In The Pink Line South African journalist and filmmaker Mark Gevisser presents a perceptive and comprehensive picture of the international fight for LGBT+ rights in the twenty first century. Gevisser meticulously and sympathetically charts the harsh realities of life for many LGBT+ people as he follows their struggles with families, police and public hostility. His research took him to 21 countries, striking up relationships over a number of years with a range of activists. Chapters alternate between the stories of particular LGBT+ people, their struggles, crises, friends, lovers and families, interspersed with commentaries on what Gevisser refers to as the current culture wars over sexuality and gender in a context of growing authoritarianism in many parts of the world.
There’s a liberal myth that the undeniable progress made through struggles for LGBT+ rights in many Western countries in recent decades, promoted through globalisation and access to the internet, will inevitably be universally replicated elsewhere. Gevisser argues that in fact there’s a ‘Pink Line’ dividing the world. As he puts it: “I witnessed a troubling new global equation come into play: while same-sex marriage and gender transition were now celebrated in some parts of the world as signs of humanity in progress, laws were being strengthened to criminalize such actions in others.” In some countries, struggles over women’s and LGBT+ rights have led to these being seen as part of essential human rights.
In others Gevisser describes how they’re seen by those in power as threats to ‘traditional values’, or forms of cultural imperialism and Western decadence, intended to subvert national sovereignty and against which moral barriers must be erected. Readers of Socialist Review will be aware that even in the supposedly liberal UK we’ve seen rising hostility to trans and non-binary people. In places such as Russia, Poland, Hungary and various African and Asian countries, life for LGB and Trans people has become even harder and more dangerous in recent times in face of attacks from the right.
Gevisser rightly points out how many ruling classes, while growing richer through globalisation, are also fearful of the effects of urbanisation, where masses of young people find themselves away from families, and mass revolts and struggles have often exploded against entrenched reactionary old orders. He tends to express these conflicts in terms of culture wars and competing ideologies rather than them being rooted in materialist factors of existential capitalist crises, imperialist and sub-imperialist rivalries, and oppression mobilised to divide us, as Marxists would understand the situation.
The global Covid-19 pandemic and looming world recession will inevitably drive ruling classes to focus hostility on LGBT+ people and other vulnerable groups in order to deflect resistance and divide opposition to their obscene wealth and power. The Pink Line is certainly a great read and paints a compelling picture of LGBT rights around the world. Gevisser ends the book on a cautiously optimistic note for the future. If that is to be fulfilled we need more than just hope. The task of socialists must be to offer real solidarity to LGBT+ people fighting back in hostile conditions, and to build the biggest possible fightbacks against attacks on workers in general in the coming crises.