An open letter to Flo Lewis, ‘LGBT in UKIP’:
I was very lucky to be able to take part in the first Pride march in London during time within the Gay Liberation Front. In your article in Pink News asserting that your group had a right to march in this year’s Pride, you cite that original march as an historical precedent that your group is heir to. It seems to me that you have somewhat misunderstood the facts regarding that event, and I am therefore writing to provide some information that may be useful. In light of the welcome news of the decision that your group will be disallowed, I would like to add my comments to the debate.
Firstly, despite your thinking that the first march almost completely consisted of gay men, I assure you that many women were amongst those ‘few hundred men who marched, years before my birth,’ who faced ‘serious abuse and threats when they set off from Hyde Park. They were pioneers and must be celebrated for their courage.’
Those women, of whom I was one, went on to work in hundreds of organisations working for the rights of lesbians because of what we had experienced including losing custody of our children, our jobs and housing, being stigmatised and ostracised or incarcerated as mentally ill. Some of us have worked in coalitions with gay men and others and in Trades Unions against class exploitation, racism, ableism and sexism. We have also worked in the overlapping causes of justice for those, including LGBT people, seeking refuge after fleeing persecution elsewhere in the world (often as a result of British military intervention in their countries of origin) and combating racism in its myriad forms (also a direct legacy of British imperialism and colonialism) and the principles of human rights, feminist and anti-racist causes – and continue to do so.
I’d like also to let you know those women and men in GLF came from and celebrated a variety of European and world-wide backgrounds. We were well-aware of the traditional practice of scapegoating immigrants, and anyone regarded as ‘other’ by racist mindsets (as if Britain was not a nation formed by migrants), by the political establishment, as a means of turning people against one another and diverting attention from real common enemies, such as unjust systems of power, economic greed and mean-minded notions of nationalism. In the current rightwing climate, we see the same old same old dynamic in the hate-mongering attempt to stir up resentment against involvement in Europe, immigrants and people in need of safety. Ironically, all the while – if preserving national sovereignty were something you cared about – it should be obvious that the real threats to democracy actually come from the machinations of global corporate capitalism such as TTIP, e.g.
I remember clearly how our intentions back then were based on progressive principles of sharing, open-heartedness, internationalism and human solidarity. We were not simply about ‘equality’ – a much-misused term. Most of us were not seeking equality within an unjust system, but radical social transformation. The clue to what was going on is in the names! Gay Liberation Front, Women’s Liberation Movement. If you are interested in history then you will see that at the time of our movements’ flowering, the world was undergoing huge changes brought about movements in countries throwing off colonialism, the Black Power movement, the civil rights movement … in that context we analysed the political situations of patriarchy, capitalism, white and male supremacy, and developed an understanding of the links between oppressions. We felt ourselves part of a time in which the struggle for universal liberation from oppression was in ascendency. We were joyful and celebratory as part of that zeitgeist, not only because of developing a pride in being lesbian or gay. Our activism was carnivalesque in the sense of turning the world upside down, inverting and mocking the traditional power structures. I cannot speak for other women and men who formed that original contingent, or subsequent generations of activists (though if any of them read this they are welcome to add their names to mine), but I can say for myself that I believe most of us in that optimistic era never dreamt of a time when a group such as UKIP would co-opt our activism, our language and our cause in a specious attempt to give itself legitimacy. You misrepresent the notion of inclusivity and render it superficial at best if you think we could be connected in any way to the kind of narrow, xenophobic views espoused by UKIP.
In 2012 I was again fortunate, being able to be amongst people at the front of the London march with the banner “Veterans of 1972,’ marking the fortieth anniversary of that first march. Simultaneously I was proud to be part of the anti-pinkwashing campaign, marching against the attempts by Israel’s government to hijack hard-won rights as a propaganda smokescreen for its oppression of the Palestinian people under the slogan: No Pride in Israeli Apartheid
. (This follows a slogan adopted by an Israeli LGBT group opposing the ongoing theft of Palestinian land, ’No Pride in Occupation.’) I saw this as a continuation of GLF’s radical tradition of solidarity; standing opposite the South African embassy I recalled countless demonstrations in Trafalgar Square calling for an end to that previous vile apartheid system. With thousands of other people I’ve marched for that cause and many others, including subsequent Pride marches and anti-Clause 28 with my family and friends comprising a hugely diverse mixture of humanity.
I didn’t march for this: a noxious political party representing an appeal to the basest elements: fear of others, ignorance, bigotry and repression. The presence of UKIP on a Pride march is an affront to those who took part in long struggles for justice. The racist and anti-democratic nature of UKIP cannot be disguised by its adopting a tactical veneer of respectability, and it is a travesty to present yourselves as victims bravely facing intolerance.
I sincerely invite you to rethink your positioning of yourself in alliance with this party and to join the worldwide movements for justice and liberation.
No Pride in UKIP – No UKIP in Pride.