Thursday, 17 March 2011

The liberal bigot: when racism and gay pride collide

The recently cancelled East End Gay Pride’s links with the EDL is no surprise – the marriage of gay rights and racism is a dangerous trend

“Paki-bashing” and “queer-bashing” are shameful facts of British history. So shameful that you’d hardly believe the two could be capable of bashing each other. Shockingly, this isn’t as outlandish as it may seem.

You may remember Judith Butler taking to a stage during Berlin Pride 2010 only to refuse their prestigious Civil Courage Award. Rendering Pride organisers shame-faced and blubbering, Butler explained that her refusal was to protest against the racism that occasionally comes hand in hand with queer movements:

“Some of the organisers explicitly made racist statements or did not dissociate themselves from them. The host organisations refuse to understand antiracist politics as an essential part of their work. Having said this, I must distance myself from this complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism.”

In doing so, Butler drew public attention to a grave and often overlooked problem.

The liberalism of gay rights movements and the right wing politics of racism, anti-immigration and Islamophobia may, at a glance, seem to be the strangest of bedfellows, but a closer look shows that the two aren’t actually that incompatible.

The recent controversy surrounding the East End Gay Pride, which various groups—most notably Imaan—condemned for its ties with the notoriously jingoistic English Defence League (EDL), is a testament to the prevalence of this odd couple.

The East End Pride—spearheaded by Raymond Berry, a self proclaimed proponent and founding member of the EDL—actively refused to liaise with ethnic and religious minorities in the community.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but the EDL’s involvement in the East End Pride—and there are others in addition to Berry— smacks of a concerted effort to rile an already racially fraught community. It is most likely an attempt to gain the liberal vote; by excluding Muslims and other ethnic minorities from Pride, the hope is to pit them as homophobic, thereby promoting the (false) idea that sexual liberalism and multiculturalism are mutually exclusive.

It is all too tempting to campaign against immigrants and ethnic minorities who may themselves hold homophobic attitudes. Just as Butler said in her refusal speech, “many European governments claim that our gay, lesbian and queer rights must be protected and we are made to believe that the new hatred of immigrants is necessary to protect us,” there is a danger of couching Western society’s acceptance and assimilation of gays in terms of white, European progressiveness. In doing so, we exclude cultural, ethnic and religious difference.

Although the dubious Pride has now thankfully been cancelled due to furious campaigning by Imaan and other groups, the racist sentiment is still inevitably present.

But we must remember that it is often ethnic and religious minorities that are in dire need of gay rights. Queer members of these groups are minorities on two accounts and also often face greater levels of homophobia within their community. Butler recognised this and passed on her jilted award to queer groups that work specifically with ethnic minorities.

Instead of excluding them, we must reach out. Ethnic communities should be fully engaged with in order to bring about mutual respect, Not only will it help family and friends of queers to be more sympathetic, but more importantly, in the true spirit of liberalism, they will be welcomed into a diverse multicultural queer community.

Words: Iman Qureshi


  1. This whole 'racism' matter is the perfect excuse for radical homophobic groups to get a chance to cancel the Pride.
    Call me a conspiracy theorist but statistics show that most homophobic attacks in London, and the East End to be more specific, are carried out by radical religious groups. These groups might not be acting on their religious leaders, but they are acting in accordance to their religious instilled beliefs.
    I feel offended as a citizen of this country to be denied my right to march for my rights.
    And please sir....don't call us queers...we don't like it!

  2. I am to be honest extremely offended by this article.
    East End pride from the view of the people I know, was a big event, it did not incite hate, it promoted acceptance.
    I have never met anyone that has said anything against ethnic minorities in the gay community in London, quite the opposite in fact, the people I know campaign for the rights of gays, not non-muslim gays.
    East End pride was an event against hate, not against Muslims.
    Regardless of who organised it, I have faith that the gay community of London, would not have let it become that, and to even suggest that is frankly wrong.
    How dare my life and my rights be affected by someone else's religious views.

  3. An excellent article.
    For those that need it spelling out:
    1- The Imaan website statement has evidenced the STRONG links between EDL and the East End Gay Pride march organisers e.g. Raymond Berry is one of the founders of EDL.
    2- By no coincidence the 2 April date announced for the East End Gay Pride march is also the date EDL have called for a national day of action and are marching on Blackburn:
    3- Pride should be about all communities, which means should be done in collaboration, not marching though deprived neighbourhoods that have a history of being marched ON.
    4- The people who were most vulnerable if the march happened would have been Queer people of colour suffering the most backlash as stated by Imaan and Safra Project who have worked on these issues for over a decade.
    5- Tower Hamlets council statistics prove, homophobic crime going down and race crime on the increase.

    With the mood of the country moving to the right of the political spectrum I'm not surprised it's reflected by a number of LGBT people (see TaLeftaSouHthZohSou & Sammy990), but I am disgusted by it.

  4. Algae said:
    I agree with One World, this is an excellent article which, unlike other reporting in the mainstream media, acknowledges the risks the EEGP march held for LGBTQ people of colour living and working in the East End.
    The increasing anti-Muslim racism that we are seeing in this country and across Europe is closing down possibilities of dialogue, fomenting hate and dangerously polarising our society.

  5. Some very valid points here, though some are still a little "off-message".

    However it is good to see another attempt by the EDL to gain a foothold in Tower Hamlets thwarted. It was evident from the outset that the organisers of the EEGP event at the very least were sympathetic to the goals of EDL. Indeed on the event facebook page they posted that the event was supported by EDL. That still did not stop LGBT people and LGBT organisations from signing up.

    Rainbow Hamlets and those working with them consistently challenged EEGP organisers to repudiate the EDL and its values. This they consistently refused to do, and on the most recent occasion they responded by asking whether they were expected to condemn the Conservative party as well! They also stated that they were not interested in community cohesion and the impact which the event might have on the wider community. Having sat in the same room as these people, I can state categorically that this event was never about acceptance or even pride. We can take no pride whatsoever from an LGBT event which has fascism at the core.

    It is worth noting that if this event had taken place as planned, the suspicion of EDL involvement (which the event organisers drew upon themselves) would inevitably have drawn counter-protest from anti-fascist organisations and from other community groups. Everyone participating in the event would have been at risk of violence.

    Rainbow Hamlets has stated its intention to continue to work with the local community, interfaith groups, the Tower Hamlets No Place for Hate Forum, the local authority and other Tower Hamlets Partnership organisations towards a more cohesive community. To that end, it will be hoping to promote an inclusive Pride Event which is representative of the whole community, and at which we will proud to participate alongside our friends in Imaan and the Safra Project.

    However questions need to asked of organisations which were so quick to rule out the possibility of far-right infiltration. In particular LGBT people need to know why Pride London continued to support the event and reject the possibility of linkage to the EDL without despite representations from members of the local community.

  6. I think it does a lot of people a disservice to assume that the link between the East End Pride and EDL has been well known for the duration of its organisation. In fact, I was at Bar Wotever on Tuesday when a number of people, including representatives from Imaan announced that they had uncovered the links, and that this backed up suspicions that had arisen due to the fact that the organisers were unwilling to engage with local community groups that other Pride organisers would definitely have involved. In this regard, East End Pride was an exception. And as such, I do not feel that it is a good example of the link between liberal gay rights and right wing racism. (That is not to say that I believe such a link to be non-existant). Please do not assume that people who were in favour of East End Pride originally (especially non-activists such as myself) knew anything at all about this secret affiliation with the EDL, and as such there is always going to be confusion and reluctance to give up the idea of the march for any reason. This isn’t the same as saying that those people want to have anything to do with the EDL, or see the march as against local communities – in fact, when I first heard the march being proposed it was to unite East London in the face of hatred from an unknown source (much of the reporting of the anti-gay stickers was quick to highlight a possible far right link). In fact, I take great heart from the conversations I have overheard that express disgust at the fact that EDL had any part in its organisation.

    If we are going to talk of conspiracies, then in my opinion the whole purpose of the EDL becoming involved in the Pride march was not to gain the liberal vote, but to incense minority communities against gay communities. It is an attempt to play off gays and muslims, because if we’re too busy wondering if we hate each other, and how much we should hate back, then we’re doing EDL’s job for them. I wouldn’t necessarily call it racism – if you perceive yourself (or a group you identify with) as being hated by any particular group (whether a friendship group, a religious group, a cultural group, or a geographical group) it is a very human response to dish out a bit of hatred in return. This is a response I, as a person, as a white person and as a lesbian, attempt (sometimes unsuccessfully) to inhibit.

    Equally though, I have a question: Do we exclude cultural, ethnic and religious difference by demanding to be accepted as “normal” by all people? Is it worse to be thought of as deviant/abhorrent by white westerners than by anybody else? If not, then how do we marry wanting to include an understanding of cultural, ethnic and religious difference without allowing this difference to be used as an excuse for some individual’s anti-gay beliefs?

    Finally though, I find it very easy to agree with the author’s sentiment that gay rights are for all the gays.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this!

    So much of the pink press has been whiny and petulant about having their ball taken from since people began questioning the ethics of this pride march, and pointing out the racism of the organisers, and race privilege of its supporters.

    The 'its political correctness gone mad!' brigade really need to understand this; a march which invites people to swarm upon an area with a significant non-white population, carrying union jacks is not about pride. It's about intimidation, and fascism.... even if those union jacks are pink.

    The idea that white British people need to teach the muslims a lesson was very much part of the idealogy behind this march, and that was grossly ignorant.

    If white British culture wasn't anti LGBT then we wouldn't need most of the support spaces that we have now, White British people would have universally stressfree coming out experiences.

    The fact is that anti LGBT sentiments expressed by muslims mostly have power over muslim queers, who have a vested investment in those communities, and who gain nothing by having a pack of racists coming into their area, backed by the EDL, equating queerness and whiteness. Those are the very people who would lose the most.

  8. @Sammy: I understand the disappointment of those who did not realise what was happening in the name of gay pride. However, I sincerely request you to go to the readers comments pages of pink news in articles related to the East End Gay Pride, do a search for the words 'Muslim', 'Asian' and 'Pakistani' and see what several enthusiastic supporters of EEGP had to say about them. I protested, and was called homophobic, though there was nothing homophobic in my comments. I think it was my name, an Asian and crearly non-British one, which led to these accusations being hurled at me.
    We live in a time where racism has been banned from acceptable behaviour (in theory at least), but the racists still exist. So what you get is racism masquerading as something else. In recent times, it has increasingly dressed up as anti-immigrant nationalism and defence of 'British' culture from 'those' less-evolved/medieval/barbarian Muslims.

  9. I am queer. I like being identified as queer, though I must confess, I do not like 'being called' anything. And for the last time, no religion preaches intolerance. Bigots of ALL religions hide behind their religion and culture in an attempt to justify their prejudice and not take responsibility for what is their individual hatred. Blackmarking an entire community based on the actions of a few is gross prejudice and logically flawed.