Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/725/14805
Sexuality, austerity and socialism
In 78 countries, homosexual acts are still illegal. In five of these the maximum penalty is death. In Ukraine a law is currently being considered that would make it illegal to talk about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) issues in the media. As internationalists, socialists oppose oppression around the globe.
This year's London Pride event will be World Pride. The Socialist Party and its LGBT group will be participating and putting forward the ideas outlined in the articles here. We will have a new pamphlet available - Sexuality, austerity and socialism - a collection of articles from the Socialist as well as some new ones (including longer versions of the extracts published here).
Greg Randall, Socialist Party LGBT group convenor
Many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) people are looking for an alternative to the non-political scene that has been the backdrop to our lives for the past 15 to 20 years. Yes, much has been achieved - anti-discrimination laws, civil partnerships and adoption rights to name a few legal reforms - and social attitudes have changed for the better, but homophobia, biphobia and transphobia have not gone away.
Many LGBTQ people face discrimination on a daily basis, including being unable to come out for fear of family, workplace or social rejection. Passing laws banning discrimination does not end prejudice. Growing numbers of LGBTQ people, especially young people, are coming to the conclusion that legal reform is not enough. How can we win not just LGBTQ rights but also liberation?
The key issue in politics today is the austerity plan being imposed by the Con-Dem coalition against public services and the welfare state. This will hit all working and middle class people. Economists have said that as of spring 2012 only around 10% of the planned cuts have been implemented. There is much pain promised until well beyond the next election, scheduled for 2015. This applies whoever is in government, as Labour plans cuts too, but at a slower pace.
Cuts will hit LGBTQ people especially hard. There will be direct attacks on some services specifically used by us, such as youth groups and voluntary sector organisations. Galop, the police monitoring and liaison organisation, and Broken Rainbows, the LGBT domestic violence advice and support service have already been threatened with funding cuts, though this was fought off the first time it was attempted.
Plans to chop up and privatise the NHS will lead to a loss of expertise and specialist services used by LGBTQ people. If GPs are commissioning services they may not have the necessary knowledge or be accountable. This will particularly hit trans people looking for gender reassignment, which is already limited.
The abolition of incapacity benefit will have a massive effect on people living with HIV/AIDS, whatever their sexuality. Introducing "individual budgets" to buy support services will be no good if appropriate services don't exist. Many sufferers will be forced on to Jobseeker's Allowance or could lose their benefits entirely.
Will there be direct attacks on our rights, like Section 28, the Thatcher government measure banning the "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities? Section 28 was part of an act which forced local authorities to put council services out to be privatised and attacked jobs and conditions for local government workers.
The viciously homophobic propaganda campaign around Section 28 was used to scapegoat LGBT workers and divert attention from the effects of Tory policy. Left-wing councils were accused of wasting money on lesbian and gay centres and groups.
Many in the LGBTQ communities remember Section 28 and hate the Tories for it. Have the Tories changed? Prime minister David Cameron and some other top Tories conspicuously claim to be 'gay-friendly'. The coalition leaders are looking towards some form of marriage equality but probably not giving differently sexed couples the right to enter into civil partnerships.
Socialists support marriage equality as a democratic right but Tories claim to support marriage equality to "strengthen the family". By this they mean that family members should do the caring work, often without financial support and on very meagre benefits, which should be done by social services and the NHS.
Cameron wants to "decontaminate the Tory brand" and gain the support of a layer of wealthy LGBT people. His record belies his claims. He opposed the repeal of Section 28, opposed equal adoption rights and the Tories sit, at his behest, with homophobic far-right parties in the European Parliament.
An open and direct attack on LGBTQ rights is less rather than more likely at present. With the LGBTQ communities being more visible and better organised than in the 80s, this would inevitably outrage and radicalise wider layers especially of young people.
Probably the biggest current threat is that cuts can lead to scapegoating. Recession and austerity raises tension within society and some will look to blame and take out frustration on minorities. It is no coincidence that homophobic hate crime in the West End of London increased by 21% in the year to the end of February 2011. This area includes Soho and is promoted as the safest place for LGBTQ people in Britain with numerous bars and clubs.
Scapegoating will be encouraged, even if not openly, by elements in the Tory party. There were a number of attacks on gay rights and marriage equality by Tory MPs and journalists in the early months of 2011 just as the cuts started to bite. At some stage any capitalist government under pressure may resort to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to divide workers. Capitalist politicians need a reservoir of reactionary ideas in society, which they can draw on if they are under threat.
Attacks against LGBTQ communities will lead to a fightback - just as a mass campaign opposed Section 28 and brought LGBTQ communities together against a common foe. This gave confidence, visibility and led to many of the advances of the past 20 or so years.
Capitalism diverted the mood of confidence down a commercial route and into the opening up of bars, venues and festivals. Pride events became depoliticised. LGBTQ people need somewhere to meet and socialise, but the commercial scene excludes those who don't feel they 'fit in', can't afford to go out drinking or clubbing in an environment where prices can be very high or just live too far away from the scene. Many perceive the scene as trashy and over-sexualised. Outside big cities there may be no Queer or LGBT 'alternative' scene.
Socialist Party members campaigning at Pride, photo Chris Newby
Only working class action can create unity against prejudice and root out backward ideas. As the effect of cuts and the fightback against them grow in society as a whole, LGBTQ people will want a piece of the action. Strike action and mass demos will inspire and draw in whole layers of our communities.
The Socialist Party calls for a mass demonstration, organised by the trade unions, in particular their LGBT Groups, and LGBTQ community and campaigning organisations for full marriage equality and against the cuts. This could cut across any attempts to scapegoat LGBTQ people, make clear that we are not prepared to accept a legal reform, however important, as a sop from a government attacking our living standards and build unity with other workers and oppressed groups fighting attacks.
The Socialist Party's aim is the transformation of society, with the vast wealth of global society being democratically controlled by the currently disenfranchised 99%, not used for the super-wealthy 1% that capitalist governments work for. On this basis, services could be expanded, not cut, with human relationships being revolutionised for the better, including an end to oppression and prejudice. This is the only guarantee of LGBTQ liberation.
The Socialist Party calls for:
- The immediate introduction of equal marriage rights for same sex couples and the right for couples of different sexes to enter into civil partnership
- No penalisation of trans people in marriage proceedings
- Investment in job creation, decent housing and public services to reduce economic pressure on relationships
- A mass movement against the cuts, led by the trade unions and involving community campaigns, minority groups and young people
- Rebuilding a militant LGBTQ movement to fight for equality and genuine liberation for all
- Pride not profit: keep big business out of Pride events
- A new mass workers' party to offer real political representation for ordinary people, including all minorities
LGBTQ youth: fighting for liberation and a future
Closures of youth services such as support groups for LGBTQ people were some of the first council cuts made. In Leeds a support group for young LGBTQ people experiencing homophobic bullying was merged with one for older gay people to save money. Meanwhile a hostel for young people who were forced out of their parents' homes was completely closed.
Worse, numerous council services were outsourced to charities and special interest religious groups like the Salvation Army, with a long history of homophobic policies such as throwing LGBTQ people out of homeless shelters. So much for David Cameron's Big Society!
More people are being forced to live in privately rented accommodation at the same time as rents are spiralling out of control. Drastic changes to housing benefit mean that people under 35 can only claim benefits for one room in a shared house, benefits that usually don't even come close to paying their full rent. And now the Tories are threatening to stop housing benefit completely for under-25s!
So thousands of working class young people are being prevented from living on their own and are forced back to staying with their parents. More than one in five young people are unemployed, EMA student payments have been stripped away and university fees have been tripled to £9,000 a year. With this increasing likelihood of not be able to get a job (if they do it will be incredibly low paying) or attend university, any young LGBTQ person looking to move away from a homophobic family or community will instead become increasingly trapped or at risk of joining the already disproportionate number of LGBTQ homeless.
Two thirds of young LGBTQ people at secondary schools have experienced homophobic bullying (in faith schools that rises to three in four). Sadly this means that a huge number of LGBTQ pupils don't feel able to be themselves at school, and worse do not feel safe at school.
It comes, unfortunately, as no surprise therefore that suicide among LGBTQ teens continues to rise: in the US it's estimated that between 30% and 40% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people have attempted suicide and LGBTQ youth aged between 15 and 24 years are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
While there have been significant victories and reforms, especially in recent years, like the scrapping of Section 28 and the equalisation of the age of consent, we need to keep going further. The only way for the present attacks to be ended is by fighting back: it was by taking to the street during the Stonewall riots that significant gains towards LGBTQ equality were won and it was young people taking to the streets in 2010 that kick-started the fightback against the current attacks on the working class by the government.
The Socialist Party says:
- Reinstate Education Mainenance Allowance and scrap tuition fees to ensure no one is shut out of further or higher education because of costs
- Huge investment into youth services, including speciality groups and support for LGBTQ youth
- Defend the NHS! No to cuts and privatisation. Investment in LGBTQ health services
- A mass programme of publicly funded affordable house building and an end to attacks on housing benefit
- Decent education in all schools, workplaces and trade unions about LGBTQ issues as well as serious anti-bullying policies
- A socialist society based on planning for the needs of the majority rather than the short term profit of the tiny rich minority
Defend comprehensive education!
Former Emmanuel College student
Emmanuel College, Tyneside, was opened in 1991 and was a precursor to the Tories' 'free schools'. The school came under fire in 2002 by figures such as Richard Dawkins because of accusations that they taught creationism instead of science.
Although schools inspection body Ofsted claims that this is not the case, many former pupils of the school will recall readings from Genesis following on from lessons on Darwinism.
In their Equal Opportunities Policy they state that "all are created equally valuable in the sight of God and therefore that whilst differences are to be recognised disadvantage is to be worked against".
This policy covers race, gender, ability and socio-economic background and sets out to tackle any bullying, yet there is no acknowledgement of homophobic bullying.
This is most likely because they treat homosexuality as a disease akin to alcoholism and have told LGBT pupils that they can be 'cured'. In the past Emmanuel College has also worked with an organisation called Lovewise to teach sex education.
Lovewise is a pro-abstinence sex education group which is banned from teaching in all secular state schools in the area. When the group came in to speak to us their main tactics were the use of fear and graphic images rather than solid facts or giving us information on safe sex. Their basic solution was "you only get STIs if you have sex outside of marriage so do not fornicate".
The group have also been criticised for their homophobic teachings when it comes to HIV/AIDs - again taught using graphic images of people who were wasting away because of the disease and the organisers stressing that the people in the pictures were all gay men.
It is shocking that in the 21st century these views can still be preached in schools and with the rise in unaccountable academy schools it is only likely that this situation will get worse.
Already other organisations such as the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, the anti-abortion group, are being asked to come in to schools.
The Socialist Party says:
- No to academies and 'free schools' - bring all schools under local authority control
- Introduce a comprehensive, fact based programme of sex and relationships education to the national curriculum
- Free, publicly run, good quality education available at any age
Sexuality, austerity and socialism
Produced by the Socialist newspaper and the Socialist Party LGBT group
Price £1/£2 solidarity (+10% p&p)
Available from Socialist Books
PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD
020 8988 8789
In The Socialist 4 July 2012:
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party LGBT
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party appeal
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party review