We’ve just seen a majority Tory government elected. How will this shape the context of the Pride marches this year and the wider work you are doing through the re-launched Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM)?
Nicola: The Tories, who were seen before the election by the bourgeois gay movement as heroes because they brought in gay marriage, have now shown their true colours. The cabinet is full of homophobes, such as the new equalities minister, Caroline Dinenage, who voted against equal marriage.
It exposes what they were doing as opportunistic, a kind of pink-washing, a way of appealing to liberals while carrying through a vicious assault on the working class through cuts.
Now they’re appeasing the right by kicking LGBT people in the teeth. It opens the door to us to reconnect the issues of class and sexuality. The cuts to welfare, especially housing benefit, will affect young LGBT people.
If you’re stuck at home with parents who don’t understand or you are in a rural situation or in a place where you feel isolated or unable to be yourself, you’re not going to be able to move away.
Cuts in health services mean that LGBT people won’t be able to access the help they need — maybe HIV services or mental health services. We know that LGBT people suffer particularly with depression, anxiety and isolation. Not being able to access services is life threatening.
With LGSM we want to put the politics back into Pride and march with trade unionists, regardless of their sexuality. It gives us a chance to connect the rights and needs of LGBT people with the class issue of opposing cuts and austerity.
Right wingers are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the homophobes being in charge and we’ve got to show that we understand who our real friends are and who our potential allies are — and it’s certainly not the Tories.
Gethin: For me the most frightening thing is the contempt which is now really obvious and naked from the Tory party. Cameron has put the view that “we’ve been far too tolerant for too long”. It is terrifying that he can think that privately, let alone say it publicly.
We need to remind ourselves constantly that the majority of the population did not and would not vote for these people.
In stark contrast to what they’re proposing for trade union balloting, which is 40 percent of eligible voters, the Tories got less than 24 percent. In their own terms, therefore, they have no mandate.
What are your priorities for LGSM?
Gethin: The next few months will be very much focused upon how we can use the interest in the film Pride during the Pride march season.
We are there to encourage trade unionists and other activists, regardless of sexuality, to join us in putting forward the argument that sexuality is not something that divides us from each other; we have so much more in common.
We need to build solidarity with other groups — disabled people, people in receipt of benefits who’ve been victimised and targeted, Muslim communities and a whole range of other communities who will see for themselves very clearly that they are now in the sights of the Tories in the same way that the LGBT community used to be, and I think no longer is.
What Nicola said about pink-washing is absolutely right, but the battle for LGBT rights has moved forward so substantially in the last 30 years that our responsibility now is not to fight for our rights but to see that our rights are indivisible from the rights of all those others under attack. It’s about building solidarity. The connections we built 30 years ago are still there and still producing amazing things.
Some of us were in Istanbul, Turkey, recently and visited a picket line of electrical workers who had been on strike for 241 days, picketing the sites that they’d been employed at before they were sacked for raising health and safety concerns. We were very nervous, but we could not have had a warmer or more positive reception.
When we show solidarity with other people it is reciprocated, and that’s the way we will build a majority for change.
Nicola: We collected for the Barnet care workers when they were on strike, the bus workers and the Doncaster care workers.
We visited the National Gallery strikers and held a solidarity event with them on May Day, and we met the Kellingley coal miners who are fighting the closure of one of the last deep mines in the UK.
Gethin: During the Bafta Awards we were pleased to be outside picketing along with the cleaners and porters at the Royal Opera House in support of union recognition and the London living wage.
Nicola: Stephen Beresford [who wrote Pride] was inside collecting the award for the film while we were outside with our banner picketing!
Gethin: Stephen, to be fair, did express solidarity from the stage.
Nicola: When the film came out we found that young people in their teens and 20s were so inspired by the idea of solidarity, of changing the world and fighting a common enemy together.
Young people today have no sense of the political context of the 1980s. In the atmosphere of the time, setting up a support group was the obvious thing to do; it wasn’t any great revelation.
You could live on the dole, you could squat somewhere, and you didn’t have to work for benefits. Young people today need to understand that you should not have to qualify to survive.
Young people have been inspired by the political message of the film, and we’ve been able to connect that with what we want to do with the Pride marches.
We’ve already had support from several branches of the National Union of Teachers, Unison, the Royal Society of Radiographers, the Fire Brigades Union, Kellingley National Union of Miners and the Tredegar Town Band, who are currently performing at Sadler’s Wells with the Rambert dance company in a piece called Dark Arteries about the Miners’ Strike.
There’s also a group of sixth formers from Pontefract who have raised money from trade unions to organise a coach down to Pride, and they’re actually selling tickets to trade unionists!
The film made them want to march with us and has taught them how you make solidarity links in order to make it happen —– like in the film when Dai Donovan says this is what solidarity is: you shake hands and say I support you, you support me, wherever you are, wherever you come from.
And they have found that to be true — they had to go and speak at meetings and they learnt how to speak politically.
It’s crucial that LGSM uses the opportunity of the Pride season to unite everyone we can against austerity; this is the central message of what we are doing now.
Gethin: The other important message, especially in terms of London Pride, is that we do not want anything to do with the kind of people that the board have brought on board as sponsors.
We certainly don’t think that companies that don’t pay taxes in the UK should be given a platform at our event.
These companies are deliberately trying to associate themselves with what is seen as a progressive, right-on event, to deflect attention from the fact that they treat their employees appallingly.
There will be companies supporting Pride who use zero-hour contracts, who don’t pay the London living wage, even companies that don’t have trade union agreements. It’s completely unacceptable.
Very early on in our discussions with the Pride board it became very clear that they have no screening process whatsoever for donors.
The TUC ought to consider whether it should continue to sponsor Pride when that’s the basis on which they’re accepting sponsorship.
Is there resistance to Pride’s commercialisation within the wider LGBT movement?
Gethin: Over the last 30 years our minds have been colonised by the neoliberals and people think there is no alternative to the way things are. Many LGBT people think the battle is over because we have legal equality, but what is the point of that if we don’t have other basic human rights? If you’re unemployed and have no access to benefits, and now the Tories even want to abolish the Human Rights Act!
Nicola: Or if you’re being beaten up by a partner or family member and can’t afford to leave. Legal equality means little if these rights are taken away.
What do you think are the challenges for young LGBT people today?
Nicola: There is a contradiction between the outward appearance of the rights that have been won across Western Europe and North America and the reality for many young people, whatever their sexuality, who feel constrained, restricted, that there are lots of rules governing them, lots of disapproval, that there’s lots of misunderstanding.
I wrote a book 20 years ago called Over the Rainbow: Money, Class and Homophobia, looking at the way in which identity politics was colonising the LGBT movement.
It was pulling the movement away from a class analysis of sexual oppression into a set of hierarchies of oppression in which we were competing over who was most oppressed and challenging it through internal consciousness raising.
It was an incredibly paralysing approach which played right into the hands of the bourgeois gay movement, who were able to get on with making money out of the movement and commercialising it.
Looking at the LGBT movement now on the campuses we can see the modern version of identity politics in intersectionality and privilege theory. Queer theory is really the left wing of it, the best of the activists who we want to relate to.
But you get this notion of “you can’t say anything about this because you haven’t experienced it yourself”. If that’s the case then we will be a very beleaguered set of people! If you can only talk about your own experiences then you can’t reach out to support others.
We must remember that Pastor Niemöller poem where if you don’t speak out for others there’ll be no one left to speak out for you.
I think those young people who’ve been inspired by the film are fed up with being told they can’t understand or they can’t speak out.
They’ve found a place in LGSM where we say we don’t care who you are or where you come from or what your experiences are — you support us and we’ll support you.
Going back to your point Gethin about neoliberalism, it relates to the general election and why Labour lost — because they never challenged the notion that austerity is necessary and that the economic crisis was a result of Labour’s overspending. If there is no challenge to the neoliberal agenda then many people will accept it.
Gethin: Yes, and the result in Scotland confirms that — where an alternative argument was put by the SNP they won a resounding victory.
Nicola: I hope that isn’t a case of “poor-washing” by the SNP. I hope Sturgeon and the other new MPs prioritise an anti-austerity agenda that becomes a focus for political debate in this country.
I have just been commissioned by PM Press to write a book looking at class and sexuality today, about how sexual liberation is absolutely bound up with the question of class struggle.
That’s why it’s vital that we defend trade union rights and oppose austerity — and build a movement that’s capable of building another world, because it’s in that other world altogether that we’ll be able to find out who we really are.