In many ways sexuality and gender identity politics has come of age. Instead of the focus on broad-based political demands for equal rights that were necessary over the past decades, when there was legal discrimination and the majority of the population expressed prejudice, there is now a political imperative to draw sharp dividing lines between the interests of pink capitalists and those of LGBTQ workers.
An emboldened Conservative Party in government, together with its big business backers, is determined to attack workers organisations. There is an ideological war going on to delegitimise workers’ organisations and workers’ representatives in order to clear the way for cheap labour and the undermining of decent terms and conditions at work. This is manifested in the Tories’ proposed Trade Union bill, but we should also be aware this attack has a cultural front, and a specifically “pink” cultural front. We should be prepared to challenge this within our LGBTQ communities as a political issue.
The Conservative Party has a very recent record of prejudice, voting en masse against the comprehensive equality legislation brought in by past Labour Governments. Up until 2009 David Cameron voted consistently against LGBT rights, but just before the 2010 election there was a change of Tory strategy and he decided to endorse a socially liberal approach to detoxify the “nasty Party” brand. This approach culminated in Equal Marriage legislation in the last Parliament. We should note however that this legislation only passed in the House of Commons because of Labour and Liberal votes, as only half of Tory MPs supported it. We should be worried that after the 2015 General Election there is no clear Parliamentary majority for progressive social change on sexuality and gender identity issues.
A capitalist ideological pink offensive is aimed at LGBTQ workers as consumers as well as producers. The reality for working-class LGBT people in our workplaces and in our communities is very different from the bland and superficial world that is presented — our diverse and varied LGBTQ lived experiences are turned by the corporate marketing machines into commodified pink “lifestyles”. And corporate interests are coming to the fore, determined to takeover and depoliticise any collective expressions of LGBTQ life such as Pride celebrations. This offensive of the pink capitalists must be resisted.
The first focus of an LGBTQ fightback must be in the workplace. A battle is being waged concerning who speaks for LGBT workers and who can defend our interests. “Pink friendly” corporations want us to trust them and, unsuprisingly want to suggest that LGBTQ workers don’t need trade unions: instead they offer us employee staff networks as the way of dealing with problems at work. They want to claim their place in the Stonewall top 100 employer list rather than deal with LGBTQ workers’ real demands.
Despite (nearly) equal employment rights in the UK the most comprehensive survey of workplace homophobia conducted last year shows that LGB workers are more than twice as likely to be bullied as straight workers. Discrimination, overt or covert, is still rife and we are far from having workplaces that are safe and welcoming. The Tory plans for more free schools and academies undermine inclusive education and make it harder to challenge homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools and colleges. The tightening of border controls and the xenophobia and nationalism promoted by both UKIP and the Tories directly affects LGBT asylum seekers and refugees.
There are remaining areas of inequality in UK law: the ban on equal marriage in Northern Ireland, the ongoing discrimination on survivor pension benefits, and continuing religious exemptions in employment rights to equality legislation on sexuality. The campaigns against these led by the TUC and the Cutting Edge Consortium, an alliance of progressive LGBTQ faith and secular organisations fighting faith based homophobia and transphobia should be supported.
But LGBTQ trade union groups and LGBTQ campaigning groups must also demand an end to the cuts in public services and repressive social policy of the Conservatives including further draconian welfare reforms which affect housing and provision of mental health services to vulnerable LGBT people.
We should oppose divisive social policies which threaten to stoke up intolerance and fear which will damage the social solidarity necessary to combat persisting homophobia, bi phobia and transphobia in society.
Capitalists want to monopolise political debate and sideline alternative views, especially ones based in working class people experience. It is in this context we have to view the recent behaviour of the Pride in London board and their acquiescence to corporate power. The Tories have always wanted to depoliticise Pride because of their homophobic and transphobic record and to maintain their socially liberal facade. But Barclays, Starbucks and Citibank cannot defend equality or the positive change we need to eliminate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia at work (neither can campaigning groups in hock to such corporate interests such as Stonewall.) The priority that have given to these corporate sponsors rather than the “Pride heroes” from Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners in this year’s London Pride March is the tip of the iceberg. And the experience of London Pride this year is not untypical of regional Pride events in general many of which you have to pay to attend and also are dependent on business sponsors.
We need a democratic, working-class LGBT political movement to take forward the gains made in LGBT civil rights over the past few decades and make them real. We must challenge the overt and covert prejudice that still exists, the heterosexism that continues to be the norm, and the deep rooted homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in our society which often dovetails with everyday sexism.
Pink capitalists have the money and the power. Their offensive is a direct challenge to LGBTQ socialists. We need a LGBTQ workers’ movement that links up with grassroots community organisations. The base for such a movement must come from the LGBTQ groups which now exist in most trade unions and from class conscious LGBTQ workers’ campaigns. We must resist any attempt within the labour movement to roll back momentum for LGBT and women’s liberation in the name of ‘authentic’ working class experience as many of the proponents of Blue Labour wish to.
We need to directly promote the interests of LGBT workers — and make sharp distinction between our interests and the compromised interests of LGBT organisations dependent on corporate support. We need a progressive trade union movement where the demands of LGBTQ workers are heard loud and clear. And we need solidarity between LGBTQ and straight workers so they cannot divide and rule.
It is solidarity that delivered LGBT rights and it is solidarity that will deliver our liberation.