Is support for full LGBT equality a reasonable criterion for participation?
By Peter Tatchell
International Business Times UK – London – 23 June 2015
READ & COMMENT: http://ibt.uk/A006KAo
Is it appropriate for an organisation that opposes LGBT equality to participate in the Pride London parade? Are there any limits on who should be allowed to march? If so, what are these limits and are they justified? These are questions that have massively divided the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the run up to the big Pride day, this Saturday 27 June.
The Pride London committee recently announced the line up of groups participating in the annual parade. It included, for the first time, the LGBT group from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This provoked an incendiary debate among LGBT people about whether UKIP should be allowed to participate, given its anti-gay and anti-human rights record.
A petition with over 2,300 signatures urged that the LGBT group should be barred on the grounds that UKIP is “an inherently homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, racist and misogynistic political party.”
Within days, after having accepted UKIP LGBT’s parade application, the Pride London organisers rescinded it.
They said their decision was not because of the group’s politics but on “safety” grounds; having reportedly received threats that if UKIP members marched they would be blocked or attacked by some of their critics.
I don’t believe the UKIP contingent would have been a threat to anyone in the parade nor do I accept that “safety” is a legitimate reason for excluding them. This is the same lame excuse that has been used by the Russian authorities to ban Moscow Pride; namely that LGBT marchers would be at risk from violence by neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists.
UKIP LGBT should not be banned because of the potentially violent reactions of their opponents. Penalising them because of the aggression of others is wrong and unfair. If there is a danger of assaults, the police have a duty to protect the likely victims. Simple.
The only genuine, serious grounds on which UKIP LGBT could be validly banned is that their politics conflict with the human rights values and policies of Pride London and the wider LGBT community.
Supporters of a UKIP ban cite the party’s long-standing and often vociferous hostility to equal human rights for LGBT people.
UKIP campaigned hard against same-sex marriage; mirroring the stance of religious fundamentalists and the far right. Although its leader Nigel Farage now says UKIP won’t repeal the legislation, he’s never said he supports marriage equality. That’s a big and important point.
The party’s general election manifesto included not a single commitment to LGBT rights. Instead, it has proposed weakening the equality laws with a ‘conscience’ clause to permit religious people to discriminate against LGBTs.
The party’s asylum policy would make it harder for LGBT people fleeing persecution to secure refuge in the UK. Its plan to slash overseas aid by two-thirds is likely to diminish vital support and assistance to LGBT and other human rights organisations in repressive and homophobic countries.
UKIP also wants to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – both of which protect the LGBT community (and others) against abuses by the State. Indeed, rulings by the ECHR forced successive UK governments to end the ban on LGBTs in the armed forces, equalise the age of consent, extend rights to transgender people and scrap homophobic bias in the criminal law. Why would any party other than a homophobic one want to break links with a court that has done so much good for LGBTs?
During the election debate, Nigel Farage scapegoated non-British people with HIV, some of whom are LGBT. His manifesto failed to mention HIV, let alone pledge to reverse the cuts in HIV funding. He was the only UK-wide party leader to snub and insult the LGBT community by refusing to participate in an election Q & A with Pink News readers.
UKIP does not support a legal requirement on schools to combat anti-LGBT bullying, provide LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education and organise equality and diversity lessons to challenge anti-LGBT prejudice. It maintains a ‘hands off’ policy on these issues that colludes with the suffering of LGBT youth.
A couple of weeks ago, UKIP MEPs voted in the European Parliament against an equality strategy to protect and support women and LGBT people.
Not surprisingly, a previous leader of UKIP’s LGBT group resigned in disgust at the party’s homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
If UKIP had got it wrong on some LGBT issues it would be lamentable but not put them beyond the pale. After all, most other parties have less than perfect records. What makes UKIP uniquely homophobic is the vast number of policies on which it is clearly not supporting the interests and welfare of LGBT people.
In addition, far too many of UKIP’s candidates and elected politicians – more than from any other party – have made repeated outrageous anti-gay comments that echo the extreme homophobia of the far right British National Party (BNP), as documented by ViceUK.
Some have also disparaged women and black people, many of whom are LGBT – again, proportionately more than the representatives of other parties.
Although not explicitly racist in its policy statements, the rhetoric of UKIP politicians and activists often panders to racism and xenophobia, which is a menace to LGBT refugees, immigrants and ethnic minorities. Should the LGBT community ignore UKIP’s negative impact on these sections of our people? I don’t think so. And don’t we have a duty to stand in solidarity with other communities who are victimised by UKIP policies and rhetoric?
Opponents of a ban at Pride point out that the march application was from UKIP’s LGBT group, not UKIP. The group claims to support LGBT rights.
However, in her Pink News comment piece on 3 June, Flo Lewis, the Chair of UKIP LGBT, did not say that she and her group oppose UKIP’s anti-LGBT policies and its failure to support LGBT reforms.
She made no explicit direct criticism of her party. Nor did she set out the group’s support for any specific LGBT rights policies.
Like their party, the UKIP LGBT group appears to have no commitment to redress any of the remaining injustices faced by our community. This doesn’t inspire confidence that they are much different from their parent party.
The lack of concrete, specific support by UKIP LGBT for the LGBT equality agenda may be inadvertent but it is part of a pattern of silence by the group on key LGBT issues, which fuels queries about their support for equality and concern about their participation at Pride.
When I recently tweeted about the jailing of gay men in Morocco, UKIP LGBT tweeted back that it was “just like LGBT UKIP being banned from a community Pride event.” The fact that they equate imprisonment by an oppressive regime with their exclusion from Pride further calls in to question the group’s understanding and commitment to LGBT rights.
Many people are worried that UKIP sees marching at Pride as a useful way to give it a more liberal image and recruit more members; in the process hoodwinking the LGBT community into believing they are LGBT-friendly. While UKIP is less hostile to LGBT rights than it was in the past it still doesn’t qualify as anywhere near pro-LGBT.
UKIP and its LGBT wing could end the controversy by renouncing the party’s anti-LGBT stance and endorsing policies to remedy the remaining gay inequalities. They have failed to do so. If they are not homophobic, why haven’t they done this?
Pride London faces a difficult dilemma. It would rather not ban anyone; ideally preferring to be open to all sections of the LGBT community. But does this mean anyone and everyone, whatever their views? Racists? Anti-Semites? Fascists?
The logic of saying that any LGBT group should be allowed to march would lead to the participation of LGBT groups from the BNP, EDL, KKK and Nazis.
The Pride committee doesn’t have a clear, consistent policy. It currently excludes the participation of the far right British National Party and English Defence League, apparently on political grounds. Much as I loathe the EDL, it has no anti-LGBT policies but is nevertheless banned from Pride. Is this consistent?
It would seem logical and ethical that Pride should, like any organisation or event, have some ground rules: namely that only organisations in support of LGBT equality should be permitted to participate in the parade. Is this unreasonable?
UKIP LGBT’s objection to its exclusion from Pride smacks of hypocrisy. It says Pride should be inclusive. But UKIP isn’t inclusive. It expels and bans people who don’t adhere to its policies. It says that to be part of UKIP you have to sign up to its rules. UKIP expelled its MEP Nikki Sinclaire for refusing to support the party’s alliance with far right parties in the European Parliament. The party’s youth organiser, Olly Neville, was sacked for endorsing gay marriage. Now UKIP demands inclusion at Pride; having denied inclusion to its own party members. Hypocrites!
This mantra of “inclusion” is repeated by many people in the LGBT community who oppose the banning of UKIP LGBT. They say Pride is an inclusive event. No. It is a LGBT Pride event. Inclusivity has never been part of the Pride tradition. It was founded to celebrate and affirm LGBT people and secure LGBT human rights. Inclusion was never a founding principle. Pride was never meant to include people or organisations that oppose LGBT equality.
Do we expect the Notting Hall Carnival to allow the participation of white racist organisations? Should have the Suffragettes given a platform to male supremacists? Must Jewish organisations be inclusive of Holocaust deniers?
Some also argue that Pride shouldn’t be “political”. Pardon? That’s a major point of Pride: to make the political case for LGBT rights. It’s always been a core Pride principle.
Critics point out that if Pride bans UKIP LGBT on the grounds that it is part of homophobic organisation then LGBT Catholic groups (and others) should also be denied the right to march on the grounds that they are part of a homophobic institution. This point has a degree of validity. However, in my opinion, political parties that would legislate against LGBT equality and deny us human rights are qualitatively different from other organisations. They seek political power and, if they got it, would use it to enshrine legal discrimination. The Catholic church, despite its gross homophobia, has no such direct power.
Showing their anti-Muslim bias and prejudice, some UKIP supporters denounce me for supporting progressive, liberal Muslim organisations. They demand the exclusion from Pride of Muslim LGBT groups like Imaan on the basis that “Islam is an anti-LGBT religion.” But Imaan is totally independent. It does not belong to any anti-LGBT party or organisation. UKIP LGBT does.
A far stronger point made by UKIP supporters is that Conservative and Labour LGBT groups were allowed to march at Pride in the 1970s and 80s when both parties were hostile to LGBT equality, so why shouldn’t UKIP LGBT be allowed to march now? This is a legitimate point and is an example of inconsistency. But do past problematic Pride decisions justify their repetition now and in the future?
Critics of the Pride ban say that by welcoming UKIP LGBT on the parade we will win them over by our generous, inclusive example; that we’ll be supporting their efforts to change the party. However, the history of UKIP is that the party only changes when it is exposed, condemned, resisted, embarrassed, shamed and isolated. Trying to appeal to UKIP’s conscience is well intended but it rarely works.
Moreover, it’s been demonstrated that grassroots UKIP members are not able to reverse party policy, as the whole organisation is run by the leader and his inner circle. UKIP’s one-time MEP, Nikki Sinclaire, a lesbian trans woman, came to this conclusion and condemned her party’s links with racists in the European Parliament. The founder of UKIP, Alan Sked, came to a similar conclusion. He’s condemned UKIP as “infected by the far right” and quit the party in protest.
This fundamental nastiness is evidenced by the recent abusive attacks on me by some UKIP supporters. They include obscenities, homophobia, paedophile slurs and anti-Muslim bigotry.
There have been similar attacks on the Pride organisers. While I disagreed with their initial acceptance of UKIP and the reasons for their u-turn, the Pride committee are good people with good intentions, trying to navigate difficult issues and do their best for the community. They don’t deserve the vile abuse they have often received.
UKIP claims their Pride ban has been orchestrated by left-wingers who oppose the party’s right-wing politics. I can’t speak for others. All I can say is that this isn’t my motive. Although I oppose its policies, I condemned the fact the UKIP won 3.8 million votes at the general election but only one MP. That’s neither democratic nor fair.
Moreover, I also fought sections of the left in the 1970s when they opposed LGBT rights and today when some of them collude with far right Islamists. I oppose everyone who opposes LGBT rights. There’s no political bias in my stand on UKIP LGBT’s participation in Pride. For me, it’s purely about human rights.
Another argument made by some pro-UKIP people is that I signed a letter to The Observer opposing the ‘no-platforming’ of anti-trans speakers.
Yet, they say, I now want to ‘no-platform’ UKIP LGBT. Not true. I said free speech does not require transphobes (or UKIP) to be given a platform. I support the right of trans organisations to block the attendance of anti-trans bigots at their events, in the same way that Pride London has a right to exclude anti-LGBT organisations.
Although I oppose anti-trans feminists, on free speech grounds I also oppose them being banned from ever speaking anywhere, especially when they are not even talking about trans issues. I’m against one group being able to ban a speaker invited by another group – unless the speaker endorses violence, such as the killing of LGBTs. The UKIP Pride ban is a very different scenario from the issues raised in The Observer letter which, incidentally, did not attack trans people or trans rights.
Pride urgently needs fair, consistent rules about who can participate. I can’t endorse UKIP LGBT marching until they are clear about their support for full LGBT rights but I’m very uncomfortable with banning them.
So what might this fair and consistent Pride policy look like? I have asked many people and wrestled with this question myself. Try as much as I can, I can’t come up with an unassailable criterion for Pride participation. Every attempt has its pitfalls.
Saying that participating organisations must sign a LGBT rights pledge seems reasonable. But organisations could sign the pledge and still actively oppose specific LGBT policies, as UKIP currently does.
If we ask organisations to sign up to specific LGBT rights policies what would they be? Is a consensus on these policies possible? Would failing to supporting all LGBT policies be grounds for exclusion?
You can see how difficult and problematic setting criterion for marching at Pride would be.
So what’s my final conclusion? It’s a real dilemma. I don’t have a clear, confident answer. Because I instinctively dislike bans, I’m struggling. Yet I also expect Pride participants to support LGBT equality.
For me, this is a grey, conflicted issue. I can sympathise with some aspects of both sides of the argument but on balance, for now, the case against UKIP LGBT’s marching in the Pride parade is stronger than the case in favour. I don’t feel totally at ease with this position.
My bottom line is this: UKIP LGBT has not issued a clear disassociation from UKIP’s anti-gay policies and declared in favour of specific policies to redress the remaining injustices faced by LGBT people. Plus giving them a place at Pride would give credibility to their party and its often anti-human rights stand.
I applaud UKIP members who are genuinely seeking to transform the party’s regressive stance on LGBT rights and other humanitarian issues. I welcome their participation as individuals in the Pride parade and wish them success in transforming UKIP into a party that celebrates and defends the human rights of everyone in Britain – and worldwide.