Monday, March 14, 2011
When a group of hitherto unknown individuals unconnected with the East End organised something they called 'East End Gay Pride', with its activism based on a Facebook group, it transpired that among its supporters were English Defence League members. This might have been a trivial matter of accidental support, except that the chief organiser initially welcomed the support of the EDL. Then, after criticism of this position was aired, the group was closed down and replaced with a new invite-only Facebook group, to which open EDL members were invited. The group has consistently suggested that it is really apolitical. I would be willing to believe this, but several of them appear to be aligned with Islamophobic politics or have EDL friends. They have responded to criticism from LGBT activists by complaining about "gay apologists", and the "anti-fun brigade" and have dealt with the complaints about the EDL involvement by belatedly removing the EDL members who they had themselves invited into the group and stating that no political placards would be welcome at the rally. Their statement, which they reproduce on a daily basis, equates the anti-fascist group UAF with the EDL. And, as their critics have pointed out, they appear to have no objection whatever to EDL members joining in the protest as long as they don't draw attention to themselves with placards etc. Given that the EDL contains some of the most viciously homophobic forces in British politics, some of whom would usually be more at home beating up LGBT people than parading with them, this is an astonishing stance. And their response to queries about why the "hate-filled Daily Star" was backing the event - I have no idea if the Star is actually supporting it -was to insist that not everyone finds the Daily Star to be "hate-filled".
Concerns have been expressed by local gay rights groups. (Unfortunately, word has not yet got to the organisers of Pride London, a celebrity-supported group which is prominently supporting the event, but raising none of the questions that other LGBT groups have.) UEL LGBT, which initially supported the protest, have decided with withdraw their backing because of the continuing ambiguity over the EDL's involvement. Out East have sent an open letter to the organisers, expressing concern about the involvement of EDL supporters in the group, and the denunciation of UAF. It has been co-signed by the LGBT activist Denis Fernando of UAF and the Greater London Trade Unions Council. The open letter questions why the group gives the impression that the East End is actually in danger of becoming a 'gay free' zone, never mentioning that local politicians, Muslim groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain, LGBT groups and the East London Mosque have actually been working together to counter this problem. Prominent statements have included this, from the Association of British Muslims: “There is nothing in the Qur’an against LGBT people. Allah has honoured every son and daughter of Adam, so such a hateful message is not only morally and ethically wrong but actually unislamic.” The approach of Out East and Rainbow Hamlets in dealing with this issue has been welcomed by LGBT trade unionists.
Centrally, the letter from Out East takes issue with the approach which reduces homophobia to a simple issue of nasty ideas and prejudice, saying: "Out East believes that our response to homophobia must be political because homophobia is a system which is present everywhere and not only a hate feeling from particular groups or individuals. Homophobia is not caused only by one particular group but is part of broader society and has political roots. It is easy to portray other minorities (even unintentionally) as the cause of homophobia rather than, for example, questioning the lack of means to fight discrimination in a period of cuts in public services. Instead, we want to highlight the intersection between sexuality, gender, race and class oppression. Homophobia is fed by political practices and ideologies which in turn encourage individuals to commit discriminatory acts."
But the legitimate concerns of LGBT activists have unfortunately not been dealt with in any but a snide, condescending and arrogant fashion.