London – 22 August 2010
Dear Pride London,
East London LGBT Pride – Saturday 1 October 2011
Earlier this year stickers were plastered around East London declaring it a ‘Gay Free Zone’, warning that Allah’s punishment for homosexuality is severe. Previously, there had been a series of horrific homophobic attacks outside the local George and Dragon gay pub. In one assault, a 21 year old gay man, Oliver Hemsley, was battered over the head with a glass bottle and stabbed seven times, leaving him permanently paralysed and disabled: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-9183.html/
These gay-bashing attacks coincide with a dramatic decline in the number of gay venues in East London and some LGBT people moving out of the area because they feel it is no longer safe to live there.
The response of the LGBT community to this homophobia has been feeble. There has been no visible protest and no public affirmation that East London is not, and will never be, a gay-free zone.
The suggestion that LGBT people have to tolerate homophobia for the sake of preserving good community relations and not upsetting certain communities, is totally unacceptable. It is a shabby capitulation to prejudice and a shameful betrayal of the generations of LGBT people who have fought for our equality and human rights.
Every victimised community has a moral right – and a civic duty – to fight back against their bigoted oppressors.
People who oppose an LGBT Pride march in East London would never dare tell the Black, Asian or Jewish communities that they should not protest against discrimination and violence. Why are LGBT people expected to forego their right to protest while other victimised communities are not?
I therefore urge you to organise an East London LGBT Pride march and rally, working in cooperation with local LGBT groups.
I suggest that the East London Pride theme is: “Unite against all hate” or “East London United” or “Gays & Muslims united against hate”.
We want to the event to be inclusive and unifying. Black, Asian, Muslim and Jewish organisations should be invited to participate and to provide speakers for the post-march rally.
This rally should explicitly oppose all prejudice and hate, including racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, transphobia and the victimisation of Muslim people.
We should specifically advise that the EDL and BNP are not welcome and should not attend. If they turn up, we should liaise with the police to remove them. We want nothing to do with their politics of bigotry and division.
Moreover, no racist, nationalist or far right symbols should be permitted. For example: no Union Jacks or St George’s flags.
Please give me your feedback.
This is my reply:
I used to be an admirer of yours. In some ways I still am, for your sheer energy and determination if nothing else. But in the 1980s and early 1990s I think you were at the forefront of a queer politics of resistance that I could completely get behind. I only read Anti-Gay, edited by Mark Simpson recently, but I heard in your chapter, the voice of the kind of activist I remember you being. Brave, intelligent, and ‘non-partisan’. Your eloquent challenge to the ‘homogenous’ gay identity reminded me (maybe you even quoted it?) of Christopher Isherwood’s comment: ‘we’re all queer in the end’.
But times, and you, have changed. The email I received from you today about the East London Pride plans, galvanised me to break my respectful silence and speak out. Call it my ‘civic duty’ if you must.
My main problem with your current work is that you seem to be constructing a ‘gay’ identity that is narrow, elitist and well, maybe even ‘racist’. You suggest that a slogan for East London Pride be:
“Gays & Muslims united against hate”.
But this suggests that ‘gay’ is an ‘ethnicity’ or even a ‘religion’, totally separate and distinct from ‘Muslims’. What if you are a gay Muslim? Or a Muslim gay? Or, dare I say it, bisexual? Isn’t the term ‘gays’ in itself excluding most queer people? Sure you refer to the ‘LGBT’ initials elsewhere in your email, but your slogan suggestions and the tone of your letter, are very … Gay.
This paragraph stood out to me in particular:
‘People who oppose an LGBT Pride march in East London would never dare tell the Black, Asian or Jewish communities that they should not protest against discrimination and violence.’
Here, I think you are taking part in that well-known sport, favoured by Gays and feminists in particular: ‘oppression olympics’. Pitting the ‘gays’ against ‘Black, Asian or Jewish communities’ in a competition for who is the worst treated is just crass. And, in the wake of the riots in London and other cities, incredibly insensitive to some of those communities which were hardest hit by the violence, its social context and its aftermath. Again, some gay people are Black, Asian or Jewish. They do not live in a separate ghetto. Unless they live in Soho, or Hampstead, or Crouch End…oh.
Because that’s the problem here isn’t it? ‘East London’ covers quite a large, diverse area, that includes some prime spots for living and being in the capital. I don’t want the area to be a ‘gay free zone’ (though with Hoxton and Shoreditch I don’t see how that is ever going to be possible. They are two of the gayest places I know). But I do think you and your comrades might show some sensitivity towards the real, inner city and London-specific divisions and struggles over space, identity and making a living in those areas. The Bangladeshi community around Brick Lane know a few things, for example, about moving out of an area because ‘it is no longer safe’ (or affordable). And (often poor) workers in the adult industries have been affected by the recently implemented ‘nil’ policy in Hackney, which means no new ‘lapdancing’ establishments will be licensed there.
Here is someone else playing ‘oppression olympics’- Jane Martinson in The Guardian on Ken Clarke’s comments about rape law a few months ago. I think you will recognise her technique:
‘By using words such as “serious” and “forcible” for only some rapes in one tetchy four-minute radio interview, the most senior legal politician in the country underlines all that is wrong about rape and the criminal justice system in this country…
To understand this, just imagine Clarke saying similar things about murder or other kinds of assault. Few politicians or lawyers talk about murder victims asking for it or of assaults that aren’t violent or indeed serious. His comments feed into the belief that women who report rape are lying, that reporting a rape is relatively easy and that some rapes aren’t really rapes at all but, I don’t know, kinky sex?’
Basically Jane is saying ‘it’s all right for murder victims; they don’t get blamed for their murder unlike rape victims’.
That is the ludicrous and inevitable conclusion of your kind of argument.
Your plan for the demo is also very prescriptive/proscriptive: no union Jacks, no EDL members. If you are organising an event that could be appropriated by overt racist organisations, does that not give you pause for thought about the motives and values behind the demo itself? If you have to actually tell those people not to turn up? I have been on plenty of demos, and I cannot think of one where ‘fascists’ would even have considered coming along, except to oppose and intimidate the demonstators. Is ‘gayism’ racist? Isn’t that at least a question worth asking at this point in time?
There is more I could say. I have been holding this in for a long time. But I will keep this as succinct as possible.
I remain a respectful admirer of your previous incarnations as a queer ‘revolutionary’ figure.
But I am now a ‘furious faggot’, and I am furious about where that ‘gay’ politics has taken you/us.