The Politics of Pride

As the LGBT movement takes to the streets at London Pride today, Colin Wilson reflects on the challenges facing the movement for liberation today.

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The official guide for Pride London is a remarkably political document. Perhaps, with the Head of Political Broadcasting at Number Ten chairing the Pride committee, that should come as no big surprise. It’s not that it’s crude propaganda for the Tories and corporates – though advertorial from sponsors Barclay’s and the Telegraph mean there’s some of that. But, overall, it’s “balanced” in a way which is, to use one of the current Pride committee’s favourite words, “professional”. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband all have their say. The guide includes both a publicity photo of the Managing Director of JP Morgan and an interview with Len McCluskey. Peter Tatchell is allotted a small piece arguing – all credit to him – that there are many more battles to be won.

We’ve achieved, then, formal equality before the law – a significant advance on the old days when gay sex was illegal, lesbians lost custody of their children in divorce cases and no LGBT person had any employment rights.

Neo-liberal “diversity” now means that our money is as good as anybody else’s. For a minority of LGBT people – especially the wealthy, the male, the white – we have, more or less, arrived. And yet, if this is as far as capitalism can get us to real liberation, you see at once how much it fails to deliver.

And so, just below the surface of “acceptance”, any number of cracks appear.

  • As Peter Tatchell points out, oppression continues. Over half of young LGBT people have been bullied at school, and 1 in 3 LGBT people have been the victims of hate crimes.
  • Some things are actually getting worse – UNISON write that public spending cuts has meant reductions in specialist LGBT housing, mental and sexual health, hate crime, support and youth services. The union writes that “LGBT people are increasingly isolated, with nowhere to turn.”
  • The growth of fascism in Europe, and UKIP in this country, means we can take nothing for granted. French Nazis played in central role in February in mobilising over 100,000 people on demos against same-sex marriage.
  • Much of the LGBT media concentrates on homophobia in Muslim or African countries. But there is plenty of homophobia here or in the US – we can’t accept a colonial-style stereotype of “civilised” Europeans against “barbaric” Asians and Africans.
  • The growth of pro-LGBT capitalism has only accelerated the commercialism of the LGBT scene. We’re all supposed to wear the right clothes and have the right look – excluding people on low incomes, disabled people, older people and many more.

Even among the most privileged LGBT people, oppression takes its toll. London Friend’s recent report on drug and alcohol services found that use of drugs is three times higher among gay and bi men than among straight men. Drug users include those with on high incomes with responsible jobs. As one of their clients says, “The reasons LGBT people take drugs can be different from other people. It’s about dealing with your sexuality, about loneliness.” Others mentioned the pressure to have a “perfect body” and “look like a porn star.”

Meanwhile, many people – particularly those who identify with queer politics – remain committed to the radical goals of the early LGBT movement. Rather than accepting gender divisions and the distinction between gay and straight, rather than seeking equality with straight people, many of us still struggle to change concepts of gender and sexuality for everybody.

There are lots of debates about how to do that. But we can all agree that there have been times in the past when radical LGBT politics have made a difference. Back in the 1980s, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners brought LGBT people and unions together. LGBT involvement in the 1990s anti-apartheid movement meant that post-apartheid South Africa included LGBT rights in its constitution.

And of course Stonewall riot started the modern LGBT movement in 1969. That spirit, not professionalism or partnerships with corporate, is what we need more of today.

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