Pride month 2016 comes at a time of increased attacks on LGBT people – not least the horrific massacre in Orlando. While there have been steps forward in social attitudes and legal rights, genuine equality remains elusive. The Socialist Party fights for the liberation of all oppressed sexualities and gender identities – and the root cause of oppression and division: capitalism. Two members of the Socialist Party’s LGBT group, an acronym we use in the broadest, most inclusive sense, take stock of the fight.
- For our response to the Orlando mass killing, see socialistparty.org.uk, ‘Orlando massacre: working class unity to defeat homophobia, terrorism and racism’ – see also the website of our US co-thinkers, socialistalternative.org
- To get involved with the Socialist Party’s LGBT group, email Michael Johnson on [email protected]
Only struggle can stop the bosses’ onslaught against LGBT people
The LGBT movement has made significant gains since the 1970s liberation movement. The stigma around being gay was reduced. Homosexuality was decriminalised in a number of countries, with anti-discrimination legislation passed in its place. We’ve won marriage equality in the UK, US and Ireland in the past two years.
But in the current climate of capitalist crisis and austerity, it’s increasingly clear that these gains aren’t enough. For the majority of LGBT people, we’re hit by double oppression. Discrimination based on our sexual orientation or gender identity, and the chronic poverty and instability that faces the whole working class and much of the middle class.
Homophobic and transphobic families make it far more likely that LGBT people will be homeless, victims of domestic violence, and suffer mental health problems as a result. 24% of young homeless people are LGBT, as well as being twice as likely to suffer from mental illness.
Transgender people in particular are far more likely to face discrimination and violence. Social prejudice and insufficient training make it near impossible to access gender identity or reassignment services through the NHS.
LGBT people are twice as likely to have a negative experience with a GP, which is what makes specialist services so necessary. But the destructive effect of cuts means they are less and less accessible. For 32% of transgender people, it’s a one to three-year wait to access a gender identity clinic.
The same problems pervade other services, such as mental health and housing. LGBT young people are often hesitant to use homelessness and housing services, because they too often proffer the ‘solution’ of returning to abusive or violent homes. But the only LGBT domestic violence service, Broken Rainbow, is facing closure because of a funding crisis. Another major LGBT mental health charity, Pace, closed in January after 31 years of providing services, again citing government funding cuts.
Leeds vigil to give solidarity with Orlando LGBT shooting victims, 13.6.16
Specialist services for LGBT people are often among the first to close. Fighting oppression is something the government says it would like to do, but can’t deem essential. Some of the biggest services for LGBT people are charities, rather than state-owned and funded public services.
We need these services now more than ever. The 1970s didn’t signify the end of discrimination: rather, UK police reported an increase of almost a quarter in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes in 2015. The number of murders of transgender women in the US has been described as an epidemic.
Woefully inadequate sex and relationship education is partially to blame. Schools don’t have strategies for combating homophobia and transphobia, despite the fact that half of teachers recently reported experiencing homophobic, racist or sexist abuse from both parents and students. An overwhelming majority of LGBT people will experience some form of bullying or harassment in school.
Young people in many cases are never told what LGBT identities are, or that they’re normal and healthy. Those who identify as LGBT are often too intimidated to come out. And when they do, they’re seen as abnormal, so it’s no wonder hate crimes are on the rise.
But the more significant reason for the increase in attacks on LGBT people, both in terms of attacks on services and attacks on people, is the decline of struggle. Pride marches, for example, used to be an assertion of identity and liberation, but they’ve become completely depoliticised; PR opportunities for banks and big businesses after the ‘pink pound’.
Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) – an LGBT organisation founded to support the miners’ strike in 1985 – was supposed to lead the 2015 London Pride march. They were told they had to move to the back if they wanted to march with the trade unions, so Barclays bank led the march instead!
Now more than ever, we need a mass, united movement for LGBT liberation. The Socialist Party demands, and fights for, the reversal of all cuts, including those to LGBT services, and an overhaul of homophobic and transphobic healthcare and education systems. By linking up with the trade union and socialist movement, we have the potential to stop austerity in its tracks.
But the Socialist Party also recognises we have to go further than that. As long as we have capitalism, we’ll have a ruling class made up of business owners and the super-rich who rely on workers to make their profits for them. Oppression is a tool that big business’s political representatives use to divide and rule working class people. By pitting us against each other, they hope to distract us from who the real enemy is: the bosses and their politicians.
Also, strict gender roles are a deeply embedded element of capitalism and all societies divided into economic classes. This arose from the need for rich men to pass on wealth and status to their sons, requiring a rigorous control of women’s sexuality in particular. Any sexual orientation or gender identity seen as a challenge to this has been repressed through the ages.
It is essential we link the fight for liberation to fighting capitalism itself, to make the gains we win thoroughgoing and permanent.
A publicly owned, democratically controlled, socialist planned economy – unlike unstable, divisive, exploitative capitalism – could guarantee all the funding and support LGBT people need. That would provide the material security to begin to fundamentally transform backwards social attitudes too.
Massive gains for LGBT people – far more extensive than anywhere else in the world at that time, and still unmatched in most of it – were made after the working class took power in Russia in 1917. This was before Stalinist reaction overturned them as part of a general retreat from genuine socialism. We can replicate the gains of 1917, and far more, by fighting for liberation – and against capitalism, for democratic socialism!
Fighting for trans rights
Recent years have seen the rate of transphobic hate crimes increase dramatically in the UK. They have also seen some growing recognition of transgender identities – those of people who feel their gender doesn’t match the one they were assigned at birth.
In some areas, the number of attacks has doubled. According to police, these crimes are often greatly under-reported, meaning that more people have likely been subjected to violent behaviour because of their gender identity.
Many more are subjected to verbal harassment. This includes all manner of abuse, calling trans people ‘wrong’ or ‘unnatural’. It can include deliberately referring to them as the wrong gender.
Non-binary identity is also more recognised – and under attack. Non-binary people don’t feel they fit neatly into the genders of man or woman. Gender identity is different to biological sex – which in some cases is more complex than simply male-female, anyway (some people are intersex). We are told non-binary gender identity is not ‘real’ and we have to pick.
Socialists support the right of all people to determine their own gender and sexuality. But most institutions continue to lack recognition of trans people of any type.
Recently, there have been several reports of trans women being sent to men’s prisons. In the case of Vicky Thompson, this led to her tragic suicide (see socialistparty.org.uk, ‘Transgender woman dies after spiteful courts pick men’s prison’). The justification for this was that she had not ‘transitioned enough’.
Such arbitrary reasoning often rests on the individual not choosing to alter their biology through hormone treatments or surgery, or not doing so ‘enough’. This pushes the harmful idea that every trans person’s goal is to ‘pass’ as a certain gender, and to do so based on visible sexual characteristics.
For some trans people that is the goal, and they should be supported in achieving it. But people whose appearances do not reflect stereotypical perceptions of that gender face criticism and non-recognition.
In hospitals, if a trans person has not transitioned ‘enough’, they may be put on a ward for people of the opposite gender. This can be very distressing, and is not conducive to healing.
Trans people are also more likely to suffer mental illness. In fact, at least half of young trans people have considered suicide. The lack of acceptance of trans individuals plays a big part in this: friends’ and families’ reaction to you coming out as trans can be a terrifying prospect.
It was only in 2013 that the psychiatry manual DSM renamed the condition “gender identity disorder” to the more neutral “gender dysphoria”. This should have happened long ago. The previous definition suggested it was the individual who needs to be ‘cured’ – rather than supported, and society needing to recognise them as trans.
While this formal change is a small step forward in how medical science views transgender people, it is not enough, and by no means reflected in society as a whole. Also it is disheartening that a person cannot usually get any support from the NHS for feelings of gender dysphoria for the first six months after reporting them. In this time, trans people can suffer from depression and anxiety which can be debilitating and sometimes deadly.
Clinics to help transgender people are few and far between. In the south west of England, for example, there is only one listed on the NHS website, in Exeter, which also treats trans people from across the UK. Working class trans people have a harder time affording to travel there and getting time off work to go.
The clinics help with various parts of gender transitioning and gender dysphoria. They are a vital service for trans people. Not being able to access these places can have devastating effects.
Austerity has hit trans people hard. Reversing the cuts to health services is just the start of the funding needed to support them, and the change needed in institutional and social attitudes.