Ghosts of the past return

Issue section: 
(382)

Homophobia is back on the political agenda of the right across Europe, writes Colin Wilson. But there is also potential for resistance if LGBT people unite with anti-cuts groups and trade unionists.

The right-wing homophobes have come out of the closet. Most Tory MPs voted against same-sex marriage. Ukip -currently at double figures in the polls - opposes gay marriage, and local Ukip members have put out leaflets claiming that children "have the right to a father and a mother." The Tories have failed to revive the economy, and with no end to cuts and falling pay in sight. In this context the right are desperate for scapegoats - attacking benefit claimants, immigrants, Muslims and now LGBT people.

This process has gone much further in Greece and France. In the context of economic and social crisis, LGBT hate crimes have greatly increased in Greece, as have attacks on migrants. It's the right, particularly the fascists of Golden Dawn, who are often behind such attacks - and, since many of the police are Golden Dawn members, there is little point in reporting them.

Last November, an organiser of Athens Pride told the press, "there is a clear increase in anti-gay attacks. The perpetrators now act in seeming impunity, although we are not always able to name them as members of the Golden Dawn, their attacks follow the same patterns of the Golden Dawn's attacks against migrants. People are afraid to go out anymore. They don't dare hold hands in public."

Golden Dawn members have physically attacked LGBT activists leafleting in the street, and motorbike gangs, carrying knives, have attacked people they assume to be LGBT in the gay areas of Athens.

France has seen big demonstrations against same-sex marriage - some 45,000 took part in April, and up to 150,000 in May. Confident right-wingers have re-used left slogans, transforming the anti-racist "Don't touch my mate" into "Don't touch marriage", and organising under the banner of the "French spring".

The protests have seen French Tories organising and marching together with MPs and activists from the fascist National Front. The National Front has for years presented itself as a respectable political party. But now some French fascists - from whom the National Front leadership publicly distances itself - are taking to violence in the streets.

In early June, 18-year-old Clément Méric, a gay student and anti-fascist activist, was attacked and killed in Paris. Many believe his murderers were members of a fascist organisation.

French LGBT organisations report a rise in homophobia. One helpline has seen the number of calls increase since last year by 27 percent. As in Greece, homophobia is only part of a general climate of prejudice and scapegoating which focuses in particular on migrants and Muslims.

Numerous cases of physical attacks on Muslim women wearing headscarves have been reported in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil in the past few months, for example. In June a Muslim woman was attacked by two skinheads who tore off her headscarf and kicked her in the stomach even though she was four months pregnant, causing her to miscarry. What political conclusions can we draw from this horrifying picture? Two years ago, many British LGBT commentators suggested that gay people should worry about "Muslim homophobia". Independent columnist Johann Hari claimed there was a "gay exodus" from Tower Hamlets, an area of east London with a large Muslim population. In fact, when local LGBT activists organised an anti-racist Pride march, it won the support of the local Muslim mayor.

In Greece and France, LGBT people are not being attacked by Muslims, but by fascists - the same people who beat up migrants in Athens and attack pregnant Muslim women in Paris. The victims of racism and homophobia have to unite, not turn on each other.

The rise of the homophobic right also has implications for LGBT politics. For many years, mainstream LGBT groups in Britain have sought to build relationships with those in power who they hope will defend LGBT freedoms. Campaign group Stonewall is keen to work with Tories and big corporations. Its 2013 Equality Dinner in April, which took place at the Dorchester Hotel, was sponsored by Aviva Insurance. The Stonewall Awards 2012 were sponsored by companies including notorious tax-avoiders Google and Barclays.

Outside of recession, if corporate and right-wing politicians want to look tolerant, such a strategy can deliver limited reforms. But lobbying politicians won't defend LGBT rights when, as in Paris, Tory MPs are marching with fascists. Having meetings with the police won't prevent hate crime when, as in Athens, many of them are in Golden Dawn.

The more the ruling class shifts to the right, the more we need an LGBT politics based on protest that puts pressure on right-wing politicians instead of trying to make friends with them. The basis for such a radical movement exists among the millions of LGBT people. Like all groups facing discrimination, austerity hits LGBT people harder because we depend more on the safety net of public services. We can't turn to the family for support when 4 out of 5 older LGBT people don't have children, or when 1 in 12 LGB students and 1 in 6 trans students are estranged from their parents.

We're over-represented among people with HIV and people with mental health problems - groups suffering from cuts to disability benefits and to the NHS. And many LGBT people want to see more radical change in society than a few legal reforms which leave sexism, homophobia and transphobia largely intact.

All this provides the potential for work in Britain involving LGBT activists, anti-cuts groups and trade unionists which drive back the homophobic right, and form the basis for wider campaigns in the future.