Transphobia and homophobia – two cheeks of the same arse

Connor Beaton of Radical Independence Dundee writes for RIQ on the relationship between transphobia and homophobia.

The ongoing campaign to demonise transgender people and limit or overturn their right to legal recognition and access to healthcare – which largely inspired the establishment of Radical Independence Queers (RIQ) earlier this year – doesn’t exclusively endanger trans people but lesbian, gay and bisexual cisgender people as well. Not only because the reactionary movement against trans rights relies heavily on the same arguments used to justify the likes of Section 28, as trans people and their allies have warned for years, but also because many of the highest-profile opponents of trans rights are clearly prepared to set us all back in their single-minded defence of the gender binary.

The so-called LGB Alliance, which launched its Scottish branch in January, is a useful case study. It represents perhaps the most sophisticated attempt by UK opponents of trans rights to break the unity of the LGBT+ community by falsely presenting a competition between trans rights and lesbian, gay and bi rights. The front page of its website claims, for instance, that lesbians are being forced to “accept that a transwoman [sic] is a woman as a matter of absolute fact” and that this represents “a form of sexual assault, an attack on the rights of lesbians and a threat to their very existence”. The group’s launch in London last year was heavily trailed in the right-wing British press (which also insists on describing it as a split from the established LGBT rights charity Stonewall, despite involving none of its staff or trustees) and it continues to receive prominent coverage.

As Scottish LGBT news hub Pink Saltire points out, the LGB Alliance “claims to stand up for lesbian, gay and bisexual people across the UK despite appearing to do no actual community work with LGB people”. Where its leading lights do make interventions on issues other than transgender recognition, it pushes back on progress for lesbian, gay and bi people rather than forwards. In January, Malcolm Clark, one of its co-founders and directors, rejected the concept of LGBT+ clubs in schools, where they are often a crucial support network for LGBT+ pupils, on the basis that they are “an unnecessary encouragement to predators”. By doing so, he shifted blame for child sexual abuse away from abusers while reinforcing homophobic myths that gay men are predators. Clark, who is originally from Scotland and has spoken on behalf of the LGB Alliance at events such as the hate-filled protest against transgender recognition outside Holyrood in March, also denies that homophobia continues to exist in Scotland, writing recently that gay people are supposedly ‘weaponising’ homophobia in political debates “long after homophobia WAS actually a crippling part of gay people’s experience”.

Both Clark and his fellow LGB Alliance co-founder Allison Bailey have argued that school-age children cannot know if they are lesbian, gay or bi. In response to a charity inviting black LGBT+ youth aged 12 to 23 to respond to a survey about education, health care and their families, Bailey tweeted: “A 12 year old is a child. Stop putting children in with adults and labelling them LGBTQ+. Let children grow up without adult agendas.” In practice, of course, children and even adults are typically assumed to be heterosexual until they say otherwise. Offering support or resources to children who are questioning or have newly discovered their sexual identity is a necessary counter-balance to this prevailing expectation. Clark, instead, has called for organisations like Stonewall to be “banned from schools” and to “leave our kids alone”, because children who think they’re gay could simply be mistaken (as if it’s not more common for kids who think they’re straight to be mistaken!).

“Section 28 often seems a long time ago to LGBT+ people who, like me, are barely older than the Scottish Parliament”

Very similar arguments were deployed from the 1980s until the early 2000s in defence of the now-defunct Section 28, which did in fact ban the likes of Stonewall from schools. Defending Section 28 in a House of Lords debate in 2000, Earl Peel said: “I know that teenagers are deeply impressionable and can go through periods of same-sex attraction. It can certainly be influenced by others […] There is no doubt in my mind that that can lead to confusion and a great sense of guilt and regret later. Therefore, I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to prevent such cases occurring.” Section 28 often seems a long time ago to LGBT+ people who, like me, are barely older than the Scottish Parliament, but the homophobic logic which underpinned it has not yet been fully expunged; even Earl Peel, for his part, is still around, now known as Lord Chamberlain in his archaic capacity as the most senior officer of the Royal Household. Russia’s notorious ‘gay propaganda’ law, introduced in 2013, rests on a similar premise.

The disturbing way in which long-standing homophobic arguments have been recast by transphobes as a defence of lesbian, gay and bi people has also provided progressive cover to some of the most reactionary voices in the British press. For instance, columnist Janice Turner moved seamlessly from defending Bailey from online criticism in a recent article for The Times to claiming that “on the outermost margins of the LGBT movement are voices which try to post child-sex as the next liberation struggle”. This is, on one hand, a reincarnation of the homophobic myth of gay men as child abusers, but she goes on to include an explicit reference to a discredited far-right hoax about supposed ‘Minor-Attracted Persons’ or ‘MAPs’ seeking acceptance in the LGBT+ community.

As the nonprofit Media Matters for America noted in 2018: “Each year since 2016, anonymous message board 4chan – a hotbed of far-right extremism, hoaxes, and harassment campaigns – has initiated or bolstered misinformation campaigns attempting to connect LGBTQ people to pedophilia.” Gay SNP MP Neale Hanvey, a supporter of the LGB Alliance, is among SNP figures duped by this; during his campaign last year, he condemned a supposed “growing attempt by MAP (minor attracted person) and paedophiles to add their initials to the LGBT+ group” and suggested that this informed his opposition to gender recognition reform. Indulging this baseless hoax boosts its credibility, endangering LGBT+ people and setting back social progress.

Meanwhile, neither the LGB Alliance nor its pals in press and politics raise issues of real substance for LGBT+ people in Scotland. Anti-LGBT hate crimes in Scotland recently reached a record high. LGBT+ people continue to face discrimination and harassment in Scottish workplaces. As many as 24 per cent of young homeless people in the UK are LGBT+ and face additional obstacles to accessing support in Scotland. Poor mental health is rife. Unsurprisingly, trans people, themselves denied even modest gender recognition reform, suffer more than their cis peers on all of these fronts. Crucial to this and little-discussed is class, with working class LGBT+ people facing the brunt of discrimination and exclusion, often exacerbated further by the impact of austerity.

Although the successful Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign is a useful example of what sustained political campaigning can achieve, struggles where the interests of working class LGBT+ people and the interests of private profit come into direct conflict will undoubtedly be more challenging. Winning them will only be made even harder by transphobic hate groups who threaten our greatest asset – LGBT+ unity and solidarity.

  • Want to get involved with Radical Independence Queers? Get in touch.

Some comments on Alyn Smith and Image Politics

The National today published some right pish from Alyn Smith, wherein he doubles down on the statements he made in his now-leaked communication to SNP members in Stirling.

He writes:

“A cautionary tale – Donald Trump won Wisconsin in the last US presidential election because, in part, he was able to attack the local Democrats as being out of touch, spending all their time debating gender neutral bathrooms while the economy was going to the dogs.

It was probably untrue, but impressions matter. Likewise, Labour in the 1980s was able to be portrayed as “Loony Left” and out of touch precisely because some of its leading members were.”

Sure Alyn’s article later contains some schmaltzy platitudes about how “independence is nothing unless everyone matters. Equality is at the heart of our proposition for a better Scotland, it is not either/or,” but the previous paragraphs we’ve quoted give the lie to that. Alyn has suggested that Trump may indeed have had a point about democrats being out of touch in trying to do something about trans civil rights. Sure Trump’s line of attack might have “probably” (read: fucking obviously) been untrue, but Alyn wants to make clear to his audience that it’s the imaging and the message that was the point.

Alyn here reduces politics to what is essentially a question of brand reception. Like all liberals, he is willing to play games with trans rights, to play things safe and moderate for image reasons. Because god forbid the SNP try to do too much of the right thing by trans people and appear, shock horror, Out of Touch!

By this policy the SNP may ensure that it appears a perfectly palatable choice for some bigoted conservative landlord or businessman, but it will not succeed in leading a national struggle that works for the dispossessed and the downtrodden people of Scotland.

Remember this: False friends like Alyn Smith are not just ready to sacrifice commitments to trans civil rights for quick political gain. They are also ready to skip out on struggles for racial justice, disability justice, and workers’ justice if it makes them look like a “proper”, “sensible” political force. If you think the trans struggle is just something that can be shelved til independence, just remember that a time will come when voices in the SNP will call for a struggle that is important to you to be dropped from the cause. We must resist this kind of divide-and-conquer political opportunism at all costs- together!

Dundee: Solidarity with the struggle for LGBT civil rights in Poland

At 10:30 on Saturday morning, Radical Independence Campaign members in Dundee will be holding a small, socially distanced gathering at the Burns Statue in Albert Square to show solidarity with activists from the Polish collective Stop Bzdurom who have been arrested as part of a renewed wave of repression of LGBT people by Andrzej Duda’s right-wing government. The struggle in Poland and our struggle – not only for equal rights but for the radical transformation of the world – are one and the same.

Please bring flags and placards (or make placards with us on the day) so that we can make our solidarity as visible as possible.

Facebook event for the demo: https://www.facebook.com/events/298272574719394/

A useful article set out the latest developments in Poland: https://freedomnews.org.uk/poland-stop-bzdurom-queer-struggle-and-the-events-of-yesterday/

RIQ founding address

This is the text of a welcome address given at the inaugural meeting of the Radical Independence Queers, held in Dundee on 8 March 2020. We reproduce it here to give an idea of the principles on which our organisation has been founded.

Hello comrades.

I would first like to welcome you all to the meeting, and to thank you for your interest. I look forward to sharing the struggle for an unapologetically queer socialist republic with all of you in the weeks, months, and years to come. Ours is an ideal whose arrival is well overdue, as I’m sure any of you who’ve been following or participating in the bitter struggles around the Gender Reform Act will agree. The cause of trans rights is under attack from every single foetid nook and cranny of the political scene – and many of the most rotten champions of bigotry wave saltires or even worse, wrap themselves in the red flag. Meanwhile our identities have steadily become advertising material for the capitalists and the state, who sell guns, poison the environment, and drop bombs content that the death machine now employs an appropriate percentage of LGBTQ+ executioners.

Queer people are urgently faced by a double dilemma. On one front we are menaced by a legion of capital’s most reactionary lackeys, intent on withdrawing and destroying our civil rights. But at the same time the capitalist system approaches us with cynical offers of friendship, attempting to buy us off with increased representation so as to give a liberating appearance to the same old slaughter in the postcolonial world. Do we take the blood-slicked hand of the state and hope that we can protect ourselves from bigots by demonstrating our “worth” to capitalism? Do we forget about basic internationalist solidarity and pretend not to notice when British-made bombs rain down on Yemen?

Of course not!

We must refuse this dilemma and take a stand for ourselves. We will not be used! No, what we need now is autonomy and power, so that the freedom we cut from the hands of the capitalists will truly be our own. What is urgently needed is a militant, LGBTQ+, socialist organisation, one able to make the case that queer liberation can never be had under capitalism, one unafraid to bring the struggle for our civil rights into every corner of the independence movement, and most importantly, one ready to stand up to anyone, whether they be the traditional right-wing bigot or the false friend who hides their reactionary political line behind a hammer and sickle badge. Nobody will do it for us, and every moment we spend disorganised and un-coordinated is a moment that the independence movement is left open to forces whose ideal Scotland is no place for queer people.

And it is as an autonomous wing of the Radical Independence Campaign that we wish to build this queer socialist organisation.

For those new to it, the Radical Independence Campaign, or RIC for short, was formed to be the socialist alternative to the SNP’s view of independence. We are united by the fact that we don’t want a Scotland that benefits the bosses and the generals, but rather a socialist republic ran by the working class and for the working class. Our aim is to organise among the poor and downtrodden of Scotland not simply to break up the United Kingdom, but also to build a powerful force that will be able to take on our own homegrown capitalist class and win.

So where does a queer wing fit into all of this? Well, LGBTQ+ people have a special, indeed essential part to play in the struggle for self-determination and socialism. On this matter, as on many others, I take my cues from old Vladimir Lenin, who put forward a conception of the socialist militant that resonated with me. I ask that you forgive some indulgence on my part as I quote more or less directly.

What should be the ideal of the socialist? Not the paid trade union secretary or political party bureaucrat, but rather “the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all their socialist convictions and their democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”

Lenin’s point was that Russian socialists shouldn’t simply be concerned with economic issues or election results, but that they must take up every single struggle for civil liberties and democratic rights against the Tsarist empire. It was only by doing this, he argued, that the organised working class could lead a genuinely popular revolution. Applied to our modern situation, I believe this passage serves as a call to socialists to become fearless champions of every oppressed identity. Our task is to investigate the varied and horrible brutalities of capitalism as they impact the lives of all the poor and downtrodden, no matter what religion, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, or gender identity they have, and to formulate all these grievances into a multi-layered, many-sided critique of capitalism that can link these diverse struggles and carry them forward together.

What that crucial task of investigation entails is that socialists must be patient and ready to listen and learn from oppressed groups. We understand that truth for the working class, why would it be any different for trans people or for refugees? As I’m sure we are all aware, there have been plenty of moments in history where broad swathes of the left have completely failed in their duty to act as tribunes of the people because they thought they could speak over or worse, ignore, oppressed groups. To take black rights as a specific example, the left were damned lucky that courageous black Marxists like C. L. R. James and Harry Haywood were eager to theorise the intersections between civil rights and class struggle, even after the U.S. labour movement’s shameful rejection of black workers in first half of the 20th century.

I’m sure you’ll agree, friends, that we cannot just wait and hope that the Scottish socialist movement, or the wider independence movement, will somehow spontaneously develop a decent line on LGBTQ+ issues without any principled involvement from queer socialists. We can and we must bring much-needed queer perspectives to socialism, just as militants like James and Haywood brought black perspectives to socialism. And we must do so daringly and energetically, even if we have to break down doors and tear down walls to do it.

Make no mistake – this is no plea for you to uncritically play the token queer best friend and coddle the bruised egos of cishet leftists. We intend to be fiercely autonomous, principled, and critical of the wider movement, even as we participate in it. Sometimes this will mean being curt, sharp even, but we owe nothing less to our martyrs. Genuine friendship, genuine solidarity, is built on honesty. And as the immortal Gramsci said, the truth is always revolutionary!

If you think so too – join us! We’ll be proud to have you.

RIC and the LGBT+ community

The following motion, moved by a Radical Independence Campaign activist from Dundee, was passed by majority vote at RIC’s National Forum on Saturday 7 December 2019, which was attended by delegates from RIC groups across the length and breadth of Scotland.

This National Forum:

  1. Recognises and condemns the growing size and influence within the SNP and wider pro-independence movement of a reactionary wing distinguished by its hostility towards the LGBT+ community, particularly towards transgender people and their existing legal rights;
  2. Regrets that the Scottish Government has watered down and postponed its planned reforms of the outdated Gender Recognition Act 2004 in the face of pressure from this wing, and that the SNP’s 2019 general election manifesto no longer includes most of the LGBT+ policy pledges it made in 2017;
  3. Notes with alarm that prominent figures have adopted the language and tactics of the far-right in criticising LGBT+ activists within their own party and movement;
  4. Warns that the reactionary politics underpinning transphobia in the SNP can and has already manifested in hostility to other oppressed groups and their rights
  5. Believes that this trend will, if unchallenged, significantly undermine the struggle for an independent Scotland which is “committed to equality and opposition to discrimination” as per RIC’s founding principles, and alienate young and LGBT+ people from the independence movement;
  6. Affirms the particular importance for the left of championing solidarity in response to all manifestations of oppression and intolerance, both within and outwith our own movements and organisations, in order to build progressive working class unity.

And therefore resolves to:

  1. Firmly embed a no-tolerance approach to transphobia (including but not limited to refusing to recognise a trans person’s declared gender), homophobia, misogyny, racism and ableism in the Code of Conduct governing participation in the Radical Independence Campaign; and
  2. Support the immediate establishment of an autonomous LGBT+ wing of the Radical Independence Campaign, aimed at confronting bigotry within the Scottish independence movement, pushing for the empowerment of LGBT+ people in Scotland now and after independence, and bringing the energy and perspectives of LGBT+ people into the independence movement.
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