|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
A threat to gay rights
WIDESPREAD ANGER greeted the news that the far-right, racist, BNP won two seats in the recent European parliament elections, not least from those in society who are scapegoated by the BNP’s poisonous ideas. This obviously includes black and Asian workers, but also the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community.
The BNP has consistently taken a homophobic stance. Its spokesman told LGBT website, PinkNews.co.uk, that "people should stick to being gay in their own homes", and described LGBT people as having "deviant lifestyles" for which counselling should be offered, or they would be "asked" to "become celibate". (6 September 2006) The BNP supports the reintroduction of the Tories’ Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988), which made honest teaching about homosexuality in schools unlawful. Presumably, if in power, the BNP would seek to drive the LGBT community underground. When divisive ideas such as these are spread they encourage hate crimes against LGBT people ranging from physical attacks in the street to the 1999 nail bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub by former BNP member David Copeland.
It is not only the BNP which has put forward anti-LGBT policies. On the same day as the European elections, Peter Davies, a candidate from the small English Democrats Party, was elected mayor of Doncaster. Davies was the beneficiary of revulsion with the establishment parties locally, in particular New Labour, which has been dogged by corruption scandals, with 23 Doncaster councillors being convicted and five jailed for fraud. His first move was to announce that he would end funding to Doncaster Pride saying, "I don't think councils should be spending money on them parading through town advertising their sexuality".
After protests and ridicule Davies backed down. Despite this, the episode shows that we cannot take the advances that LGBT people have made in recent years for granted. Like any reform in capitalist society, LGBT rights have to be defended constantly if they are to survive.
Many LGBT people will be looking for an effective campaign that can defend their rights, defeat the BNP and cut across the growth of the far-right. They will not find it from the mainstream parties. All three of the big parties have pro-market policies and push through the cuts in jobs and services that allow the far-right to target minority groups by claiming, for example, that cuts happen because LGBT groups get preferential treatment when public money is being allocated.
Further, all the establishment parties are in favour of handing public services over to the private sector or voluntary groups including so-called ‘faith-based initiatives’ (religious groups). The record of the churches, mosques, temples and so on over LGBT rights is not exactly confidence inspiring. Public services could be handed straight over to people who believe that being gay is a sin and who want to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
Not that very many people have much faith in the big-business parties at the moment. It was the revulsion of workers at MPs lecturing us on the need for public spending restraint while filling their pockets with parliamentary ‘expenses’ that led to the wins for the BNP. Labour voters in particular abstained. In both Yorkshire and the North West regions, the BNP’s vote fell in comparison with the 2004 European election but New Labour’s vote collapsed, allowing the BNP to get a high enough share of the vote to be elected.
With the Tories looking likely to form the next government, their approach to LGBT rights deserves to come under the spotlight. Tory leader David Cameron claims to be in favour of gay rights and has praised civil partnerships as part of his ‘modernisation’ of the Tory party. A few high profile gay or lesbian candidates have been adopted for the next general election. But has the Tory party really left its past behind?
The signs are not good. After the European election the Tories left the main centre-right grouping in the European parliament due to it being too pro-EU for their liking. Their new group includes the Polish Law and Justice Party, which is notoriously homophobic and has banned LGBT Pride demonstrations when holding power. Its chairman told the Polish media: "The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilisation. We can’t agree to it". No party which claims to support LGBT rights should be giving the Law and Justice Party the time of day let alone jumping into bed with it.
The voting record of Tories in parliament indicates the prospects should they enter government. Including Cameron, 92% of Tory MPs voted for an amendment that would have made it harder for lesbians to obtain IVF treatment; 97% voted to water down protections against incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation; and 75% voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations. The Tory leadership, again including Cameron, almost to a man voted against abolishing Section 28. (Voting statistics from PinkNews.co.uk)
It is unlikely, but not impossible, that the Tories will try to repeal major advances such as civil partnerships or anti-discrimination laws, although they may try to water them down. Attacks are more likely to come elsewhere and originate from the backbenches, as did Section 28. The Tory MP for Shipley, Philip Davies (the son of Doncaster’s new mayor), recently opposed LGBT History Month, especially school students being taught about gay relationships, and demanded a debate in parliament on ‘political correctness’. He won the support of the Daily Mail. After the next election there will be a lot more of Davies’s like in parliament, with the right-wing press spurring them on.
One of Cameron’s pledges is that Tory MPs will have a free vote on any issue that is not in the Tory manifesto. Although such pledges are often made in opposition and then forgotten about or fudged once in government, this raises the possibility of an anti-LGBT measure being introduced by a backbencher and becoming law on a free vote as Tory MPs get their ‘red meat’ – the description of Section 28 by a Tory whip at the time it was introduced – while Cameron can claim to have clean hands.
The idea that politics matters is dismissed by some in the LGBT community. The idea is put forward that the ‘pink pound’ will buy liberation. LGBT people should set up their own businesses, spending their money with other LGBT businesses and living an affluent lifestyle, buying their way out of oppression. Any ‘campaigning’ is to be done by a few self-selected leaders lobbying in Whitehall on behalf of a desirable bloc of swing voters waiting passively to be delivered to the leaders of the capitalist parties.
The pink pound is a myth for all but a very small section of the community. You cannot buy your way out of a low-wage job or, unless you are very rich, move from an estate to go to live in a gay condominium development. The flimsiness of ‘anti-politics’ is shown starkly when there are political threats, even more so in a recession. Political leaders are not graciously waiting for the chance to show how pro-gay they are.
The conditions that have created the growth of the far-right have also diminished the number of pounds in circulation, whether pink or otherwise. No doubt this is why big corporations such as Ford and British Airways are not sponsoring Pride London this year. The support of big business for LGBT rights stretches as far as their advertising budget will allow it to go. When there is less money to be made they lose interest. A recent cartoon in the Pink Paper showed an unhappy voter faced with a ballot paper offering the three choices: ‘swindler’, ‘bigot’ and ‘fascist’. Many are looking to fight against reaction and the social conditions that allow it to develop.
This discontent is not confined to the LGBT community. Unity can be built between LGBT people and other oppressed sections of society and, above all, with organised workers in trade unions. For this, a new workers’ party is vital to bring together those who want to fight capitalism and its effects. Such a party could shift the centre of gravity in British politics to the left and, particularly if the unions’ LGBT groups organised assertively and skilfully, transform LGBT politics. This could provide the many who are currently looking for a lead the chance to defeat prejudice, for once and for all, by a socialist transformation of society.