Russia’s Anti-gay Law and the Rise of Fascism

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.

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Members of Russian profascist organisation ‘Rus’ (Russia) demonstrate against a gay pride march in Moscow. Photograph: Alexey Sazonov/AFP/Getty

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.

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Friends commemorate Lamzar Samba, a 28-year-old Senegalese student and activist, murdered by neo-Nazis in St Petersburg, April 2006.

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.

Beyond Marriage Equality: For a United Sexual and Gender Liberation Movement

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!

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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!

Maxi B

Steven Simpson’s Death Should Not Be Dismissed

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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.

Maxi B

Fighting For Justice: How the Police Perpetuate Transphobia

TW: Transphobic violence

Yesterday afternoon, a transphobic attack was committed against a trans woman in the Soho district of London, later named in the press as Ms. Dos Santos. This attack was not committed by a member of the public, as many of us may expect, but instead by the police. Her wig was torn from her head, the contents of her handbag were emptied on the floor, she was violently held to the ground and threatened with further physical violence by the officers who arrested her. All of this was apparently justified by her being sick outside of a restaurant – one might ask whether it should have been medical care that she was offered, not the humiliation she received from members of an institution that politicians insist is there ‘to protect and serve’ us.

Trans* people constantly risk attacks on their right to exist; whether it be through physical and sexual violence, political scapegoating or economic isolation. A study from the Gender Identity Research and Education Society reports that at school 40% of trans* people experienced verbal abuse, 25% physical abuse, 4% were sexually abused, and 25% report this bullying was coming from their teacher.

It also shows that as adults, trans* people will experience verbal abuse, threatening behaviour, physical and sexual abuse. The Trans Murder Montinoring (TMM) project reports an exponential increase in the murder of trans people world-wide in the last four years.

In the US there has been a militant campaign to free Cece McDonald – an African-American trans woman, who was arrested and imprisoned for defending herself when she was attacked by a group of Neo-Nazis. McDonald was subject to racist and transphobic slurs, she had a bottled smashed across her face, she was the only one arrested at the scene and she was subsequently housed in a men’s prison. She is currently serving a 41 month sentence.

Cece’s story highlights how trans* people of colour are even more at risk – crimes against them are often perpetuated by racism and fascism. Increasingly, these crimes are committed by the police force. US magazine Ebony argues:

“Every day, victims of transphobic violence are ignored by police or treated in ways that only exacerbate the situation. This is often due to the belief among law enforcement that transgendered people deserve the violent acts committed against them. As a result of this belief, police are often openly hostile to transgendered victims. According to studies, 38% of Black trans people indicate that they have been harassed by the police. Even worse, 20% state that they have been physically or sexual assaulted by police. Given this pattern of criminalization and abuse over protection, it is no surprise that most victims of transgender violence (52%) do not report the crimes to law enforcement.”

When transphobia occurs, its depiction in the media is also damaging. The recent transphobic remarks, that were published in the Guardian and the Telegraph, by Julie Burchill caused outrage and triggered a campaign of protests, while activist groups, LGBTQ groups and trades unions also issued statements against her. Burchill described trans women “bed wetters in cheap wigs” and “dicks-in-chicks clothing”. Her comments were removed from the Guardian and then disgustingly republished by the Telegraph.  This begs the question, if trans people are jumped on by the media and reduced to grotesque caricatures, what message are we sending out about the value of trans* people in our society?

One BBC report on the murder of Destiny Lauren in 2009 highlights the effects of reporting hate-crime. They omit any information about her life, instead they describe her as ‘transsexual prostitute’, disclose her gender re-assignment (GRS) status, and the name she was given at birth. In addition, the focus of articles like this is often the problem that trans people do not report their attack to the police – firmly putting the responsibility on the victim to come forward. This is purely victim-blaming. Survivors did not choose to go through a transphobic attack, and they should not be made to feel responsible for reporting their ordeal to the police, especially when they have experienced hate-crime from the police force themselves.

The attack yesterday on Ms. Dos Santos only serves to highlight the inability of the police force to put an end transphobia in our communities and deliver justice – why should we expect trans* people approach an institution who consistently commit crimes against them? It is united campaigns against transphobia and police violence that really change people’s ideas in our society, and encourage people to come forward. Its shows the police for who they are – an institutionally racist and transphobic organisation, which perpetuates the very same violence that politicians say the police force is there to prevent.

This LGBT history month people will remember the Stonewall riots which gave birth to the gay liberation movement, at the heart of which were LGBTQ people fighting against police harassment. One of the leaders of this movement, a black trans woman named Marsha P. Johnson, was found dead in the Hudson River in 1992, and although police ruled her death a suicide, it is widely believed that she was murdered. Police have recently re-opened the case due to the pressure from the public.

Stonewall embodied the frustration and anger of LGBTQ who were subject to violence harassment, by the police and the state. It gave birth to an organised liberation movement – one that needs to be re-ignited so we can end violence against trans* people. If we can unite activists involved in campaigns like the one against Julie Burchill’s comments, and the Free Cece McDonald campaign, we can begin to re-invigorate the movements against transphobia and racism, and take a stand together.

My full support and solidarity goes out to Ms. Dos Santos. We need to end transphobic violence NOW.

Maxi B

“Classism” misses the point. Class gives us power.

I just wanted to write a short post about the idea of “classism” when we talk about oppression. Often it is used as a parallel with racism or sexism (usually in privilege theory which I will write about soon), to mean the oppression that someone faces due to their “economic background”, their income or sometimes in relation to an individuals access to cultural capital. I fundamentally reject this notion of class, primarily because it overlooks the immense power that class gives us, and its vague conception of what class actually is.

Within the capitalist system class is an antagonism built into the system, which is our primary means of overcoming oppression. If we want to end racism at all levels of society, or sexism, homophobia, transphobia or ableism – we need to realise the huge potential for overcoming oppression that our class gives us. Class is not about being poor, or about your education, or how much you earn (though these things are the result of class among other things) – it is the relationship you have the the means of production within the capitalist system.

If we all went on strike and withdrew our labour (that we are forced to sell for a wage in order to live) we would bring a halt to production and stop our bosses from profiteering from the system. It is through our labour that they make profit, and in order to stop us banding together they continue to maintain their power structures and institutions which support divisive ideas, discrimination and a heterosexist hegemony. It is why our activism cannot just stop at “raising awareness” because we cannot win the battle just by putting out a different message. We need to smash the power structures that allow oppression to prevail,  whilst the 1% reap their reward in terms of a profit. Currently we have an elite privileged class of capitalist property owners who keep control of what we create, and who gets it – but if we took back the means of production, and collectively owned what we create, and democratically decided what we do with it, we could provide for human need, not profit. We could build homes, feed the worlds population, provide jobs, stop environmental disaster and seek new liberating ideas about ourselves and our relationships with others.

Class is about being the 99% and although that means we suffer immense oppression, it is also our primary means of resistance. If we all stopped working and demanded an end to oppression and capitalism, the economic power base that our rulers use to control us and our lives would be lost to them. Class is about fighting back, organising the rest of the 99% so that we no longer have to suffer. Class is our agency in the struggle, and if we miss this huge and integral point to our resistance, we will fail to overcome the oppression we all wish to end for good.

International students face deportation: Students and staff remain defiant

International students at London Metropolitan University were left in shock on Wednesday night, as they were informed that the university’s license to teach international students from outside the EU had been revoked by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). In a disgusting and provocative move by the UKBA, over 2,500 students were left with invalid visas, with only 60 days to find enrolment at another institution, or face deportation.

This crisis for international students comes at a time when tensions between the UKBA and academics and students at London Met have escalated. The UKBA flaccidly claim that students had not been keeping up attendance, that their English was not upto UKBA’s standards, and that some visas appeared to be invalid.

On the face of it UKBA may appear to have a case, but this is a politically motivated attack on its students – one which they haven’t the sufficient data to back up. The “Highly Trusted Status” has actually been revoked due to the non-compliance of sections of the University’s staff and students with the requirements of the new points-based immigration system, which requires academics to pass records of attendance and changes of circumstance to the UKBA for their international students.

When these controls were introduced lecturers and staff across the country came out to condemn the government’s move to monitor international students more closely than their UK peers – a move that was condemned as racist. Academics refused to hand over attendance records, backed by the University and Colleges Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS). The UKBA and the government have exploited the situation at London Met in an attempt to target a university whose record of standing up for student rights and defending their multicultural student body has been exemplary.

The UKBA have earned a reputation as an institution full of itchy right-wing thugs, intent on deporting the UK’s migrant population, in line with the UK’s right-wing stance on immigration. Their actions have left many students devastated. With many university courses now fully enrolled, many will be unable to find a place at another institution where they can continue their education. Emmanuel Eqwu, International Students Officer at London Met condemned the UKBA’s decision: “This period is a very tense period – most universities have finished enrolling students. So how is it possible within 60 days to get a place at a university to complete a year?”

Those who will lose out the most are the students who are left without valid visas. If you thought UK national fees were high, international students often get the sharpest end of the deal – university management who have attracted students from across the world will now be cashing in, whilst these students are left without a qualification, and huge debts. Tunde, a Nigerian student studying for an MA in Information Technology at London Met has been left with an impossible situation: “I’ve got 60 days to stay in the country” he said, “I’ve paid £9,800 for nothing and no-one is talking about refunds. I can’t call my mum to tell her – she is responsible for my fees. How can I tell her this?”

This move by the UKBA has been backed by the government, who are making it increasingly clear they wish to see London Met closed. This debacle has come weeks after university management announced plans to privatise virtually all of its support services in a £75m deal – a move that is dangerously putting profit before the welfare of its students.

Students and staff have protested and occupied their university against a huge package of cuts levelled at the university two years ago by the Higher Education Council, after mismanagement and national funding cuts. Staff at the university have also bolstered student protests against the cuts with a series of strikes that have built a united campaign on campus. Increasingly the government appear frustrated with one of the defiant campaigns against the education cuts, and Tory think tank, Policy Exchange, has targeted London Met for closure – one of the first potential casualties in the governments rolling cuts to education.

Students and staff at the university have already launched a protest outside Downing Street, calling for students to support their international peers. Amid fears that the licenses of other universities will be revoked, students are circulating a petition condemning the actions of the government and the UKBA, declaring “Hands off our students – Hands off our classmates”. On 20th October at the national TUC demonstration and on 21st November at the NUS national demonstration, students and education staff will demand an end to student deportation, and the UKBA’s harassment of London Met students.