-estimation – lets not forget this law is just another version of section 28 which we saw in our schools and local authorities in the UK not that long ago, and has now recently been re-adopted by several schools due to give school governors / investors more power over their own school policy. We should not allow pro-LGBTQ activists in the west to claim this moral superiority over the Russian authorities, when our own governments are slashing our services and still capitulating to the right, drastically threatening the economic and social security of LGBTQ people.
Groups like Format 18 are growing and gaining political support, both from the disenfranchised youth in Russia, and increasingly the capitalist elite that sit in Russian Parliament and own the vast majority of Russia’s industry. As one journalist reveals, there has been a concerted propaganda effort by the regime to legitimise these views.
Anti-fascists and LGBTQ liberationists should remain vigilant wherever they are about the rise of fascism and the complicity of governments in their operations. We should show solidarity with our comrades in Russia wherever possible and cut through mainstream reporting that are using this to bash the Russian population, and not the government who is oppressing them.
There is so much to say on marriage reform. I have tried to write this post over and over again with good references and quotes, but i’m just going to write down how I feel first, and hopefully put a new spin on the discussion. Your comments, as always, are welcome!
Marriage Equality and ‘Gay Rights’
We are currently seeing in the US and across Europe a series of reforms that allow same-sex couples to marry. These campaigns took me by surprise – as a political activist and a queer, I was sure I would have heard about the meetings building for this reform, the demonstrations and direct action. However this reform does not seem to be born from grassroots struggle. It seems to be initiated by a privileged elite within the so called ‘gay community’ – pink pound business leaders, LGB members of parliament, and leaders of top down LGB lobbying groups – largely white, middle-class and male. It’s central focus – access to the institution of marriage – an institution that has historically oppressed LGBTQ people, and in essence is a patriarchal capitalist construction.
This has left many of us radicals very disorientated. Some of us still support the reform, whilst some of us do not – however we still seem to be united over one fact – this reform is not a sufficient representation of the struggle we face in the 21st century. It is narrow – it affects only those who choose to marry, those who can afford it, and those who feel that it will help them ‘fit in’.
The reform has huge media coverage, it is debated in government institutions, it has widespread media coverage across the mainstream media. Yet there is still a space to the left of the reformers that remains relatively unoccupied – a space that could be used as a platform for a more radical LGBTQ liberation agenda.
Marriage Will Not End Queer Oppression
We know the struggle that faces us in the 21st century – we are faced with pressing issues such as poverty and homelessness, access to healthcare and public services, racism, sexism and disability, full legal recognition of trans* people, LGBTQ youth services and sexual education in our schools, to name a few. However we are yet to establish these demands coherently as a grassroots movement for sexual and gender liberation – a movement that quickly needs to be established in order to make sure marriage reform is not the end of the road for us.
There seem to be a large number of LGBTQ people on the left who are angry about the white-washing of sexual and gender liberation, and the pink-washing of government’s austerity measures. The organisations that claim to be fighting on our behalf often only represent a certain type of ‘acceptable’ queer who will marry, have children and run a business. They consistently sell out on a broader agenda that stresses the struggles of all of our diverse communities. The Human Rights Commission in the US is a typical example, shutting down dissent from trans* people raising their voices, and queers who want to see a revolutionary change in society – one that puts LGBTQ people before pink-pound profit. Stonewall, and the Coalition for Equal Marriage both benefit from narrow platforms that draw a dividing line between those who are ‘acceptable’ and those who are not.
We are also living under a government set on a course to devastate working class communities, and implement austerity in order to protect private profits. They say they support ‘gay rights’, yet they are systematically cutting and shutting down public sector services that serve the LGBTQ community – HIV/AIDS provision, the NHS, LGBTQ youth provision, support services and mental health provision. In this economic crisis queers are seeing an unprecedented rise in racism and the scapegoating of immigrants – many of whom seek asylum because of persecution at home due to their sexuality/gender expression. Many of us have been left with a legacy created by the party that governs us – Section 28. As Tory comments and their votes in parliament show, they still wish to stop us or turn back the clock. UKIP are rising in popularity, yet their views on queers represent a short sharp trip back to the middle-ages – they must be stopped.
Israel and its allies are attempting to use LGBTQ people as a weapon against the Palestinian people. They are attempting to sell their apartheid state as a model of LGBTQ equality, whilst they systematically try to destroy a people and their culture. We must not allow the pink-pound businesses to pink-wash the occupation of Palestine – we must stand against queers being used as political capital by warmongers and imperialists!
For A United Liberation Movement
We can have an ongoing debate whether or not we support the marriage equality reform. I support the reform on the basis that it is an opportunity to widen the debate on sexual and gender liberation. I believe we should be asking these so called ‘representatives’ of our communities why they are silent on all of the other issues we face. I think we should use the current media coverage to connect with the public who consider themselves pro-gay, and inform them of the struggles all of us face as LGBTQ people.
However, regardless of our position on this reform, it is now clear that we cannot win these struggles by allowing this debate to go on without our voices being heard. We need to establish networks and organise from the grassroots to provide a coherent alternative to the ‘acceptable’ white, rich men who claim to represent us.
I think it is time to put a radical third position forward. To bring together all LGBTQ forces fighting for liberation and reignite the radical and revolutionary tradition of the gay liberation movement. With organisation, protest and direct action we could put our ideas into practise. Together as a united liberation movement, we can fight for sexual and gender liberation for all!
Off the blogs, and onto the streets!
We’re here, we’re queer, we will not live in fear!
I want to write a few practical points about how I think revolutionary socialists should organise when dealing with oppression – however these extend to political criticisms of certain ‘common-sense’ attitudes that I have experienced whilst organising on the left. These are just a few ideas, but I hope that this might open up a discussion.
We live in a society in which oppression permeates every aspect of our existence, whether it be how we are treated in work or on the street, in our homes and in the media, in accessing public services and healthcare.
Sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and disableism permeate the material world, and our consciousness – it doesn’t take a “bad” person to regurgitate these ideas when they are slapped across our media, education system and popular culture, and the capitalist hegemony has the power to allow these ideas to prevail, silencing opposition in the process.
So when it comes to organising a revolutionary party, one which can throw open its doors to the masses, how can we create a party that is fit for the whole of the working class, one which understands and fights against oppression in all of its forms?
One fundamental thing I would like to see in a revolutionary party is the ability for oppressed groups to hold caucuses that can guide the party’s theory and practice around that particular strand of oppression (sexism, racism, transphobia, etc). In practice, it is clear that when women, people of colour, LGBTQ people, and disabled people are allowed the room within the party’s mechanisms to self-organise, we are able to speak more openly. We can speak without fear of having our experiences undermined, without fear of not being understood or having our ideas side-lined. Self-organisation should not have to be something we need to do, however if you live with the day to day experiences of oppression and the division capitalism creates, the process of getting oppressed groups to throw their ideas and experiences into the mass of the party takes time, and it’s something that some people just need to get used to.
I have heard comments before along the lines of “well that’s just separatism” or “men can fight against sexism too” – comments which fail to recognise why self-organisation is important. To say that self-organisation is tantamount to separatism lacks political insight and is offensive. If you deem self-organisation an attempt to shy away from class struggle, you are silencing voices from oppressed groups. You are also saying “if you can’t say it to us, in a way we are going to understand, don’t say it at all” – it actively holds back struggle. Saying that men can fight sexism is self-evident, but it does not serve as an adequate criticism of self-organisation. The purpose of self-organisation is not to set that oppressed group charging off without the rest of the party, it is there to feed into the mass of the party and for us to win the mass of the party to the politics of liberation, including making the mass of the party aware of new developments and opportunities to widen the class struggle.
Another thing that self-organised groups would bring to the party is a greater theoretical contribution to Marxism and its ability to trace the roots of oppression within class society. Often there are sharp political debates going on amongst other political currents that are drawing a wider audience – such as those currently going on within the feminist movement.
Self-organisation would build networks within the revolutionary party that could sharpen our politics. For example, a common problem I face as an LGBTQ comrade is that I often struggle to find other LGBTQ comrades with whom I can discuss ideas or share resources. We should encourage discussion and debate within party literature (in the paper or zine, in our journals or internal bulletins) – something that a self-organised group could take responsibility for maintaining. My experience of the LGBTQ movement – though grassroots LGBTQ struggle still remains at a low level in the UK – is that when new questions are being raised by a movement re-orientating itself, the party’s analyses are drawn out from archives, which are often inapplicable to the current political climate or new developments. Self-organisation would ensure that when there is a lull in a particular liberation movement, the party’s theoretical clarity would not suffer.
Allowing self-organisation can only help to build the party. It is true that many people first become conscious of their oppression as a result of their identity as a woman, an LGBTQ person, a person of colour, or a disabled person. We know this because our daily political struggle is to raise class consciousness; many of us came from other political currents or movements, and were won in time to revolutionary socialism. By giving time and space within the party for self-organisation, we give working class people who identify with one strand of oppression, or the politics of identity, to come and hear socialist arguments – a chance to illustrate how oppression is rooted in the capitalist system and win them to the struggle of the working class.
Various groups on the left have used safe-space policy in a variety of different ways – some more successfully than others. Fundamentally, a safe space policy is a clear set of rules that is given to all members, that sets a baseline for behaviour when we are in meetings, conferences, or even on demonstrations. It gives a clear warning that sexual harassment and violence toward other comrades will not be tolerated, and that oppressive behaviour will not be tolerated. It gives a clear indication both to those who may be tempted to act in such a way, and more crucially, a point of contact for those who experience this behaviour. It shows an outward commitment to welcoming and protecting oppressed groups, it gives us a mechanism to deal instantly with complaints, and ultimately it will show the revolutionary party for what it is – a tribune of the oppressed.
The specifics of any safe space policy need to be hammered out, but in essence we just need to make it clear what we will not tolerate in our meetings, aggregates, conferences or united front work – we will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, disableism – along with any other things we deem unfit for good political practice. Often groups will operate a one or two strikes policy toward things like offensive language used in meetings, so that there is the opportunity to challenge the ideas politically from the floor. Types of behaviour that often don’t carry a warning are things like violence (or the threat of), sexual violence and sexual harassment – I don’t think anyone wants to be in a meeting where these things are deemed acceptable ways to behave toward your comrades. Laying these ground rules might seem like extra work, but if advertised can pull in sections of the class that revolutionary organisations often miss out on. It is one thing to claim a proud tradition of fighting for liberation, but if we fail to deliver a safe space policy to oppressed groups, we are failing to prove our ideas in practice.
Some have argued that a revolutionary organisation does not require these sorts of mechanisms because all members are revolutionary socialists – they are against oppression in all of its forms. However this does not take into account a historical materialist analysis of how our ideas informed by the material conditions of the society we live in, nor how the dominant ideas of the current epoch are those of the ruling class. As revolutionaries we wish to challenge and tear away the social order that creates oppression – however we are not immune to oppressive ideas and behaviour – the ‘muck of ages’. Saying so would be claiming a moral and political superiority that says we are somehow protected from capitalism, its pervasive hegemony and its alienation – something that lies in contradiction with a historical materialist analysis of the world.
You may also say that a sizeable section of the class does not fit into any of these oppressed groups, but they are still oppressed. I agree – we will all be oppressed whilst class society exists, and without socialism I don’t believe it is possible to end oppression. The working class will be oppressed until the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, and the construction of a socialist society. However, if we do not take the liberation of the working class seriously – by adapting the party’s mechanisms in order to raise our political level – we risk losing sections of the class from the struggle. If revolutionary socialists remain complacent on liberation, we risk losing sections of the class to cross-class alliances, and the politics of reformism. Oppressed groups should see the revolutionary party as their home – lets fight to make it that way.
Feel free to share your ideas, suggestions, criticisms, comments in the comments box below.
Editorial note: Re-drafted 09/05/2013
Thank you to all those who have taken time to read and comment on my blog posts on cultural appropriation. I would like to add a disclaimer here, I attempted to write these posts because I saw calls from Native American liberation pages on Tumblr to raise awareness about cultural appropriation. I also was attempting to integrate these ideas into a Marxist framework, which has proven very difficult because I am a 21 year old white person with only so much experience of the world. I dont think that what I am writing is always correct, I wrote a second article in response to critics and tried to incorporate some of their ideas. I hope that anyone who holds criticisms can comment on the relevant pieces and I would love to continue the discussion with them, or give them space on my blog for a response.
I would also like to add that unfortunately, some individuals have decided to post links to my blog posts on private forums in which they have personally attacked me. These personal attacks include comments about my class background, perceived privileges, comments which completely undermine my experience of oppression. I’m sure some of these people have may have met me in person, been in meetings with me and have read my blog, but at no point have contacted me with their political or personal criticisms about what I have written.
I would like to make clear that I think this is cowardly and has upset me quite a lot, to the point that it makes me question whether or not to share my ideas on the internet. Id like to make those individuals aware that no matter what their criticisms are of my blog posts, that their gossip on is actively putting off and silencing left wing voices, and voices of various oppressed groups. Their aspersions about my personal life are often inaccurate and seek to demonize me with apolitical personal attacks that I cant respond to.
If you can march with me on the same demonstration, then please come and speak to me about what has upset you, not gossip about it and re-enforce division on the left. I want to debate and discuss these ideas with you. I am also available to privately discuss these issues, as well as the political content of my blog via email (email@example.com).
Thanks to all those who read my blog for your time, continued support and contributions. I hope this can be a watershed for those who have not been so forthright in contacting me directly.
Above: Steven Simpson
Content Warning: Contains Description Of An Ableist/Homophobic Killing.
In the early hours of the 23rd of June, Steven Simpson was set on fire by 20 year old Jordan Sheard, who had gate-crashed his house party in Cudworth, near Barnsley. He had been verbally abused, stripped of his clothes and had phrases like “I love dick” and “gay boy” scrawled across his body. He was then doused in tanning oil and Sheard lit his crotch with a cigarette lighter, and the flames engulfed his body. Those involved fled as Simpson’s neighbour tried desperately to put out the flames. Simpson died the next day after enduring 60% burns to his body.
Steven Simpson’s death was the result of the hatred and humiliation caused to him because of his sexuality, and his disability. He was bullied, de-humanised and then killed. It follows the format of many killings of LGBTQ people world wide.
Sheffield Crown Court’s view on the matter has been frankly disgusting. Judge Roger Keen dismissed the crime as a ‘good-natured horseplay’ that had gone too far, and sentenced him to a unusually short sentence of three and a half years in prison. Sheard’s defence lawyer called what happened to Simpson as a ‘stupid prank that went wrong in a bad way’.
This was clearly a hate crime. Simpson was being taunted for his sexuality and his disability. He was devalued so much in the eyes of those involved, that they thought setting him on fire was somehow acceptable. He was a bright young man studying at Barnsley College, but his last moments alive on this earth must have been dehumanising, painful and terrifying.
How Judge Roger Keen can dismiss this so flippantly as “horseplay” is beyond me. He is re-enforcing the same notions that lead to Steven’s death: that homophobic bullying is fun, rather than a crime against LGBTQ people, that it is okay to mock or take advantage of someone’s disability, rather than looking out for them and treating them with respect, that setting someone on fire and burning them to death is “a joke too far”, rather than one of the inevitable consequences of the way we still treat people like Steven in our society.
It makes me sick to the stomach to think someone so young has been killed because he was different – and the frightening fact is that could have been any one of us that lives with a disability, or who is LGBTQ. Many have commented on the lenient sentencing of Steven’s killer, however I think this misses the point. The point here is the criminal justice system is complicit in the oppression of LGBTQ people and disabled people, when it makes comments like those of Judge Keen’s. It is churning out the very same ideas that lead to hate-crime.
It is not a joke, funny, or horseplay to treat someone in the way Steven was and we should not condone it as such. If we do condone this behaviour we are sending out the message that LGBTQ people and disabled people are fair game to be bullied and preyed upon. We are sending out the message that this okay for other young people to do what was done to Steven. It appears it is all okay with Judge Keen, just as long as you don’t kill someone.
But the point is, the way Steven was killed, was precisely a result of how he was treated. If he had just been treated like any other young person, with a bit of decency or respect, it would never have happened.
This is the message that Sheffield Crown Court should have put out. We should condemn Judge Keen’s remarks, call for him to make an apology, and call for Sheffield Crown Court to recognise the daily battle people like Steven face because of their sexuality and their disability. Sign the petition against Judge Keen’s remarks here: goo.gl/qxioc
Steven’s death should serve as a reminder of what our LGBTQ and disabled youth face today.