Pride is Political: Jennicet Gutiérrez and UKIP

I said yesterday that had Jennicet Gutiérrez‘s protest at President Obama’s Pride Month address been a work of fiction, it would have been widely viewed as being too on-the-nose in its symbolism. Jennicet, a trans latina woman who turned out to also be an undocumented immigrant, chose the moment Obama started to celebrate his achievements on LGBT civil rights to speak out, asking the President to end deportations of and violence against, LGBTQ immigrants. As the press release from campaign group Not One More Deportation described:

Jennicet Gutiérrez interrupted the President during the White House pride celebration shouting “President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations.” As a transgender woman who is undocumented,  Gutiérrez said she could not celebrate while some 75 transgender detainees were still being exposed to assault and abuse in ICE custody at this very moment.

“The White House gets to make the decision whether it keeps us safe, “explains Gutiérrez  “There is no pride in how LGBTQ and transgender immigrants are treated in this country. If the President wants to celebrate with us, he should release the LGBTQ immigrants locked up in detention centers immediately.”

The response was astonishing: the room, seemingly almost entirely made up of men (the vast majority being white) started shushing her; they then started booing her, one voice shouting “this isn’t for you!” Quite an assertion at an event marking Pride Month, 46 years on from the Stonewall riots where trans women of colour played an integral role in standing up to the authorities which oppressed the LGBTQ community. It begs the question as to how this ‘community’ is now framed that someone (a trans woman of colour, at that) highlighting the injustices which continue to fall upon marginalised LGBTQ people is viewed as an unwelcome interloper. If, as expected, the Supreme Court rules in favour of ‘equal marriage’ today, Jennicet will be quickly forgotten as those who control the narrative rush to celebrate.  As Jennicet’s own statement put it:

As I reflect on what just happened at the White House, I am outraged at the lack of leadership that Obama demonstrated. He had no concern for the way that LGBTQ detainees are suffering. As a transwoman, the misgendering and the physical and sexual abuse – these are serious crimes that we face in detention centres. How can that be ignored? It’s heartbreaking to see the LGBTQ community I am part of turning their back on me, and the LGBTQ people in detention centres: how can they tolerate that kind of abuse?

Jennicet is an inspiration with a bravery far beyond that which I possess and she succeeded in putting LGBTQ deportations on the agenda – her interview on Fox News Latino is essential viewing. Yet with sad inevitability, the lack of solidarity Jennicet speaks of was reflected in much of the wider media, not least here in the UK where the focus has been on Obama’s sassy ‘shutting down’ of a ‘heckler’:







‘Owned’. ‘Shamed’. ‘Shut down’. Much of the media seems stuck in the mindset that LGBTQ life is one long episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It’s beyond embarrassing. This identification with the oppressors over the oppressed is, sadly, typical of modern LGBTQ politics as our own horrendous ‘debate’ over UKIP at Pride has made clear. Since I wrote my piece on it 3 weeks ago there has been a steady stream of men lining up to defend UKIP and take exactly the line I described here:
The pieces written by these men were grim in being almost entirely interchangeable – they typically presented the issue as one of whether UKIP were homophobic or not, completely ignorant to the fact that it was UKIP’s racism and far-right links which had roused the most anger (and indeed fear) as these rare pieces by non-white writers assert. This failure to even begin to contemplate that the LGBTQ community includes people of colour and other vulnerable groups for whom UKIP’s rhetoric and policies are violence led Twitter user @TheBuddhaSmiled to begin the hashtag #SolidarityisForWhiteLGBTQ. This documented how people of colour found themselves ignored, spoken over, patronised (indeed, many of these writers would engage with me while blocking non-white critics). It documented how the modern LGBTQ movement has largely become a quest for ‘equal access’ to white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, with its leaders happy to throw anyone or any group standing in the way of this under the bus. It sometimes revealed itself in darkly comical ways. The ever terrible Patrick Strudwick, who has previously tweeted of his refusal to go to the Notting Hill Carnival due to feeling unwelcome:

wrote an awful piece defending UKIP’s ‘right’ to be at Pride which didn’t mention racism a single time and then responded to people of colour raising it like this:


Benjamin Butterworth, meanwhile, wrote a similarly terrible and ignorant piece and then presented himself as a victim of ‘abuse’ rather than engage with the many people raising UKIP’s racism with him:


which in turn led to this flat-out expression of #SolidarityisForWhiteLGBTQ:


Rational and calm ‘debate’ vs outrage, abuse, anger – sound familiar?

This debacle has underlined how far UKIP has been normalised by the wider media, with assertions that UKIP weren’t ‘racist’ or ‘extremist’ being common but never further defended:
This has been a perfect example of those whose voices dominate the LGBTQ movement thinking they are leading a ‘calm’ and ‘rational’ debate while those seeking to highlight the continued side-lining of minority voices and interests are awful, abusive, angry troublemakers. A low-point was reached yesterday, when Jeremy Vine debated the issue on his Radio 2 show and invited three white men to discuss it with him. As it happened, the segment came immediately after a discussion of the desperate plight of the ‘migrants’ (always ‘migrants’, never ‘people’) at Calais which featured Vine merrily chatting away to callers who were using the language of the far-right. I heard three callers in succession and each took broadly the same line, speaking of the UK as the ‘land of milk and honey’,  of ‘forcing the migrants to live in their own countries’, of how the UK ‘couldn’t take any more’. Vine challenged none of this, not even when a Scottish woman living in France asserted that the UK was a ‘soft touch’. It was terrifying listening.

It was in this context that the discussion moved onto UKIP at Pride, with the sole mention of racism by the four white men being an unchallenged assertion by the UKIP representative that the party ‘has no racist policies’. This absurdity meant that Michael Salter, the Chairman of Pride in London who is a Tory former advisor to David Cameron, felt able to claim that the problem wasn’t UKIP but rather those who opposed UKIP. With a hearty lack of self-awareness, Salter claimed that Pride was a celebration of ‘tolerance and diversity’ and said he wished to include UKIP because it was an ‘inclusive event’. Yet poor Pride had been forced into action by a brutish element:

 What we saw during the general election campaign, unfortunately, was people being very aggressive towards UKIP representatives, throwing eggs, and when UKIP applied to be part of the parade there was quite a lot of antagonism expressed on social media and there were lots of new people commenting and making threats, whether it’s sit-ins, throwing things or even things more unpleasant than that towards UKIP representatives

Vine asked, ‘why don’t you ban the thugs who want to bully them?’ with Salter replying ‘if we could find out who they were, certainly!’ He then, incredibly, invoked Pride’s history as ‘a protest movement’ in defence of UKIP being able to march.

Coming the day after Jennicet Gutiérrez’s actions, this was a perfect storm illustrating the contempt in which ‘radical’ and/or ‘minority’ voices are held by those who lead the LGBTQ movement. The victims here weren’t those affected by UKIP’s disgraceful rhetoric and policies but rather UKIP itself! Once again, we have the calm, rational leaders debating while the irrational. angry outsiders threaten and provoke. We should also note Salter’s careful choice of words – he states that the anger erupted when UKIP applied to be on the march – yet the first anyone beyond the Pride board heard of it was when they were already approved. This is important because in one stroke Salter elides the opposition from within Pride in London itself – Jacq Applebee, the board’s BAME representative, resigned in protest at UKIP’s involvement:

“When I joined London LGBT Pride’s Community Advisory Board, I felt overjoyed that I could make a positive difference to such an important event. However, I felt very isolated on the CAB, with my viewpoints often dismissed by an almost all-white group of representatives.”

She says that no-one on the CAB was shown the list of participants before it went public and that she first heard about UKIP’s involvement through what she calls a “chance tweet”. She also says the role of the board has been “totally ignored with such an incendiary case”. 

It has been, in short, a contemptible shambles which has showed that Pride as it currently stands is unfit for purpose (there is an R.I.P. Pride protest planned tomorrow). Together with the bravery of Jennicet Gutiérrez, it has also revealed the fault-lines of the LGBTQ movement, which mirror those of wider white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy. It’s clear many neglect the fact that a legion of LGBTQ siblings before us have had to fight loudly, angrily, for the day when a President invites LGBTQ people to the White House or racist parties and amoral corporations seek to use our community to gain respectability. If we truly wish to honour this struggle, we continue it and we leave no-one behind. We remember that Pride is political or it is nothing and we fight against our own movement ignoring and oppressing LGBTQ people. We can still reclaim it.

Power must always be questioned

God knows the last few weeks (and undoubtedly the last few days) have confirmed how irritating British people lecturing the Americans on how to vote are, so forgive me if this is in any way part of that. However it’s largely these responses to the election which I want to make a few brief comments about.

A couple of weeks ago I saw Seumas Milne speaking about his new book (which I heartily recommend) at the new left-wing café, Firebox. During the subsequent q & a session he was asked about the American election and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he said that he would rather Obama won. What was slightly surprising was that he couldn’t understand the hesitance of those on the American left to support Obama, stating that it was their responsibility to exert pressure on him to be ‘better’. This makes sense yet it’s difficult for me to see where this pressure could possibly come from. Perhaps there is the possibility of choosing a more left-wing candidate at the primaries stage but overwhelmingly the US Presidential race is a zero-sum game: if you walk away from the Democrat candidate, a Republican wins. In this regard the Democrats need only hope for a caricatured rabid Republican to run against and they can surely count on most people of a left-wing bent supporting them, even if holding their nose as they do so (as an aside, I read a very interesting piece on this yesterday suggesting that American socialists should abandon the Presidential race altogether and focus on localism)

I can certainly relate to this, having voted Labour for the first time in 2010 not because I particularly supported Brown but rather because I opposed the Tories. For all the faults in the British system, however, it’s undoubtedly easier (even if marginally so) to exert pressure on the main parties, not least by taking your support elsewhere. In America third (and fourth, and fifth) parties are essentially shut out of the system in a codified manner. It’s no wonder, then, that politics there seems ever more divided and calcified – it’s patently absurd for the hopes, beliefs and ideals of 300 million people to find their expression in two candidates. The hopelessness of this seems ever clearer as the ‘financial crisis’ trundles on, groups like Occupy and the Tea Party speak to hearts and minds and the Presidential candidates continue to tinker at the edges of a discredited system.

Whomever becomes President is set to do so with a popular support of less than 30% of the American electorate. Yet you wouldn’t think this was the case listening to many on the British left for whom supporting Obama is an almost evangelical cause. The drumbeat of ‘Obama good, Romney evil’ has increased to almost hysterical proportions in recent weeks. What I find fascinating about it is that I’ve seen few cases where the support (it’s too kind to call it an analysis) goes beyond this. The most vocal of Obama’s British supporters in my experience tend to be the ones who feel least compelled to explain why they support him. It’s just self-evident to them that he deserves their support. The question of them supporting someone who is arguably to the right of David Cameron is not raised. The problem of them supporting someone who has not only continued many of Bush’s worst policies with regards to national security, civil liberties and foreign policy but has in some ways worsened them doesn’t raise itself.  The fundamental issue that scores of millions will stay away from the ballot box does not arise. Most startlingly of all, the agency of the American electorate itself ceases to exist – unless they support Obama.

Again and again, supporters of Romney are portrayed as idiotic, bigoted lunatics. Yet despite the implicit idea of Obama voters as educated and progressive, it often seems that all they are doing to warrant support is agreeing with the speaker. It certainly seems the case that many British folk who repeatedly broadcast their support for Obama couldn’t actually articulate even a handful of meaningful reasons for supporting him. You would almost certainly hear about his support for gay marriage (which I’ve written about previously), perhaps his ‘prevention of a Great Depression’. It probably wouldn’t be long before you got onto foreign policy and predictions of apocalypse if Romney won. This underlines the problem – Romney certainly may have tried to sound more hawkish than Obama, but anyone who thinks that (for example) war with Iran is a unique possibility with Romney simply hasn’t been paying attention.

This projection of everything that is seen as ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ onto Romney, while not unjustified in many ways, is instructive of the approach here. None of this shit must stick on Obama and, as a result, meaningful criticism of and opposition to his worst activities is a non-starter. It’s that old thing of politics-as-identity, with the political parties largely stripped of ideology and instead being akin to football teams: Labour and Obama good, Tories and Romney bad. God knows I understand how easy and tempting it is to fall into this and I still do it myself sometimes, but it’s utterly meaningless and is more about personal ego than a sincerely held worldview.  I remember an interview with Marilyn Manson where he eloquently spoke about how he almost preferred Republican Presidents as it was only then that people on the left got really angry and motivated. Glenn Greenwald, formerly of Salon and now The Guardian, has been very good at documenting how supine much of the American left has been in its support of Obama. It’s certainly difficult to believe that things like the NDAA, drone wars, Bradley Manning and the ‘kill list’ wouldn’t have become totemic evils under a Bush (or Romney) administration (notably there are Republicans who are far to the left of Obama on these issues.) As it took Nixon to go to China and Blair to bring in tuition fees, it’s taken Obama to normalise extra-judicial assassination. Under Obama, however, these concerns become largely the preserve of apocryphal ‘trots’ who are ruining it for everybody else. For this reason it’s almost impossible to envisage where the pressure which Milne speaks of could come from. It’s also for this reason that I don’t really buy the apocalyptic pronunciations on a Romney victory from people who will wail loudly and then forget about it once the attention moves elsewhere. While most on the left would see an Obama victory as the ‘least bad’ option, the placing of a panto villain in the White House has some crumbs of positivity in that the football team progressives would unite against activities they currently have no interest in.

The point here is not to argue the toss between Obama and Romney, especially given that this is a pretty one-sided argument already. Instead I would argue that whomever is in power, whichever party they come from: power must always be questioned and must always be justified. There should be no free passes because we think someone is a ‘goodie’ or because they are ‘less bad’ and this is the great danger when we reduce political support to being part of a team, sure of our rightness and certain of our enemy.

For the author of the piece, Byron Sheldrick, the Labour Party, as constituted in 1918, has always been marked by a dichotomy between Parliamentarianism and labour, with Parliamentarianism – the centralised ideology of winning elections – undoubtedly in control of the party for the overwhelming majority of its existence…Byron Sheldrick describes an unhappy, atrophied organisation, suffering from a ‘profound lack of confidence and independence’ where one of the most notable characteristics is a ‘pathology to conform.’ 

A compelling, and timely, analysis of the modern Labour Party and its failure to offer any significant opposition or alternative to the neoliberal project. Timely because of this piece by David Miliband and Douglas Alexander and today’s TUC speech by Ed Balls. The former is neatly torn apart here – note also that it continues the “contemptuous put-downs” of Occupy referred to in the New Left Project piece. Miliband and Alexander were, of course, leading figures during the Blair/Brown years and their piece is a disingenuous obfuscation which can be summarised as ‘more of the same, please’. Indeed, the notion that we have anything to learn from American party politics is risible, it being the one developed country where inequality, social mobility, violence, imprisonment and mental illness are at their worst. Yet you will hear neither candidate for President facing this reality. In fact, the ‘left’ candidate pushes the notion of the:

fundamental American promise that, even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids.

Obama spoke of running for President because he saw this ‘basic bargain slipping away’ – yet social mobility in America has been all but dead for decades rather than being a product of the Bush era. This is the politics offered in America: two parties and two candidates positioning themselves on minutely different areas of a lie. It is ironic that Miliband/Alexander bemoan the fact that “the Republicans are so aggressively wrong on issues of gay rights, women’s rights and minority rights”, as these areas are the real battlegrounds of American politics, masking the truth that both parties offer subtly different takes on the same economic base of society. There are no grand competing visions, no real clash of ideologies – merely middle-managers squabbling over who can best manage the account book.

This is not to say that the United Kingdom has much to boast about with regards to these issues, but our politics can certainly boast more diversity and pluralism (not least because of devolution). Yet at Westminster, certainly, the ideological torpidity is remarkable. What is noticeable, however, is how this is almost entirely to be found on the ‘left’. The Conservative Party, in a coalition with the ostensibly left-leaning (at least in 2010) Liberal Democrats, wasted no time in pursuing an ideologically-driven programme which serves its natural interests. They have attacked the post-war consensus of the welfare state, National Health Service, comprehensive education and employment rights with a ferocity which would make Thatcher blush. Contrast this with Tony Blair in 1997 – despite a poll lead over the Tory government frequently reaching 20% or more in the preceding three years, Labour pledged to match their spending plans for their first 2 years in office. Despite two landslide elections in a row, Labour’s time in office was marked by a dogged conservatism, a fear of rocking the boat too much. From rail privatisation to anti-union legislation, much of the worst excesses of Thatcherism remained; with policies such as tuition fees, they went further than Thatcher had dared. Redistribution was attempted in the most hesitant, apologetic manner imaginable while rhetoric attacking asylum seekers and benefits claimants remained high on the agenda. This is undoubtedly the powerful influence of Parliamentarianism – of a party more interested in winning power than in meaningfully wielding it (and perceiving the path to power through the filter of a right-wing media.)

This brings us to Ed Ball’s speech today. Balls built his campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party around his belief that there was a real alternative to austerity. He argued that spending cuts actively harmed the recovery. He commented that we should:

be wary of any British economic policy-maker or media commentator who tells you that there is no alternative or that something has to be done because the markets demand it. 

Today, he told us that “we cannot make any commitments now that the next Labour government will be able to reverse particular tax rises or spending cuts”. He supported Osborne’s public sector pay freeze and warned against strikes, continuing the government’s own rhetoric blaming public sector recklessness and profligacy for the financial crisis. He also ruled out the hugely popular policy of rail renationalisation on the basis that it would cost ‘billions’ and that spending ‘on that scale’ would not be a priority when faced with a deficit (a claim tackled here). Yet Balls spoke of his desire for a Robin Hood tax – a policy which alone could raise £20 billion. Policies advocated by unions and groups like UK Uncut would pay to restore the cuts, renationalise the railway and more, still leaving many billions to pay towards the deficit. The fact is that these things are choices – always choices. Balls has done a complete 180 on his 2010 speech and now wants us to accept that ‘there is no alternative’. 

Predictably, Balls spoke of ‘tough choices’. When a Labour politician uses this phrase, you can be certain they mean ‘policies which punish what should be our natural constituency’ – workers, the poor, the ordinary. There is nothing ‘tough’ about doggedly pursuing neoliberalism when it has undeniably failed around the world. There is nothing ‘tough’ in placing the burden for the financial crisis at the doors of society’s poorest while the rich continue to get richer. The ‘tough’ thing to do would be to break from this failed dogma and pursue a genuinely social democratic path. Indeed, Balls began his speech by praising the Olympics/Paralympics – yet in telling the gathered workers that there was no money left, wouldn’t the ‘tough’ (brave) thing to do have been to note that the £12-£24 billion of public money which went on these mega-events (much of it flowing into the coffers of private companies such as G4S and property developers) didn’t materialise from thin air? It was real money which could have been spent elsewhere. It was a choice to spend it on the Olympics in a time of austerity. It can be a choice to do things differently.

Ed Miliband was not elected as Labour leader because people wanted more of the same. He was always clearly less media-friendly than David Miliband. By continuing the uber-cautious path of being ‘The Tories, but nicer‘ he is inspiring absolutely no-one. It is not for nothing that his personal ratings reached their highest when he took on Murdoch over the phone-hacking scandal – a clear and decisive break from a previously unquestioned consensus. I’d argue that people want to be engaged and inspired by politicians again – they do not want to be patronised with the ‘there is no alternative’ lie. They know that there are always choices and they want to, are ready to, hear them. The chorus of boos for Cameron and Osbourne testify to that. On the strength of Balls’ speech today, however, Labour are far from ready to rise to the challenge – and the Labour Zombie will continue to stagger on ineffectually.

Social Democracy and the Labour Zombie

Crumbs from the Table: Obama and Gay Marriage

“I favour legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriage” – Barack Obama in 1996

“They don’t have any thoughts – they have emotional responses” – Gore Vidal, when discussing gay marriage, on the American people

Yesterday a British friend excitedly told me that she had ‘leapt into the air’ when she heard of President Obama’s comments on gay marriage, believing that “he’s won the next election!” Across social media sites people were falling over themselves to praise the President for his courage, his righteous morality, his decency. I was sent links which implored me to sign a ‘thank you’ card which is to be sent to the White House. The inevitable slew of broadsheet columns were overwhelmingly positive; some wearily observed that it was possible to be cynical about the comments but credited Obama for his skilful politics in cornering Mitt Romney on the issue.

It seems that it’s game, set and match – Obama is a good guy. He’s progressive, he’s liberal and he’s one of us. The disappointments have been washed away, cleansed in the serene waters of ‘saying nice things about gay people’.

Even as I write this, I’m well aware of what the response of many would/will be to it: I’m cynical; a Trot; ungrateful, unrealistic and unfair; I am that worst of all creatures – a negative person. In fact I’ve written before about the totemic elevation of an issue like gay marriage above all other concerns, even other human rights ones. Well, it doesn’t get any more elevated than this.

Taking the comments entirely on their own merit, I agree that it’s a good thing for the President to personally support equal rights. I can appreciate that it in the toxic climate of American politics, it can be viewed as a big deal. However I don’t see what is gained in hysteric gratitude for some crumbs from the table. Some blogs have already noted that Obama’s ‘evolution’ on gay marriage seemed to begin with whole-hearted support (the quote above). The further he edged onto the national stage, the more opaque his views became. Then, when he was preparing to run for President (and indeed when he did so), he was wholeheartedly against gay marriage. In the years since, the profile of the issue has grown tremendously, to the point where it seems to threaten the supremacy of abortion and reproductive rights as totemic ‘liberal’ issues. So, in the midst of fundraising season for an upcoming election, President Obama speaks out. He speaks out after the Vice-President speaks out (which was, depending on who you believe, a ‘gaff’ which bounced Obama into speaking, or a ‘test-run’ for it – I’d go for the latter). He speaks out while his aides brief the media, “It’s not like we’re trying to pass legislation”. He speaks out while simultaneously washing his hands of the issue, pushing responsibility for it to individual states. So yes, I am cynical about the ‘endorsement’ but I can’t fathom how anyone couldn’t be. The President has made some personal comments which serve to shore up his electoral base in an election year, instantly portray his opponent as a reactionary bigot and eclipse many of his administration’s human rights abuses – all without actually intending to do anything! As one tweet put it yesterday

Obama has endorsed gay marriage the same way he endorsed ending torture, closing Guantanamo, and limiting illegal settlements

Yet his words have been greeted as some kind of latter-day Emancipation Proclamation. This is a very deliberate comparison because you can be certain that, very early in any discussion of gay marriage, someone (usually a white gay man) will compare it to slavery and/or racial segregation. There are grand claims about it being the ‘last great civil rights issue’ (which, incidentally, I’m sure many under the ‘T’ of ‘LGBT’ would take issue with). I have watched open-mouthed as these statements have been shared again and again without challenge. Does no-one see the problem in (more often than not) privileged white people describing themselves as victims of something akin to the brutal and systemic oppression of an entire people based on the colour of their skin?! I have at times almost expected someone to compare the legal inability to call your relationship a ‘marriage’ to the holocaust, such has been the grotesque self-pity on display. From where I’m sitting the lack of ‘gay marriage’ is not preventing gay people in the Western world from fully participating in society and indeed rising to positions of power within it. To borrow Marxist terminology, the issue of gay marriage does not prevent you from being part of the ruling class and enjoying all of the privileges inherent to that position.

Class is one of (perhaps the) most fundamental issue which is papered over by the fixation on gay marriage. Arguments in favour of it appeal to healthcare rights, social benefits, taxation and wealth – there is absolutely no acknowledgement or even recognition that gay marriage won’t make the slightest difference to the structural inequalities which mean that a wealthy gay man and a homeless gay man will never experience these rights and benefits in remotely the same way. Just as I’ve argued that a fundamental belief in human rights must apply to everyone and not just privileged liberals, I think that a belief in equality necessarily demands a commitment to radical reform which improves the lot of an entire class, regardless of their sexuality.

Then there is the issue of marriage itself and its privileged position within society. If you are arguing for marriage on the basis that it grants you access to certain privileges, the question must surely be asked of whether state-recognition of your relationship should bring such access? It’s often noted that society is changing – conversely, as the clamour for gay marriage grows and grows, the take-up of heterosexual marriage declines. People are living in a myriad of different ways, an abundant variety of family units. Couples live unmarried for their entire lives; couples have open relationships; people have polygamous relationships, living with two or more ‘partners’ and so on. Marriage is a formal construct which has varied hugely from culture to culture, period to period. If we are to argue that all consenting adults should be able to have their relationships recognised by the state, presenting gay marriage as the final frontier seems entirely arbitrary.

Without this context, demands for gay marriage as most commonly depicted are merely demands for the privileged status enjoyed by the already privileged.

It was with a grim inevitability that yesterday, in amongst the various articles on gay marriage which popped up on my RSS feed, there was one about the resumed ‘military trials’ at Guantanamo Bay. Obama had suspended these when he took office, promising to use open, civilian trials and close Guantanamo. On the day he lifted this suspension he codified in law the practice of holding detainees indefinitely without charge. As the trials resumed last week the American government once again sought to suppress any evidence regarding and discussion of torture, abuse and rendition. In recent discussions regarding Guantanamo I have found myself wondering if the detainees would perhaps get more attention if they made it known that they were gay and wanted to get married. That sounds like an unnecessarily glib comment but I think it raises fundamental points about the nature of human rights and when we sit up and take notice. Indeed, the case of Bradley Manning seems to have been one of the few incidences of shadowy US government activity which has been covered by the ‘gay media’ due to Bradley’s sexuality and/or transgender. Yet even this isn’t linked to Obama or at least, if it was, it’s now swept away by the emotional gratitude towards his ‘personal support’ for gay marriage. Gore Vidal’s quote at the beginning may be vitriolic but the fixation on gay marriage yet simultaneous belief that it’s an issue which exists in a vacuum smacks of gut emotional responses overriding all else.

As a postscript, I’ll declare my personal interest – I’m gay and I’m engaged. Personally I don’t really care if I get a civil partnership or a civil marriage – I don’t see much difference. My boyfriend does care and wants to get married. So I understand this at first hand. However I think that, when we get married, society is still going to be unequal – not just in terms of competing client groups but in fundamental structural ways. When gay marriage becomes a reality, as it surely will, the fight for human rights and for equality will have barely begun.

This will probably be worth a look. Most of the British left’s involvement with US politics of late has involved faux-outrage (or just plain old pointing and laughing) at the Republican Presidential race. President Obama’s signing of this act is only the latest (and perhaps most egregious) example of his administration’s continuity of many of the worst excesses of the Bush era. If you don’t know about NDAA, read up about it. If you have a look at Wolf and Hedges this evening, perhaps you might want to start here

Q&A with Naomi Wolf: the NDAA and free speech

This is a decent enough introduction to SOPA and Pipa. I find it staggering that the authorities and the entertainment industry seem incapable of realising that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. There is literally nothing they can do at this stage to return to the days of widespread copyright protection and any attempts to impose an authoritarian version of it will backfire.

I’ve said before that the debate over copyright is (as with so many other things) something that many seem incapable of thinking of on any level beyond the most trite and superficial. You’ll hear people complaining about ‘illegal downloading’ but they will have zero problem with Spotify paying a pittance for ‘legal’ streaming, or listening to unreleased songs on Youtube. There is an inability to engage with the morality of the entertainment industry and their modes of operation.

Amusingly, I think there is also a strong tendency for many artists to blame the internet for a lack of success which any dispassionate observer can see would not have come anyway. I’ve seen unknown musicians speak with dewy-eyed fondness of a period when musicians could make a living from making music, as if 30 years ago there were countless 18 year olds making decent money from their garage bands. Obviously the altered landscape throws up challenges but it also offers infinitely more possibilities.

Governments try shit like SOPA/Pipa because they think they can rely on a populace incapable of fully thinking about the morality and implications of such laws. This is why a household name like Wikipedia taking a stand was so important. It remains to be seen whether it has any effect given the disease that is ‘representative democracy’ in the West.

Sopa and Pipa would create a consumption-only internet

Santorum and Romney

I’ve posted this three times now and today underlined why. There have been a slew of blogs, tweets and articles from ‘the left’ today about Romney and Santorum. There has been particular emphasis on the latter’s social views. It continues to unfold exactly as described in the article:

The worst attributes of our political culture — obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horserace “reporting,” and mindless partisan loyalties — become more pronounced than ever. Meanwhile, the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it — covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates — drone on with even less attention paid than usual.

Because most of those policies are fully bipartisan in nature, the election season — in which only issues that bestow partisan advantage receive attention — places them even further outside the realm of mainstream debate and scrutiny. For that reason, America’s elections ironically serve to obsfuscate political reality even more than it usually is.

The views of candidates like Romney and Santorum on issues like abortion and gay marriage may be repugnant, but their importance is hysterically overblown because they are amongst the only issues of substance where liberals can put clear water between ‘their’ man Obama and the Republicans (and vice versa). You need look no further than the fact that Obama has yet to endorse gay marriage himself for an example of the politics of convenience at work here. There have been grumblings about this but no firestorm of condemnation such as that which has greeted every dodgy uttering from a Republican candidate.

Of course it would be preferable to have a socially liberal President. But what does that mean? As the article notes, in their haste to hate all things Republican many liberals find themselves supporting a candidate advocating many things they have previously found repugnant:

Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform — certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party — who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote — Barack Obama — advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.

The article lists at length many actions of the Obama administration to illustrate this fact (seriously – read it) before noting:

Progressives like to think of themselves as the faction that stands for peace, opposes wars, believes in due process and civil liberties, distrusts the military-industrial complex, supports candidates who are devoted to individual rights, transparency and economic equality. All of these facts — like the history laid out by Stoller in that essay — negate that desired self-perception.

It then notes that on pretty much all of the issues listed, the candidate Ron Paul has been on the side previously claimed by the ‘progressives’:

His nomination would mean that it is the Republicancandidate — not the Democrat — who would be the anti-war, pro-due-process, pro-transparency, anti-Fed, anti-Wall-Street-bailout, anti-Drug-War advocate

In the demonisation of all things Republican, this view is pretty much nowhere to be found. Liberals across the globe fawned at the feet of Obama’s administration when Clinton delivered her trite ‘gay rights’ speech. They have had almost nothing to say about the administration’s passing of the NDAA. Greenwald notes that an honest support for Obama is perfectly possible if a progressive argues that they value certain liberal values over others. What he only touches on very briefly is that it is almost always liberal values surrounding reproductive rights and homosexuality which trump everything else. This is in itself problematic as it implies that none of these other issues affect these totemic values. This is an even greater problem when the focus is so frequently on the personal utterings of the candidates rather than what they actually do and, more so, what the consequences of their actions are. It can clearly be argued that much of the activity of the Obama administration has impinged on the rights of women and gay people both in America and around the world but this involves an analysis which looks beyond rhetoric; an analysis which more and more people seem less and less willing to engage in.

Who could blame them? Once you’re faced with the fact that ‘your guy’ is in many ways just as ‘bad’ or even worse than ‘their guy’, where do you go? Especially in American politics where the two-party system shows no signs of faltering. However this ‘all or nothing’ approach where you fully support one guy because at least he’s not the other guy just leads to a never-ending cycle of this. There need to be strong voices on the left holding Obama to account. We need to be just as appalled by his misdeeds as we would be by a Republican’s and start to approach politics in a manner which treats it as more than a football game. More than anything (and this applies here just as in America) we need to start to question a system which allows such meaningless and juvenile point-scoring to pass for political discourse. As individuals we don’t lose anything by holding every candidate to the same standard, demanding more from our politicians and our political system and striving for more. This isn’t to say that any candidate is going to be perfect but once you begin to ask why the ‘left’ is so mired in activities which you find repugnant then you open the door to a potentially revolutionary personal political journey. Despite what we are encouraged to believe, there is nothing inevitable about the way things are. Be realistic. Demand the impossible.

I’m Gay for the USA

We look forward to President Mubarak coming as soon as his schedule would permit. I had a wonderful time with him this morning. I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.”

“Our pressing on (human rights in China and Tibet) can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”

We do business with a lot of countries whose economic systems or political systems are not ones we would design or choose to live under. We encourage consistently, both publicly and privately, reform and the protection of human rights. But we don’t walk away from dealing with China because we think they have a deplorable human-rights record. We don’t walk away from Saudi Arabia.”

These are all statements made by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State. I mention them now as the speech she gave to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday regarding gay rights has gone viral, with a gratitude bordering on the hysterical that she has deigned to say some nice things about gay people deserving human rights. Thanks Hil!

Now, I don’t wish to sound dismissive. I of course support human rights. If the initiative Clinton spoke of helped people around the world, it would be churlish to complain. I hope it does help people.

However (you knew there was a however), there are troubling aspects to this speech and the reaction to it. Firstly, there is the idea that America has any moral authority from which to lecture the world on human rights. Someone with even a cursory knowledge of America’s history of intervention in the post-war period would find this utterly perverse. America was a prime mover in the overthrow of the democratically-elected governments in Guatemala and Chile. In both cases the government was replaced by military juntas who had scant regard for ‘human rights’ and killed hundreds of thousands of their own citizens. The Nicaraguan Contras, actively supported and funded by America, were described as using violent human rights abuses as “their principal means of waging war”. America (and the UK) orchestrated the overthrow of the elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. He was replaced by the monarch who ruled as a dictator with America’s assistance until his overthrow in 1979 and replacement by Ayatollah Khomeini. Iran then became an ‘enemy’ of America, leading to US support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war (which there is evidence that America pushed for). It is surely well-known now that America trained and funded Osama Bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghanistan war. America engineered the 1949 coup against the elected government in Syria, the first military coup in its history and one which lead to decades of instability and brutal crackdowns on its citizens. As we can see from Clinton’s statements above, America is more than happy to conduct a relationship of equals with countries with awful human rights records when it suits – China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Indonesia. The American-led excursions into Iraq and Afghanistan spoke the language of liberation, holding human rights up as a totem, while killing thousands, engaging in torture and doing little to advance human rights on the ground.

America is not just a country that has engaged in ‘realpolitik’ with its interests in other countries, it has a dubious (to put it politely) record on human rights with its own citizens. The death penalty is still widespread while it locks up more of its citizens than any other country. Millions of its citizens remain without access to healthcare as a matter of course. It has some of the worst employment rights in the developed world. Amnesty International has frequently reported on police brutality in America and the refusal of its government to engage on this issue. American has consistently refused to ratify the International Criminal Court, set up to pursue crimes against humanity. Then there is the ‘War on Terror’ which has been used to suspend many basic rights and bypass international law, allowing detention without trial, torture,  prisoner abuse, rendition, extrajudicial killings and the grotesque, Kafkaesque spectacle of Guantanamo Bay. Even this year, the American Senate passed the National Defence Authorisation Act which places ‘domestic terror investigations’ in the hands of the military and paves the way for explicit, indefinite detention without trial for American citizens on American soil.

Then there is the issue it is now lecturing the world about – gay rights. The act of gay sex only became nationally legal in America in 2003! Laws covering discrimination based on sexuality are still piecemeal, varying from state to state, as are laws covering same-sex unions, family law and housing discrimination laws. It only became legal for gay people to openly serve in the military less than 3 months ago. Some states have brought in laws explicitly prohibiting gay marriage. President Obama himself has still not supported gay marriage. To be fair, Clinton acknowledges that America has some way to go – but isn’t putting your own house in order one of the basic requirements before you deign to lecture others on an issue?

I find it absurd that anyone could seriously believe a narrative that paints America as a tireless defender of human rights. Yet if you look at the detail of the initiative on gay rights, what does it actually add up to? Clinton says that America already uses its relationships with countries to ‘advance’ human rights. She also claims that they already use American aid to promote human rights. Now they are going to use this to promote gay rights (which are human rights but apparently not covered until now…still with me?) However, they are “not cutting or tying” aid to gay rights. This is a good thing but begs the question of what it all actually means in practice, especially given America’s history of tolerating extreme human rights abuses.  I acknowledge aforementioned ‘realpolitik’ restrictions but Clinton made clear in this speech that human rights transcend “personal, political, cultural and religious beliefs”. Presumably this means they should be foremost. Anyone with eyes can see that they are clearly not.

(There is a side issue which I won’t go into in too much detail here, but the imperialist subtext of this initiative is very clear and actually has the potential to make things more difficult for gay people around the world. It certainly makes it easier for tin-pot dictators to demonize gay people as a ‘Western phenomenon’ responsible for the ills of their particular societies – not least because it seems that if you are a rich/nuclear country, you can do what you want. Any engagement with human rights around the world surely has to be at the level of engaging with the people and bodies already working towards these aims there. Perhaps it will be, if and when more details are announced. A story that some representatives of Arab nations walked out of Clinton’s speech did the rounds last night – it has turned out to be false, but the narrative of ‘uncivilized nations vs America’ is clear.)

This smacks of positioning for an administration entering an election year, shoring up a liberal base that has been hugely disillusioned in recent years by making the right noises. I don’t mean to downplay the cultural importance of such a speech within America itself – I acknowledge and welcome this, but we shouldn’t rejoice at crumbs from the table. Which brings me to the other thing that troubles me about this speech – the reaction.

The big theme of the speech is that ‘human rights are gay rights are human rights’. Great – we can all get behind that. Yet it has gone viral in a way that no other speech or footage concerning human rights has done in recent memory. It is being shared by many, many people who seem completely allergic to politics and have absolutely nothing to say about human rights abuses – unless they involve gay people. The reaction seems to reinforce the idea that gay rights are seen as ‘above politics’ but the human rights of people at, for example, Guantanamo Bay or in Afghanistan are problematic and compromised by circumstance. If we are truly supporting the message, all human rights should be equal and should be fundamental. The politics of this speech lies in the knowledge that in making these noises about gay rights, all other human rights violations which the administration is involved in, even actively conducting itself, immediately become invisible to large swathes of the population. They become a ‘liberal’ government, regardless of the facts.

If we truly believe in human rights, then we do not elevate the rights of certain people as totemic of liberalness. It means we must support the human rights of ‘enemies’ in war. It means we support the human rights of rioters and criminals and Daily Mail columnists and homophobes and Muslims. I of course want to support governments that promote human rights but it is a messy business and actions speak infinitely louder than words. We must never allow rhetoric around gay rights to be allowed to obscure other human rights violations or render criticism mute.