Manchester Pride 2013 Manchester Pride 2013. Photo Joel Goodman

Nick O’Brien argues that the success of the Pride movie gives us a unique opportunity to reclaim the spirit of Pride this summer

Oscar Wilde once said that “a map of the world that does not include utopia is not even worth glancing at”. The struggle towards real liberation must be at the heart of every campaign we fight, whilst at the same time, the LGBTI struggle can only be effective when linked to the wider issues that shape our age.

The gains made by the LGBTI community have been genuinely significant. We live at a time when a traditionally Catholic country like Ireland has become the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote, David Cameron predicts the first gay Prime Minister will be a Conservative one and 90% of people back laws banning discrimination against gay people. Bigoted anti-gay laws have been scrapped, such as Section 28 which prohibited any positive discussion around LGBT issues in schools and the ban on gay people serving in the army and there is legal recognition for Trans people.

These struggles, fought for from below yet seemingly impossible decades ago, have been central to us winning gains, but we need to go further still if we are to achieve genuine liberation. History tells us that hard-fought for rights can be taken away and unless we achieve a more complete transformation of society the gains we make will always have limitations.

The most exciting and liberating moments of queer struggle have taken place when these moments have fused in ways that present a more fundamental challenge to the establishment. We simply cannot see what we have won today as being as good as it gets.

Our first role must be to challenge the narrative that the LGBTI community now has it all. Cameron said in the lead up to the 2010 election that his party “can now look gay people in eye”.

Whilst it’s true that his party has delivered Equal Marriage, it is also worth remembering that his own record includes voting against adoption rights for gay couples (in 2002) and against scrapping Section 28 (in 2004). Both his Equalities Minister, Caroline Dineage and his Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan voted against Equal Marriage. 

The Tory Party has come along way since Thatcher, the AIDS scare and Section 28 but a cynic could see this change in position as being led by changing public attitudes rather than shaping them. 

Ultimately, we cannot rely on any government liberating us, liberation must be something we win for ourselves.

Our second task must be to shine a light on the last remaining areas of LGBTI-phobia that exist in 2015. We still live in a country where there is no out gay professional footballer, two-thirds of our young LGB people suffer bullying at school and hate crime figures continue to rise with only around 1% of hate crime reports leading to a conviction.

Austerity has caused huge issues around housing and debt leading to more than a quarter of young LGBTI people becoming homeless.  For many this will involve a painful experience in “coming out” to their parents and can lead to an increased risk of suffering mental health issues. At the same time the Trans community remains increasingly at the sharp end of the very narrow form of acceptance offered in Cameron’s Britain.

Socialists must be at the heart of campaigning over all of these issues and linking them to the wider movements.

Internationally, the picture is even more patchy. Today some eighty countries criminalise same-sex relationships with imprisonment and even the death penalty.  Many of the countries with the worst records on LGBT rights are members of the Commonwealth with repressive laws that stem from British Colonial Rule. In Pakistan and Nigeria LGBTI people can still be stoned to death.

In countries such as Russia (where only 1% of gay people feel comfortable being open in public), Morocco and Uganda there have been new anti LGBT laws, or reforming legislation that has been postponed or reversed. 

Other countries such as Brazil have laws which are strong on paper, but gay people still get killed by death squads in some parts of the country. We must send international solidarity to these countries, whilst at the same time condemning our own government for denying asylum to LGBTI people who flee torture or death.

Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, LGBTI people must unite with other oppressed groups. The success of the magnificent Pride film last year reminds us of the solidarity shown by Lesbians and Gays support the Miners to those on strike against Thatcher and the Tory Government in the 1980s. 

This culminated in the Pits and Perverts Ball in 1984 which raised over £5,000 for the miners at a critical period of the dispute. One year later the solidarity was returned when the miners took their banner on the London Pride demonstration and the NUM drove positive legislation on LGBT rights through the trade union and labour movement, legislation which still supports people in workplaces today. They realised the strength that could come from uniting, however difficult at times, against a common enemy. Lesbian and Gay Pride 1985

The fact that today being pro-LGBTI rights is seen as a vote-winner and good for business (a survey of the top 500 companies in the United States revealed that 80% saw anti-discrimination policies as good for business) means that many different forces want to be involved at the top table of our Pride events. Whilst this shows how far we have come, is it vital that Socialists and Trade Unions play a key role in shaping these events and assert both this sense of history and purpose.

As Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT said recently at our 2015 LGBT Conference Big business has bought its place at the front of Pride, it has not earned it”. The aims of the Gay Liberation Front, formed in New York City after the Stonewall Riots and the main catalyst in Britain and the US for the modern fight for LGBT rights were certainly radical and called for the complete transformation of society.

They explained in their Manifesto that

‘We will show you how we can use our righteous anger to uproot the present oppressive system with its decaying and constricting ideology, and how we, together with other oppressed groups, can start to form a new order, and a liberated lifestyle, from the alternatives which we offer.’

Pride began as a protest, it’s our job to keep it that way and use it as a vehicle to achieve liberation for everyone.

austerity kissers

Nick will be talking about these issues in more depth with CN Lester on Sunday 28th June at 10.30am at the Dangerous Times Festival.

London Pride is on Saturday 27th June and Norwich Pride takes place on Saturday 25th July.

Nick O’Brien

Nick O'Brien is a teacher and LGBT activist in the NUT. He is a founder member of Norwich Pride, one of the few remaining grassroots Pride events in the country and active locally and nationally in Stop the War and the People's Assembly. Nick also works to train teachers on issues around inclusion and equality and is a mental health champion. He is a proud Norwich City fan and a founder member of the Proud Canaries, a group set up to combat homophobia in football and remember Justin Fashanu, the only ever out gay footballer in this country.

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