Pride and Prejudice – Queerphobia in the UK

Queer activists at Pride in Dublin, 2016. Credit: Aloyisius
Queer activists at Pride in Dublin, 2016. Credit: Aloyisius

By Dan Jones

It’s been half a century since the eruption of the Stonewall riots where working-class queers fought back against police in the streets of New York City. Triggered by decades of oppression and violence at the hands of the state and wider society, these uprisings sparked the international movement for LGBTQ+ rights.

Many in Western imperialist countries believe that the battle for equal rights is now won due to queer hypervisibility during the rainbow-tinged corporate logo bombardment that is Pride Month and with the ever-increasing presence of LGBTQ+ people in the public eye.

Right-wing, reactionary goblins like Toby Young even claim that being “LGBT is now the height of respectability, while being a white ‘cishet’ male is morally suspect.” [1] British society doesn’t appear as overtly heterosexist and cissexist as it was several decades ago, but does that mean the struggle for queer liberation is over?

One might assume in a country where same-sex couples can marry and adopt children that they’ve fully assimilated into mainstream society. Surely random acts of street violence against queers must be a thing of the past? Unfortunately, this is entirely wrong. A recent viral news story broke about two queer women who were beaten bloody on a bus by a group of men for refusing to kiss each other on demand.[2]

There was also the incident of lesbian actresses in Southampton who were violently attacked on their way to a performance.[3] Extraordinarily, a British trans woman was even granted residency in New Zealand on humanitarian grounds due to the appalling levels of verbal and physical assault she faced living in the UK.[4]

However, in order to truly measure the scope of violent anti-queer discrimination, we have to transcend anecdotal evidence and look at the data. Homophobic hate crimes spiked significantly following the EU referendum along with racist, anti-migrant and Islamophobic attacks.

LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop reported that homophobic attacks in July, August and September 2016 were 147% higher than those same months the previous year.[5] More recent research carried out by the charity Stonewall in 2017 found that attacks on queer people had increased by 80% over the preceding four years.[6] When one in five queer people have faced a gender- or sexual orientation-based hate crime, it’s difficult to argue that these are isolated incidents.

The same old prejudice

Media-driven moral panics are another symptom of inherent anti-queer prejudice in the UK. In the latter decades of the previous century, bigots in the media were arguing against equalising consent laws by repeatedly launching frenzied attacks on the imaginary army of homosexual paedophiles intent on grooming and seducing young boys.

Gangs of predatory gay men were apparently prowling the streets, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce on impressionable young boys and if the age of consent for gay/bi male sexual activity was brought down to 16, these predators would see it as a green light to go and “corrupt” more young people into sexual deviants… or so the story went.

Lesbians obviously didn’t command as much attention or fury from the British political class as their gay counterparts during this controversy, as patriarchal societies tend to ignore women’s sexuality. There was also never any law explicitly banning lesbian sexual relations either.

The idea that gay men are ravenous, closeted paedophiles is clearly a horrendously outdated, offensive view but a mutated form of this far-fetched bigotry survives to this day except the supposed threat has changed.

Reactionaries from across the transphobe spectrum argue against the need for specialist child-focused trans charities like Mermaids to exist, claiming that they are either “transgender ideology” brainwashing operations funded by George Soros[7] or conspiracies by Big Pharma to make money by pushing hormone pills on kids.[8]

There’s even the white genocide-esque delusion espoused by some TERF and lesbian separatist groups (such as Get the L Out) that the “trans lobby” are encouraging gender atypical young people to have gender reassignment surgery in order to erase the categories of lesbian and woman altogether.[9]

Queer people were not and are not trying to recruit young people and this ‘save the children’ scaremongering falsely pits the rights of young people against the rights of trans people. Even school programmes designed to teach children that there’s nothing wrong or abnormal about being LGBTQ+ are being painted as an assault on childhood.[10]

Discrimination

Physical attacks and witch-hunts aside, some of the more damaging symptoms of British society’s queerphobia is the violence it inflicts on LGBTQ+ people through oppressive state structures or outright lack of governmental action.

In the age of austerity where government cuts have disproportionately affected women, it should come as no surprise that queer people have suffered too. Resource-starved mental health, substance misuse, housing and welfare services have contributed to the doubling of homelessness under the Tories – with almost a quarter of those individuals identifying as LGBTQ+.[11]

Not only do policies of austerity put queers and straights alike through the trauma of homelessness, but mental health problems are exacerbated immensely and people are put at further risk of targeted violence, sexual exploitation and drug abuse. Homelessness tends to sever an individual’s relationship with wage labour and being trans is another major barrier to finding employment – a survey carried out in 2018 found that one in three UK employers admitted to being less likely to employ a trans person to work for them.[12]

The British Government does not accumulate data on trans unemployment but in Ireland it’s a staggering 50% with a large proportion of those in full-time employment still facing discriminatory treatment and harassment at their workplace.[13]

Bisexuals are far less likely to be out of the closet at work than gays and lesbians due to hegemonic stereotypes that characterise us as dishonest, promiscuous, unstable attention-seekers incapable of monogamy but very capable of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. Or at the very least, we don’t exist – making the lives of nonbinary bisexuals twice as difficult by having two apparently non-existent identities!

So-called “conversion therapy” is the phrase used to describe a host of psychologically torturous practices that are supposed to alter the sexual orientation of the “patient”. This is still legal in the UK along with medically unnecessary operations carried out on intersex minors whose biological characteristics don’t neatly fall into the male or female categories.

Rights groups like Intersex UK state that these irreversible medical interventions violate the young person’s right to bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination. In October 2017, the UN called on the British Government to repeal all legislation allowing these practices, but the Tories have not made any changes whatsoever. Medication like PrEP significantly reduces the risk of HIV infection for gay and bisexual men but is not subsidised by the NHS at present either.

Queerphobia and capitalism

Victories were won, however, over the past fifty years and openly queerphobic attitudes were pushed into the closet (to some degree or another) thanks to the struggle started by those pioneering queer liberationists of the previous century.

Although, it is regularly lamented that the initial radicalism of LGBTQ+ movements eventually waned and degenerated into rainbow capitalism – the politics of inclusion, market consumption, corporate identity and assimilation. This is despite the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation in a capitalist society that can never fully accept or respect diversity of gender identities and sexual orientations.

Queerphobia is rooted in an institution class society has always relied upon – the heterosexual nuclear family. Capitalism needs women to perform domestic and reproductive labour for free because it cannot afford any other means of raising the next generation of workers. So rather than free creches, laundries and meals, society expects women to shoulder this burden.

Sexism and gender roles provide an ideological justification. The very existence of LGBTQ+ people challenges the idea that a woman’s natural role is as homemaker. People rejecting the idea that their biological sex determines who they are attracted to and who they themselves are is threatening to a society that relies so heavily on gender roles.

There is an alternative. Since the 2008 financial crash, there’s been a renewal of interest in left-wing ideas which makes it of vital importance that socialists and trade unionists seize the chance to struggle alongside LGBTQ+ activists and seize the chance to breathe class consciousness into the queer movement.

A working class, socialist LGBTQ+ movement would recognise that there can be no queer liberation without abolishing the social oppression of women within the bourgeois family. Conversely, the end of women’s oppression means the beginning of a new chapter in human history – the truly free and autonomous development of individual sexuality. Therefore the struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation is closely allied with the struggle for women’s liberation and both inseparable from the struggle for socialism. 


[1] https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/06/budweiser-flags-up-how-pride-has-been-taken-over-by-corporations/

[2] https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/06/07/london-night-bus-attack-gay-lesbian-couple/

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-48572800

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/12/british-transgender-woman-given-residency-in-safer-new-zealand

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/08/homophobic-attacks-double-after-brexit-vote

[6] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-hate-crime-and-discrimination

[7] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/aug/11/george-soros-the-money-behind-the-transgender-move/

[8] https://gizadeathstar.com/2017/07/big-pig-pharma-trans-gender-movement/

[9] https://getthelout.wordpress.com/2018/07/05/the-journey-begins/

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/jan/31/school-defends-lgbt-lessons-after-religious-parents-complain

[11] https://www.theproudtrust.org/resources/research-and-guidance-by-other-organisations/lgbt-youth-homelessness-a-uk-national-scoping-of-cause-prevalence-response-and-outcome/

[12] https://www.cityam.com/one-three-uk-employers-say-they-less-likely-hire/

[13] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/half-of-transgender-people-are-unemployed-mkqfmb3d2


Red Flag is a socialist organisation campaigning within Labour for a democratically planned and owned economy. We campaign for grassroots democracy in the labour movement, militant defence of the oppressed and an anticapitalist programme for the Labour Party. Against Brexit, for free movement. Anticapitalist and internationalist.

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