London Pride: a chance to challenge the neoliberal LGBT agenda

 London Pride is taking place this Saturday and in the run up has been hitting the headlines. Colin Wilson argues that the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ contingent on this year’s march provides a crucial opportunity for radical voices to be heard.

LGSM and supporters

As soon as the Pride Committee published the order in which groups would march in London this year, two issues became clear. The first was that Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), who were to lead the march with the unions, were now a mile or so further back in “Block C”, in the middle of a march led by the flags of all nations and Barclays Bank. The second was that UKIP, who had run an election campaign based on racism, homophobia and bigotry in general, were taking part.

London Pride 2015: LGSM and UKIP

As far as LGSM goes, we can do no better than reproduce the group’s own statement:

“In response to the comments that our earlier posting has prompted from our friends and supporters, LGSM would like to clarify the reasons why we decided not to lead the Pride in London (PiL) Parade and to move to Bloc C and join our trade union allies and wider supporter network.

As people will be aware from the film ‘Pride’, the 1985 Pride parade was led by LGSM and members of the South Wales mining communities who responded to the support that LGSM gave them during the 1984-5 strike. On the 30th anniversary of that event we were keen to commemorate it by once again demonstrating the solidarity that brought about a major shift towards LGBT rights in this country.

In 2015 we feel there is a greater need than ever for solidarity between those fighting against all forms of oppression and injustice, and for the liberation of LGBT people. When Pride in London asked us to lead the parade we naturally welcomed the opportunity to replicate not only the actions but also the spirit of the 1985 parade, and to become a point of attraction for trade unions, student and youth groups and other campaigning organisations.

Over the last few years many people have become concerned about the increasingly higher profile of major private corporations on Pride, both in terms of sponsorship and their prominence in the parade itself, and were excited by the prospect of this Pride having a different atmosphere and focus because of LGSM’s role in heading the march. We fully understand, therefore, the sense of disappointment and frustration felt by so many of our friends and supporters now that this has changed.

Discussions between LGSM and the PiL Board revolved around two issues: the numbers in our contingent at the head of the Parade; and the position of the trade unions and our wider supporter network. Requests at one stage that our contingent be only 50 people were not acceptable and this was successfully negotiated upwards to nearer 300. LGSM then reluctantly accepted that our contingent would not be in one block, but we had the understanding, possibly as a result of miscommunication, that our other supporters would be marching as close as possible behind us, separated only by a group of flag-bearers.

When the order of parade was published on 21st May, we were very surprised to discover that the trade unions, students and other supporters would be located in Bloc C, some way behind LGSM. This would mean that LGSM would be arriving at Trafalgar Square when our supporters were still at the Parade assembly point in Baker Street. This was not acceptable to us and we appealed strongly to PiL to reconsider and to move the TU section nearer to the Head of Parade. At the PiL Open Meeting on 1st June, it was clear that our appeal was not going to be accepted by PiL and we therefore felt that we had no alternative but to withdraw from leading the Parade and propose that LGSM move to Bloc C, as an act of solidarity with our growing number of friends and supporters. This request was accepted by PiL.

We would like to make it clear that we are working to ensure that issues of LGBT liberation, class politics, trade unionism, solidarity and wider anti-austerity and other struggles will be raised on the march and that we remain determined to bring a different character to this year’s Pride.

We will be marching at the head of the trade union section alongside the re-formed Swansea, Neath and Dulais Valley Miners Support group with their miners’ banners, the Tredegar Town Brass Band (as seen in the movie), and the South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus. The Mark Ashton Trust will also be marching with us, as well as our supporters of all ages who are travelling from all over the country and the world to join us. Our trademark ‘Pits and Perverts’ t-shirts, badges and other merchandise will be on sale and we hope to make a united, inclusive and vibrant intervention in the parade. We hope we will see many of you on the day.

Solidarity forever!”

On UKIP, following widespread objections, the Pride Committee changed its mind: UKIP are now out of the march. Their reason they give for their decision, however, is that Committee is concerned for stewards’ safety. This is a disgraceful cop out. The reason to keep UKIP out of Pride is not organisational but political – they’re homophobes and racists. The long catalogue of homophobia doesn’t really need repeating, though Vice have a helpful summary. The UKIP leadership’s response to each example of bigotry has been essentially the same – distance yourself from it a bit, to reinforce your claim to be part of the mainstream and not “extremists”, but not too much, because you’re building a political current partly based on homophobia, which is something which hasn’t happened in British politics since Thatcher and Section 28.

Mainstream LGBT organisations under austerity

So, you have to ask, why did the Pride Committee let UKIP march in the first place? Here we need to broaden the focus a bit, because they aren’t the only “mainstream” LGBT organisation that’s run into problems in the last year. Stonewall has seen a palace coup in which Ben Summerskill, the previous Chief Executive, was replaced at the start of 2014 by Ruth Hunt, previously his deputy. Stonewall under Summerskill made two serious mistakes. They dithered about supporting marriage equality back in 2010 when it became a real possibility – perhaps because they had got used to working with New Labour, who had backed civil partnerships in office but not legislated for marriage. But the longer-running issue, which caused growing and justified outrage, was Stonewall’s failure to include trans people in its campaigns, a failure which Hunt has corrected in the last year.

Meanwhile, controversy has hit Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT rights organisation in the US. An internal report described HRC as a “white men’s club”, quoted an employee who stated that “as a woman, I feel excluded every day”, and revealed that half of the multiracial and Latino staff feel that they are not treated equally. HRC has also failed to take the needs of its trans staff seriously: there is only one gender-neutral toilet in a building where over 150 people work, and the organisation’s dress code (!) includes only two options, for “male” and “female” clothing.

I’ve written before about the contradictory achievements of LGBT politics in the last forty years. Campaigning has won us a level of acceptance unthinkable in the 1970s, but we’ve won it in the broader context of neoliberalism. Out LGBT members of the ruling class now hold significant positions in the movement – such as Michael Salter, former head of political broadcasting for David Cameron, and chair of the London Pride board. As this has happened, struggles against oppression have increasingly been reduced to their pale neoliberal form, the celebration of “diversity” – we’re all equal before the law and LGBT money is as good as anyone else’s. There has developed an increasing divide between those who think neoliberal capitalism is just fine, as long as they can establish their place within it, and those for whom LGBT oppression is only example of wider social injustice and exclusion. To a large extent that divide is about class. But it’s also related to other issues – those less able to join the neoliberal gay elite, for example, include women, black and transgender people.

Which brings us back to the issue of UKIP on London Pride. Supporters of UKIP have loudly criticised the exclusion of their group’s banner, complaining that Pride has shown it’s not “inclusive”. But inclusive of whom? If you think that LGBT issues are the only ones that matter – which often means accepting the agenda of the LGBT ruling class, dominated as it is by rich, white, cisgender gay men – then LGBT racists should be as welcome as anyone else.

But think about who the LGBT community in London, and the London population more generally, includes. 4 out of 10 Londoners are from black, Asian or minority ethnic communities: 3.3 million people from a total of 8.2 million. Evidence from the COMPAS team at Oxford University suggests that 1 in 3 of the London population are migrants, people born outside the UK, and that 1 in 12 have arrived here in the last five years. While UKIP attacks asylum seekers, many LGBT asylum seekers find it impossible to get into the UK: Cameron lectures other countries about gay rights, but does little to help those suffering most. Nigel Farage singled out migrants with HIV for attack during the general election: 1 in 8 gay men in London lives with HIV. Inviting UKIP to join the Pride march, then, signalled that the Pride Committee wasn’t concerned about the inclusion of very large parts of London’s LGBT population. Added to the longstanding and justified anger of groups such as trans people at their exclusion from large organisations like Stonewall, it all adds up to the perception that the Pride Committee are a privileged group, out of touch with much of their constituency. And that impression is only reinforced when you look at the Community Advisory Board which the Pride Committee set up to ensure it kept in touch with the grass roots – you find that unions are unrepresented, political groups are represented by LGBT Tories and the seat representing trans* people is vacant.

A chance to change the agenda

LGBT campaigners march in support of striking dockers in Norway

LGBT campaigners march in support of striking dockers in Norway

The film Pride has, for many people, put forward a different vision of LGBT struggles from the neoliberal politics of the London Pride Committee – one based on the possibility of building networks of solidarity between people, who come together in fighting for social justice even if they lead very different lives. That inspiration has been international – at the Pride march in Bergen on 6 June, for example, local activists marched in support of striking Norwegian dockers, carrying a banner based on that of LGSM. That’s why people are travelling from across the UK to join the LGSM contingent on London Pride.

LGSM say that they “remain determined to bring a different character to this year’s Pride.” We have a chance to undermine the neoliberal agenda that dominates LGBT politics by making sure that their contingent is as big as possible. Everyone who was inspired by their story, LGBT or straight, should join their contingent on the march. Men and women, black and white, trans and cisgender, Pride 2015 is a chance for working people to unite against austerity and shape a different agenda of how we campaign for liberation – see you in Block C!

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