Proud, still fighting

Submitted by AWL on 23 July, 2003 - 12:57

It might be wishful thinking on our part, but it looks like someone is putting the politics back into Pride. The organisers of Saturday's parade (26 July) are reminding people about the history of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans people in the UK - see the Pride Parade website - and asking them to dress up to reflect it!

Pride's recent incarnation, Mardi Gras, has been mainly about hedonism-the pursuit of it, anyway-and buying things. These are great fun. But in the sexually warped, homophobic world we live in rather more is necessary: LGBT pride is essential. And much more is possible: the liberation of human sexuality! To achieve that will take politics - we think, socialist politics.

Solidarity supporters think that society can be changed fundamentally, with production geared to meeting the needs of all, not the greed of a few, and rationally controlled by the fullest democracy possible. And then we can really start to be free.

We adapt Marx's maxim that "the emancipation of the working class is also the emancipation of all human beings without distinction of race or sex"-his espousal of anti-racism and feminism-to include the hope that fighting for socialism will also involve a fight for sexual liberation, of LGBT people, with the whole working class as allies, and organising autonomously when they need to, but also of 'straight' people.

Peter Tatchell is not a Solidarity supporter but we are happy to print here his call to arms: we all still need to fight for liberation!

Equality, no thanks

Peter Tatchell says equal rights is a flawed, inadequate goal

Equality? No thanks! I have bigger, brighter, better aspirations. Why would anyone want equal rights in our flawed society, where injustice is rife?

Surely that would mean equal injustice for all?
Let's face it, equal rights may be the cherished mantra of liberals and left-wingers, but in reality it is usually second best. Instead of opting for equal rights within our present unjust society, why not aim for a different kind of society, based on justice and human rights for everyone?

All minorities suffering social exclusion face a dilemma: to assimilate into the status quo or to push for the transformation of society. As a gay man, I loathe homophobic discrimination. But I also dislike the way most of the queer community has dumbed-down its horizons to the limited goal of equal rights. Whatever happened to the lofty ideals of queer liberation and sexual freedom?

The dramatic shift in the homosexual zeitgeist began in the 1990s and coincided with queers moving into the political mainstream. The straight establishment sought to blunt radical demands for queer human rights by derailing the lesbian and gay movement onto the narrow terrain of parliamentary lobbying and law reform. Desperate for acceptance and concessions, the gay elite toned down its demands. Instead of defining queer needs on queer terms and challenging the status quo, there was a growing willingness to accept equal rights within the prevailing heterosexual consensus.

It was not always like this. Remember the heady, idealistic radicalism of the queer liberation pioneers in the 1960s and 70s? The Stonewall Riot generation wanted to change society, not to conform to it.

What a difference three decades makes. Nowadays, the dominant gay agenda is equal rights and law reform, rather than queer emancipation and social transformation. This political retreat represents a massive loss of imagination, confidence, and vision.

Equality is important, but it has its limitations. It isn't the panacea that many people claim. Equal rights for lesbians and gay men inevitably means parity on straight terms, within a pre-existing framework of values, laws and institutions.

These have been devised by and for the heterosexual majority. Equality within their system involves conformity to their rules. This is a formula for submission and incorporation, not liberation.

Although getting rid of homophobic discrimination is a laudable aim, it doesn't go far enough. Ending anti-gay bias will not solve all the problems faced by queers. Some of our difficulties arise not from homophobia, but from the more general erotophobic and sex-negative nature of contemporary culture, which also harms heterosexuals. These destructive puritanical attitudes are evident in the witch-hunting of consensual under-age [and same age] sex, the censorship of sexual imagery, the inadequacy of sex education lessons, and the criminalisation of sex workers and consensual sadomasochistic relationships.

The draw-backs associated with seeking mere equality are not limited to queers. They also apply to women, who are forced to compete on male terms to get ahead in the workplace; and to black people, who tend to succeed only if they adopt a white middle-class lifestyle and assimilate into the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture.

As women and ethnic minorities have discovered to their cost, the equal rights agenda is not about respecting difference, but obliterating it. You get rights if you conform to the mainstream. But not if you don't fit in. Where is the dignity in that?

How can we have self-respect as queer people if we sacrifice our queer identity and culture for the sake of parity? It is acceptance, but the price is too high.

Moreover, equal rights are not synonymous with genuine freedom. Despite formal legal equality between the sexes since the 1970s, women's earnings are still only four-fifths of men's and women remain massively under-represented in senior posts in every walk of life.

Over 30 years after the end of racially discriminatory statutes in the US, the segregation of black and white communities is greater than in the 1950s and the black underclass continues to be locked out of economic success just like it was before the start of the civil rights era.

Feminist and black activists made the strategic error of basing their freedom struggle on the goal of equal rights. Once legal equality was won, both movements collapsed.

As we now know, formal equality is not the same as equality in practice. The banishment of discrimination in law does not abolish it in everyday life. What is more, equality is not the same as human rights. The former involves parity with existing rights; whereas the latter may involve rights-such as gay sex education in schools-that do not yet exist.

These are lessons that we queers ignore at our peril. The same fate awaits us if we jump on the equality bandwagon. We will end up with equal rights, but within a fundamentally unjust society where the rules are skewed against sexual choice and self-determination.

Isn't it obvious? Equality for queers is a political deal that leads to social assimilation. As a condition of equal treatment, queers are expected to conform to the straight system, adopting its norms and aspirations. The end result is gay co-option and invisibilisation.

We get equality, but the price we pay is the surrender of our unique, distinctive queer identity, lifestyle and values-the important insights and ethics that we have forged in response to exclusion and discrimination by a hostile straight world.

Queer equality within the status quo is a flawed version of freedom. It betrays both queers and straights alike. Society-not us-needs to change. This social transformation is the key to meaningful queer liberation. Equality, yes. But on the basis of a new and different kind of society where there are wider, more expansive human rights for people of all sexualities.

As Oscar Wilde once wrote: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." It is time to rediscover the vision thing. That means daring to imagine what society could be, rather than accepting society as it is.

For more information about Peter Tatchell's human rights campaigns:


Peter Tatchell is calling the government's proposed new gay partnership proposals "heterophobic" and proposes instead a new 'Civil Commitment Pact' covering all relationships of care and support, not just sexual partnerships.

Under the government's new scheme, lesbian and gay partners are to be granted many of the legal rights that go with marriage, but these rights will not extend to unmarried opposite-sex partners.

"It is divisive, heterophobic and discriminatory to exclude unmarried heterosexual couples", says Tatchell.

"Cohabiting heterosexuals also lack legal recognition and protection. This is a grave injustice. The government should amend its proposals to ensure legal rights for all unwed couples, gay and straightÂ…

"I would like to see a new system of partnership recognition where people would be allowed to nominate as their next-of-kin and beneficiary any 'significant other' in their life. This significant person could be a lover, but it could also be a sister, carer, favourite nephew or life-long best friend.

"Many non-sexual friendships are just as sincere, committed and enduring as relations between people in love. They, too, should have legal recognitionÂ…

"There is, nowadays, a huge variety of relationships and lifestyles. There are people who live together, and those who live apart. Some share their finances; others maintain financial independence. The law should reflect and support these diverse relationship choices and realities. The one-size-fits-all model of relationship recognition-epitomised by marriage-is no longer appropriateÂ…

"Any new partnership legislation should allow people to pick and mix from a menu of rights and responsibilities. This flexibility would enable them to devise a tailor-made partnership agreement suited to their own particular needs. Some partners, for example, may want next-of-kin rights but not joint guardianship of children from a previous relationship. The law should let them make that choice. Unfortunately, marriage and the government's proposed same-sex civil registration scheme don't give people these options. They insist on all or nothing".

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