The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index – Because Awful Companies Like Gays Too

Another year brings with it another edition of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which professes to detail “Britain’s top gay-friendly employers”. According to Ben Summerskill’s foreward:

Research shows that lesbian, gay and bisexual employees are more productive, creative, loyal and successful when they have the confidence, support and security to truly be themselves at work.

I’m sure that’s true but unfortunately my commie leanings don’t tend to go down too well with my boss. ‘Being yourself’ at work is a rather broad philosophical point, particularly in the age of emotional labour where you’re actively encouraged to “‘be yourself’ at work”(albeit an apolitical, idyllically submissive version of yourself). This fits right in with how Stonewall frame their Index as a service to capital and exclude all considerations other than “efforts to create inclusive workplaces for lesbian, gay and bisexual employees” (sucks to be you, transsexual people!) The section on LGB Community Engagement notes that “LGB people are also consumers and service users, representing a market estimated to be worth £70–81 billion per year in Britain alone.” There’s money in them hills! So the Home Office may, for example, have an utterly dire record on immigration re: gay people and Barclays may be the biggest UK investors in the arms trade which provides weapons to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Russia, but they are nice to their LGB employees! Whoo! Hilariously, we’re told that “Stonewall set additional criteria for global employers, to recognise support for LGB employees worldwide.” We can widen the scope a little but only to folk sitting in your offices.

Apparently you also get points for promoting ”commitment to LGB equality to the wider community” and “working with your suppliers on sexual orientation equality.” This ‘equality’, clearly, is very narrowly defined. The examples above just focus on the wider implications for LGB people of certain organisations – if we extend this to human rights and social justice generally the list becomes even more problematic. Goldman Sachs may be commonly described as “the most evil corporation in the world” and a “great vampire squid” but as a gay person I’m encouraged to view it through one prism only: what’s in it for me? An insidious pragmatism is present, pushing the pervasive myth that morality and politics are not located within the workplace. Stonewall’s Index, then, serves much the same purpose as Corporate Social Responsibility programmes: it elides politics, discourages a wider critical engagement with organisations and presents an essentialist view of sexuality which is both pre- and apart from politics. From this perspective there is no contradiction in Stonewall praising a Home Office which pushes racist and homophobic immigration policies or a Barclays which invests in companies that sell arms to Uganda (and indeed operates there). We’re actively discouraged from even beginning to make those links and so instead we push on with our single-issue e-petitions.

This is what happens when liberation movements become parochial and self-absorbed. As they lose any analysis of where power lies in society and how it operates, battles around areas like sexuality, gender, race, geopolitics and economic justice come to be seen as disparate and unconnected. Once this is the case it’s very easy for the movements to be co-opted by those in power and end up providing a useful service to societies which remain patriarchal, racist and capitalist. Thus we end up with the LGB demand to be ‘allowed’ to be part of the military machine or to be granted ‘equal’ access to socially destructive companies like Goldman Sachs.

This is particularly egregious as the Index is so self-serving and ultimately pointless, even on its own terms. Companies have to apply to enter it. This is free but, we’re told, “The majority of entrants are members of Stonewall’s best practice employers’ programme, Diversity Champions”. Membership of this programme costs £2,500 or £4000 for global organisations. Every single member of Stonewall’s ‘directory of gay-friendly employers’ is a member of this. This tells us absolutely nothing about how the vast majority of people work (I work in an organisation of about 13 people and none of them give a toss about my sexuality). It does, however, provide a steady stream of income for Stonewall. My friend works for a global organisation who has applied to the Index every year for a few consecutive years. Despite being LGB-friendly to the point of having networks, social groups and regular events specifically for LGB staff, it’s never made the list. Instead, Stonewall keep coming up with recommendations for training and seminars – all of which cost money. While this goes on my gay friend merrily goes about his working life…and we continue to shrink ourselves to one-dimensional beings while allowing egregious organisations to benefit from it.

Something Rotten: Mugabe’s Son, Tom Daley and Gay Identity

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We’ve seen before how quickly and widely misinformation can spread if it fits the right narrative. This is undoubtedly true in broad terms but I’ve tended to write about it with a particular, personal regard for LGBT issues. Because, truly, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. It seems increasingly unavoidable to me that the mainstream LGBT (for which read: overwhelmingly white gay male) ‘community’ is underpinned by a collective delusion based on a peculiar mix of victimhood and self-regard. Critical thought is notable by its absence. The Maria Miller and ‘hanged gay men in Iran’ memes went unchecked and were widely shared because they reflected these ‘values’. They assured us that we were oppressed. It’s noticeable that much of this comes from  gay people who are privileged in many other ways – intersectionality requires us to be aware not only of the many different ways in which people can be oppressed but, crucially, the ways in which we may oppress others. Where is the cachet in this? There is none and so it’s largely absent and, if raised, derided. Instead we face a seemingly endless parade of stories detailing how awful things are for us, with the truth being largely irrelevant. A story about a ‘teenage gay couple’ kicked out of McDonalds while ‘celebrating their anniversary’ went viral – it turned out they weren’t a couple, weren’t gay and weren’t even kicked out. Evidence of the awful homophobia faced by a waitress in America travelled around the world in hours – it now appears that it was a cruel hoax perpetrated by the waitress herself. The corrections to these stories are, of course, never shared with remotely the same zeal. Where’s the fun in truth if it doesn’t victimise us? Indeed, given that those of us living in the ‘democratic’ West face less and less problems due to our sexuality, there’s been a marked upswing in stories about how awful things are for gay people in other countries. Aside from serving the narrative these stories have the added bonus of being difficult to check. So there is little to no engagement with the people who actually live in these countries, little to no efforts made to listen to them and be led by them. Instead their oppressions become ours and we do with them what we like.

We saw this on Thursday when a ‘story’ about Robert Mugabe’s son being gay quickly spread across the internet. Despite originating on a website no-one had ever heard of, relying on suspiciously vague sources and being about a son who doesn’t actually exist, the report got as far as being reported on one of the main LGBT news sites in the UK (now altered to try and save their embarrassment.) People began to realize that the story was a hoax within the hour…yet even today I can still see it being shared. At a glance you can understand the appeal of the story – notorious homophobe has gay child. Karma! If you think about it, though, it’s actually a pretty twisted one. If it had turned out to be true you would imagine that life for the son would have been pretty difficult and there’s something rather perverse in celebrating homosexuality as a ‘punishment’. Yet this was irrelevant to the ‘lol gotcha!’ angle from which people were reporting it. Now, of course, the story has nothing to offer us and so the treatment of gay people in Zimbabwe will be forgotten until the next e-petition. As for discussion of wider issues in Zimbabwe – a non-starter.

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The concern with our own sexual identity rather than with the truth can also be seen today in the response to Tom Daley’s rather low-key assertion that he’s in a relationship with another man. Daley explained that he was motivated to speak out to correct misconceptions, stated that it shouldn’t be a big deal and went to pains to point out that he was still attracted to girls. This rather measured approach was almost immediately lost in a frenzy of ‘Tom Daley is gay!’, ‘Tom Daley is one of us!’  and ‘Tom Daley is so brave!’ hysteria. There was almost instant recourse to that favoured trope, the tormented gay kid, to emphasis the earth-shattering importance of the ‘announcement’. Daley’s concern with misrepresentation and his avoidance of labelling himself became irrelevant; indeed, while some have stated that he’s ‘come out’ as ‘bisexual’, others have dismissed this and claimed him as ‘gay’ (Pink News did and have since altered the headline). The crucial thing is that he’s no longer ‘Tom Daley, diver’ but rather ‘Tom Daley, LIKES MEN, IS BRAVE’. The need to align this calm announcement with the victim narrative is unsurprising but is instructive of the patronising and simplistic way in which we handle these matters. We can’t even grant teenagers the right to identify themselves (or, indeed, to not identify as anything). We can only deal in absolutes and, regardless of Daley’s wishes, he’s now a gay role model who can save other gays. His sexuality isn’t his any more – somebody think of the children!

What the hell is going on? We trample over facts with complete disregard and dehumanise anyone who ventures a sexual interest of any kind in their own sex, all to maintain the particular notions of sexuality which our identities rely on. How can this possibly be viewed as a good thing? Who exactly is it supposed to be helping? If we’re in the business of imagining kids who need saviours, it’s perfectly conceivable that someone struggling with their sexuality will be repelled by the strict, delineated identities which we deal in. You will be gay, it will be the core of your being and you will be a victim. This is what the transgressive defiance of Stonewall has transmuted into and it’s ugly. Rather than spending all of our time looking for homophobic bogeymen we should take the time to think about our own attitudes and the assumptions about sexuality which underpin them. As I’ve written before, the kind of world we speak of wanting seems to be one in which people can be whomever they want in terms of sexuality; our rhetoric and actions, however, completely contradict this and demands clear (and oppositional) identities. We can do better than this. We can be better than this. More and more it seems that the approach of Western gay politics is in many ways a barrier to ‘equality’.

EDIT – 12/12/13 An edit to include a particularly egregious illustration of the above from noted gay neocon Andrew Sullivan. Apparently Sullivan knows Tom Daley’s sexuality better than Tom himself does. Quite some feat! You can hardly get a better example of the dehumanizing that I wrote about than Sullivan’s hideous bet that “Daley will never have a sexual relationship with a woman again.” Placing bets on the future sexual activity of teenagers – doesn’t it make you proud?

Sullivan knows that Daley can’t possibly be attracted to women because saying so is a “a classic bridging mechanism” – one that he deployed too. Yes, Sullivan said he fancied women and men but didn’t really, so everyone else who says so is clearly lying. As arguments go that’s up there with the attacks on trans people which go ‘well I liked playing with dolls but I didn’t have to change my gender to do it!” It’s not just unsophisticated, it’s downright stupid.

Sullivan also wheels out that hoary old argument about how male bisexuality isn’t really a thing “because male sexuality is much cruder, simpler and more binary than female.”  Leaving aside the role of gay men like Sullivan in perpetuating this with their sneering demands that people ‘take sides’, his dire analysis that this state of affairs is “much more nature than nurture” completely neglects the role played by patriarchal society. I wrote a bit about that here but suffice to say, given that science has yet to provide any semblance of a clear ‘explanation’ for sexuality, I don’t have much faith that Sullivan has much of a foundation for his assertions beyond his own prejudices.

 As I wrote above – Daley’s sexuality isn’t his anymore and while Buzzfeed and HuffPo may trawl the internet for the inevitable homophobic responses, any sophisticated analysis has to take account of the unhelpful prejudices found in many gay people.

How ‘LGBT Awards’ Ceremonies Dehumanise and Devalue

It has been noted that “news is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” A general point, this could nonetheless have been written specifically about much of the LGBT media which drowns in adverts, advertorials and fluff pieces about celebrities. Gay Star News goes that bit further and is increasingly little more than press releases and ‘features’ which are clearly paid for, in lieu of any original content. It shares with Pink News the tendency to report on anything, anywhere which happens to somehow involve a gay person – a trait sent up by Fagburn here – and a lack of critical thought which at times makes it (and PN) seem like satire.

I’ve written previously about the increasing tendency for marketing to use homosexuality (rarely bisexuality, never transexuality until recently) as an effective, easily-ticked box in marketing campaigns. Aside from flattering the liberalness of many, such a move is certain to be grabbed on by the gay media. Where they go, many gay people follow and all analysis falls away in the face of a trite appreciation that a person or organisation has ‘supported’ the community. As we’ve seen, this leads to the horror of gay magazines lauding men who’ve assaulted their wives, gay charities associating themselves with ethically repugnant companies like Barclays and (in the latest and perhaps most egregious example) Pink News associating itself with one of the world’s biggest manufacturers/dealers in weapons of death and destruction. There is no activity, indeed no crime, too horrendous that the gay media won’t eagerly accept your cash (or your flesh) and sprinkle some of their pinkwashing powers over you.

The association of Stonewall and Pink News with Barclays and BAE Systems respectively comes as part of their award ceremonies. It’s no great insight to say that the vast majority of award ceremonies are nothing more than extensions of the PR industry; given the convergence of marketing with ‘gay visibility’ the gay media has been slowly cottoning onto the fact that they’re an easy way to get coverage and, more importantly, cash.  The Stonewall Awards came first in 2006 and though they at least ostensibly serve some purpose (to “celebrate those who have had a positive or negative impact on the lives of British lesbian, gay and bisexual people”) it was quickly obvious that they were a facile and craven embarrassment. This was (and is) not only due to their willingness to endorse supremely dodgy people and organisations but also the fact that all you really need to do in order to stand a good chance of winning is to do or say something ‘nice’ concerning the gays. The ‘Broadcast of the Year’ in its second year was Hollyoaks, for God’s sake.

Attitude Magazine was paying attention and their own award ceremony came in 2008. This sublime piece of nonsense barely even pretends to be little more than marketing – certainly this year their association with various companies (primarily a branch of the tax-dodging, union busting, asset-stripping Virgin) seemed to be the central point (aside from the fact that it helps to flog some magazines). So banal and transparent are these ‘awards’ that their attempt this year to obtain some gravitas on the back of the campaigns around Alan Turing by giving him a special award seemed almost insulting.

This year Pink News has joined the fray, meaning we have three of these absurd spectacles in the space of a few weeks. It takes a lot to make the Stonewall Awards look good but the Pink News Awards somehow managed it. Having no information about how nominations are arrived at, the three awards voted for by readers mixed hilarity (‘Advertising Campaign of the Year’ literally seemed to mean ‘featured some gays’) and idiocy (‘Parliamentary Speech of the Year’ ignored everything any politician had said which wasn’t about gay marriage) with a peculiar, and largely unremarked on, self-interest. Two of the groups nominated for ‘Community Group of the Year’ had seen Ben Cohen (owner of Pink News) involved in their creation and both concerned gay marriage, a particular hobby horse of Cohen and PN in the past year (Nick Clegg, perhaps the most despised politician in the country, received a ‘Special Award’ for his ‘work on gay marriage’). The videos from the nominated ‘Equality Network, Scotland’ on gay marriage had all ‘premiered on Pink News’. Most notably (and curiously), there was an unheralded ‘judged award’ (judged by whom and on what basis, we’re not told) for “Business Network of the Year”. I mean…what? Who even conceives of such an ‘award’? Perhaps someone who sits on the board of the winning ‘network’ Intertech with responsibility for ‘Media and PR’. That’s a pretty massive coincidence, right?! Pink News itself doesn’t make the link.

(27-10 edit – Ben Cohen has drawn attention to the list of judges here and stated that he did draw attention to his link with Intertech, but only in the room and edited out of the video by the director. He also explained that nominations were decided by “the pinknews team and board”. Funnily enough, BAE Systems and Pink News are both listed as ‘supporters’ of Intertech here. But then, as Ben said: “it’s up to us how we do the awards. They’re ours. If you want to do your own you can of course!”)

This perfectly illustrates why I care about this stuff – it’s not just random grumbling. Under the pretext of ‘supporting the LGBT community’ or ‘promoting equality’ or whatever, marketing and self-advantage is advanced with almost zero criticism. People and organisations involved in at best dubious, at worst reprehensible activities are given a sheen of liberal respectability. In short, these absurd awards further the instrumentalisation of homosexuality as a tool for marketing and for leveraging profit. Gay people become one-dimensional beings, of interest only because of their sexuality (and ostensibly only interested in this themselves). Further, it robs ‘equality’ of all meaning – the phrase becomes little more than ‘can already-privileged white gay people advantageously access and exploit existing structures to their own ends’? These awards, birthed from the gloopy neoliberal swamp that is most of our gay media, dehumanise, degrade and in a very real sense devalue equality.

It’s interesting the way this survey was reported as showing that homophobia was ‘rife’ in the UK. In actuality it doesn’t even begin to demonstrate that – instead it shows that the expectation of homophobia is present with many gay (the report uses ‘gay’ interchangeably with ‘gay, lesbian and bisexual’) people. This being Stonewall, the expectations of trans people were obviously absent.

I’ve written previously about the facile notion of ‘equality’ adopted by groups like Stonewall and how:

Their entire existence rests on cosying up to power, pointedly avoiding radicalism but flattering the perverse blend of exceptionalism, victimisation and self-entitlement of a largely-privileged group of (mostly) metropolitan white gay men.

Clearly a survey showing that gay people still feel discriminated against is manna from heaven for Stonewall. Indeed, they need a new cause given that Ben Summerskill claims in his introduction that “one strand of Stonewall’s domestic focus – legislative equality – is effectively complete.” Quite remarkable that he appears to be claiming credit for gay marriage when he had ‘no view’ on it in 2010 but thought it would be very expensive and would make no “real, practical difference to people’s lives”. And of course the ‘T’ part of LGBT would have something to say about having achieved ‘legislative equality’ but again, it’s Stonewall so we can’t expect too much there. Summerskill presents the survey as showing that gay people “continue to face disadvantages in many walks of life”. Yet how can we possibly know that’s what it shows? It looks at expectations and nothing else. It’s well-documented that surveys of the public find the fear of crime to vastly outweigh the actual risk and much is written looking at why this is so. Indeed, it’s noted that “both risk of crime and fear of it are higher in areas of poverty, unemployment and deprivation”, a finding which raises issues of class and how it affects your reality. Such issues are entirely absent from the Stonewall survey as is any discussion of the possibility that the expectation of homophobia may be exaggerated or even unfounded in some circumstances. For example, the survey finds that “More than six in ten (63 per cent) gay and bisexual men and four in ten (38 per cent) lesbians and bisexual women would expect to experience homophobia if they took part in team sport and were open about their sexual orientation.” Which team sport?! The pull quote is from Matt Jarvis, the West Ham player who posed for Attitude, so it seems clear that we’re pretty much talking about football here rather than, say, water polo. This clearly carries very tradionally male, macho connotations which perhaps explain why far less gay women seem to be worried about it. There are so many questions and challenges here yet the analysis is entirely absent and instead we’re presented with instance after instance of presumed homophobia. Instances which can’t help but sometimes seem absurd – does anyone really have an opinion on whether Sky One portrays gay people ‘realistically’ or if Channel 5 would tackle a complaint about homophobia worse than the BBC?! The fact that over twice as many respondents believe Channel 5 would indeed be worse at this (with ITV and Sky also doing badly in that regard) doesn’t seem to be down to anything other than perceptions of the channels – perceptions which can’t help but seem tied up with class.

Issues of class loom large over the survey. The hypothetical situations asked about carry strong class connotations –  becoming a school governor, adoption and fostering, running for political office. The sweeping heading of ‘Equal Legal Treatment’ covers only gay marriage and “tackling homophobic abuse around the world”, the two causes célèbres of Stonewall’s constituency. The ‘Police and the Criminal Justice System’ section does cover expectations when suspected of committing a crime but it’s so bereft of context that it’s almost laughable. There are a myriad of reasons why people may experience the law differently – one big one is touched on with reference to how gay people from “black and minority ethnic backgrounds” expect worse treatment from the police etc but this is bizarrely glazed over. In fact there are a few references to how people of colour have worse expectations than their white counterparts yet there are zero mentions of ‘racism’ in the survey and Stonewall’s ‘recommendations’ make absolutely no reference to these findings. This underlines one of the main flaws of the survey, namely that people have a myriad of reasons why they may ‘expect’ discrimination, whether justified or not, and it’s an incredibly difficult task to even begin to unpick them all. Would a 40 year old wealthy white gay lawyer expect to be more discriminated against when, say, dealing with the police than a 20 year old black male from Hackney? What are we comparing here? The words ‘poverty’, ‘homeless’ and ‘unemployed’ appear nowhere, with the only references to welfare being in the context of seeking advice at the Citizens Advice Bureau and a mention of “applying for social housing” (there is a page on “public services” but it’s not explained what this refers to, given that we have separate sections for criminal justice and schools.)  The sole mention of class (‘social group’) is in a paragraph looking at which ‘occupational groups’ are more likely to be out at work; three short paragraphs later and we’re being told that ‘gay consumers’ are more likely to spend their money on organisations which they think are nice to gays. The survey presents some mythical world where sexuality is the sole determinant of how we interact with and experience society.

The class connotations are nowhere clearer than in Stonewall’s own presentation of the report which leads with an explicit link between paying tax and experiencing discrimination when using public services. An implicit positioning worthy of the Daily Mail, instantly linking the right to be free of discrimination to the ability to financially contribute. You’ll struggle to find this observation anywhere in the media, which instead as we’ve seen has focused on the ‘rampant homophobia’ angle. We’ve seen before how expectations of homophobia can run far away from the reality and can be manipulated to divisive and damaging ends. Half-baked surveys like this and their hysterical coverage seem certain only to make that situation worse.

Homophobia still rife in UK, survey claims

Russia as an Introduction to Homonationalism

The discussions around what’s happening in Russia and Western responses to it are a good entry point to concepts of homonationalism and ‘gay imperialism’. To borrow from this handy primer:

Homonationalism functions in complementary ways to Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, which describes how the West produces knowledge and dominates ‘the Orient’ through academic, cultural and discursive processes. Like Orientalism, homonationalism speaks to the ways Western powers (such as the U.S. and Canada) circulate ideas about other cultures (like Arab and Islamic cultures) in order produce the West as culturally, morally, and politically advanced and superior. However, unlike Orientalism, homonationalism speaks particularly to the way gender and sexual rights discourses become central to contemporary forms of Western hegemony.

This speaks to the narratives perpetuated by and consequences of our actions re: Russia which have so concerned me and why, for example, it’s notable that the deployment of LGBT rights in an international context tends to align with the interests of Western powers.We don’t tend to make any links between the lies and propaganda which took us to war in Iraq and the stories which we’re presented with regarding Iran but they are most certainly there.

There are two pieces I’ve read on this recently which are illuminating. The first is this one called “Challenging the liberal fascination with gay, international violence.” All four parts of that ‘Gay Imperialism and Olympic Oppression’ series are worth a read, providing some much needed context and history re: LGBT Russia and the Olympics’ dire history concerning human rights. This one is, however, most appropriate here, noting as it does that “violence and injustice against LGBT individuals” garner far more Western attention than “violence and injustice against people of color (poc) and socioeconomically underprivileged (low sec) communities.” (I should note, here, that I’ll use ‘LGBT’ throughout this but it’s almost entirely the LG which we’re speaking about, with the BT being of little interest even within the UK.) The examples used of the mass evictions, displacements and environmental destruction being committed in the names of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics are good ones but as a British writer I don’t even have to go that far. The evictions, displacements, pre-emptive arrests and general authoritarian policing, privatisation of public space and transfer of wealth which took place before, during and after London 2012 was met with mass indifference. More than that, those attempting to raise these issues were seen as bitter and frequently told to shut up. Yet these issues were very real. Discussion of ‘privilege’ may have become a trite on-line punchline but there are few more potent (if little-acknowledged) examples of the concept than that people living in estates in East London lost their homes, vulnerable people were displaced from the surrounding areas and activists were locked up so that we could get drunk on Summer evenings watching Mo Farah. Yet these issues are seen as somehow more ‘complex’ and open to interpretation than any perceived injustice against LGBT people, which invariably meets with an instant and strident response led by ‘generally white, able bodied, middle/upper class’ men. Poverty in particular barely registers, seen as apart from the essentialist ‘human rights’ possessed by LGBT victims of oppression. This view of human rights is now strongly contested and arguably in decline (see this series of articles from Open Democracy for good discussions on that) yet it’s undoubtedly the view which dominates LGBT politics, from Stonewall and GLAAD downwards. It is because of this, for example, that Stonewall see no issue in aligning itself with hugely problematic companies like Barclays and Stephen Fry has no qualms about heaping praise on David Cameron in his ‘open letter’ re: Sochi. The human rights of, for example, the poor and homeless are seen as completely separate issues – even (wrongly) as ones which do not disproportionately affect many LGBT people.

Then we have issues around race, which brings me to the second piece I’d say was essential reading for anyone interested in this. The problems surrounding overwhelmingly white Western LGBT voices perpetuating simplistic, misinformed or simply plain wrong stories about certain ‘Muslim countries’ (rarely ones which are Western allies – Dubai for example remains a popular holiday destination for many British gay men) and their treatment of LGBT people should be clear enough. What’s perhaps more interesting are the ways in which issues of race and LGBT rights interact within national contexts, tackled in this article on LGBT activists in Africa and immigration policy within the Netherlands. It notes that a campaign to support LGBT rights in Africa “con­structs the fantasy of “Europe” as a bas­tion of free­dom for LGBT people” and “ ends up jux­ta­pos­ing a “homo­phobic Africa” with a “lib­eral Europe.” This is a narrative common to the West and there has been much LGBT support for, for example, calls to link international aid to a country’s record on ‘gay rights’. This not only infantilises and ‘others’ these countries, it erases the human rights abuses endemic within Western nations and in particular demonstrates zero understanding of the violence (both physical/verbal and structural) faced by ethnic minorities here. It’s of particular note that while LGBT voices seek to intervene in other countries or link immigration to attitudes towards LGBT people, there is little interest in the bigotry and violence inherent in our own immigration systems and discussions surrounding them. It was with particular distress that I read about how support for the racist ‘Go Home’ van was on the rise and apparently constitutes over 50% of British adults. Read about this particular issue and it won’t be long before you encounter many voices complaining that the term ‘racism’ is thrown around with abandon and that using rhetoric such as ‘Go Home’ is not racist. In quotidian homonationalist terms, this same attitude can be found in overwhelmingly white gay men insisting that Lady Gaga’s appropriation of (and song about) the Burqa or drag act Queens of Pop’s use of blacking up and other racist tropes are not in fact racist. Indeed, my own piece about the homonationalist message behind Madonna’s speech to GLAAD was much criticised by other gay men and led to me (hilariously) being labelled a ‘hater’ of Madonna for perhaps the first time in my life.

We’ve seen how insidious homonationalism can be on the streets of my home city of London. Beginning with some homophobic stickers and an offensive, inflammatory and ignorant piece from serial liar Johann Hari, a perception of a ‘Muslim problem’ in East London took hold in certain quarters (I discuss many of the problems with that perception in that linked article and in these pieces, so I’m not going to rehash the arguments here.) This led to statements from LGB (given the presence of Bindel, I’ll refrain from using the ‘T’) activists and calls for an East London Pride march through overwhelmingly Muslim areas. This march turned out to have links with the English Defence League but its at best unhelpful, at worst offensive message was clear even before this became known. That so many LGBT people were eager and willing to be used as part of an anti-Muslim movement was (and remains) deeply worrying.

Discussions of homonationalism and of racism within the LGBT community do not tend to be popular, perhaps due to the widespread liberal ‘othering’ of LGBT people themselves as fabulous and facile creatures. The comments here are overwhelmingly mocking and/or negative, while a piece (click to download) which “uses the work of activist Peter Tatchell, founder of Outrage!, as an example of how white gay activists can become complicit with this agenda by painting Islam as inherently homophobic and misogynist, and appointing themselves as the saviours of non-white queers” was met both with a negative response and was quickly censored due to its ‘defamation’. It’s heartening, however, that Judith Butler’s refusal of the ‘Civil Courage Prize’ due to ‘racism and especially anti-Muslim racism’ met with cheers of support. When I wrote previously than ‘doing something’ was not an inherent good and that “reflective engagement with a critical approach to our own position must come first”, this is exactly what I was meaning. Hopefully the interest in Russia and the discussions which it has generated in the LGBT community will lead to more of us learning about and considering homonationalism and thinking about our own roles in it.

You Are A Target Market

‘The gays’ have been viewed as an exploitable market for at least a few decades now. Artists like Cher, Madonna and Kylie have long been famed for their fiercely loyal gay fanbase, so much so that every female pop star of a certain ilk has tried desperately to get in on the action. Then of course we have the straight-male-celeb-does-the-gays thing which has become an essential part of turning a b-lister into a profitable commodity. As I wrote here, “gay magazines still have an unhealthy affection for straight men who say they like gays while posing in their pants” and oh, it is ever so the case.

With each progression of ‘the gays’ into a target market the concept has become more and more banal, more removed from the complicated taint of meaningful politics and messy humanity, more homogeneous and more offensive. We become a bunch of fabulous creatures who want nothing more than to be patronised. Patted on the head and told that we deserve to be treated like everyone else – not because of any crazy concepts like human rights, of course, but rather because gays are amazing and deserve good stuff. We’re now at the stage where any 2013 edition of ‘Marketing 101’ would have to feature an early section called ‘Patronise the gays’. It wouldn’t have to be a very long section, of course, as it would just have to lay down the buzzwords to use: homophobia, bullying, gay marriage, it gets better, love, equality etc. You don’t even have to make any attempt at subtlety – Class A, a truly dreadful boy band, released an equally dreadful single called ‘Pride’ and did a tour of British schools ostensibly to promote ‘pride’ and oppose homophobic bullying (in association with the ever-useless Stonewall). This has of course given them quick and extensive access to the market which is most important for any new boy band. It also renders them largely immune from criticism – as love of/support for the gays has become a totemic liberal value there are a multitude of voices who will defend such commercial exploitation of ‘homophobia’, invariably appealing to the mythical ‘young kid growing up and feeling alone’. The gay is always ‘out there’ in this equation, always a voiceless victim needing to be saved. Lady Gaga is obviously the standard-bearer for this conflation of homosexuality with victimhood, portraying herself as some brave freedom fighter bringing a voice to an oppressed minority. Only two weeks ago  the rich white woman with the model boyfriend who attended “one of the most selective and expensive schools in Manhattan” declared that ”It’s time for us to be mainstream”. Gee, thanks for that Gaga.

She is, to be fair, the perfect representative of an LGBT movement which is dominated by the concerns of privileged white men and is all-too-willing to allow itself be used as a mark of superiority by equally privileged liberals who fancy a taste of ‘the other’. That’s why the gay marketing ploy works so well. By buying into this idea that ‘gay rights’ exist in a vacuum, removed from any other political/geographical/human concerns, can completely ignore unpleasant issues of race, of poverty, of wider inequality (you can even ignore any discussion ofwhat ‘equality’ even means.) You don’t have to do anything at all other than say a couple of sentences and point people towards the e-petition.  In essence you’re saying nothing that’s any more controversial than ‘I like cake’ yet your ‘support’ for the gays will be widely seized on by (at least) the gay media and will confer a fabulous sprinkling of radicalism on you. This completely unthreatening ploy sees the cause, and the gays, as instrumental to the real message – buy our product. So you find LGBT people celebrating the commercialisation not only of homophobia but of themselves. They become less than human, useful only for their victimised sexuality and perceived lack of voice. In this way this marketing ploy is as insidious and harmful as any ‘homophobia’ which it ostensibly aims to address (at least until the next single is out). We don’t need the Class A, Matthew Morrison and Saturdays of the world to promote their wares off the back of our ‘oppression’; more than that, we shouldn’t allow it. They can stuff their commercialised, profit-based, neutered and one-dimensional ‘Pride’.

The State of LGBT Politics

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Gays, Marriage and the Military’ is a timely piece on the current state of LGBT politics and Pride. The point about support for marriage/access to the military amongst the LGBT community is an interesting one. London Pride this past Saturday was a sea of placards, banners and t-shirts containing slogans regarding gay marriage. You could have been forgiven for thinking that Stonewall, the utterly useless campaigning group which previously couldn’t care less about the issue, was a one-cause organisation such was its blanket obsession. What’s quite remarkable about this is that the cause was barely present at Pride even 12 months ago – its ascendance to become not only the sole goal of LGBT politics but (apparently) one of the greatest civil rights issues of the age has been swift indeed.

Of course, as this article mentions with regards to HRC in America, Stonewall has almost certainly immersed itself in the campaign because that’s where the money is – as I’ve written before, as an organisation they have absolutely no qualms about lending some liberal respectability to rather egregious companies on the absurdly narrow basis that they’re ‘nice to gays’. Their entire existence rests on cosying up to power, pointedly avoiding radicalism but flattering the perverse blend of exceptionalism, victimisation and self-entitlement of a largely-privileged group of (mostly) metropolitan white gay men. ‘Equality’ is stripped of almost all meaning (discussed in more detail here) and any sense of interrogation of society is entirely absent. This is certainly true of Pride as a wider event, with the now-grimly inevitable stories of people having ‘unofficial’ placards mentioning socialism, general strikes and class being told that they could not display them on the march. As a political event it’s so confused that it’s best just to approach the day as an excuse to have a drink. Only the most rabid of homophobes obsess over homosexuality as the defining (interesting, important) quality of a person as much as many of these gay men do.

I’ve written quite a bit about gay marriage but I don’t particularly have a problem with it. In the UK it’s entirely a symbolic gesture but in the USA I can appreciate that it has very real implications for people’s lives. My issue has been with the rhetoric around it, the sense that it’s the Big Issue of the age and the refusal/inability to consider how and why the privileges afforded by marriage are bestowed and upon who. The very nature of marriage means that ‘equal marriage’ itself is an oxymoron when considered in the context of wider society. A fixation on it hides real issues around poverty, immigration, health care and much more. It also actively serves those in power who have very clearly used the issue for their own ends – it was both grotesque and hilarious that the Supreme Court DOMA decision led to much hyperbole about ‘equality before the law’ and much praise for Barack Obama as a human rights champion at the exact same time as his administration is prosecuting Chelsea Manning and pursuing Edward Snowden (and the same week the Supreme Court was making rather dubious decisions about racial equality). At London Pride I saw quite a few American flags; most bizarrely, I saw a go-go dancer dressed only in pink briefs wearing an Obama mask.

This is where the one-dimensional fixation of LGBT politics leads to – all that is important is what reflects well on those LGBT people who already have a place at the table. You need only look at the gay media to see this facile reality in action. Anything else that happens, anything else that politicians do, is rendered invisible and irrelevant. It’s almost worrying how quickly and easily many in the LGBT community have bought into all this – it causes you to wonder what other causes they could be convinced to champion with abandon. Pride may have started as a riot but these days it’s less about solidarity and more a giant celebration of insularity and ignorance.

An interesting (if not unproblematic) piece on Chelsea Manning and LGBT politics. Despite its clear American context the parallels with the UK are obvious – from an organisation like Stonewall to the aspirational content of our most prominent magazines, our representations of gay life are indeed stitched “ever more tightly against the fabric of late capitalism’s pirate sail.” It’s difficult not to be dismayed by how utterly facile in its expression most mainstream LGBT politics is, concerned solely with individual legal equalities in a neoliberal framework without any interrogation of that context. The use in this article of ‘Gay Inc’ is grotesquely apt, as the dominant ideological viewpoint found in mainstream LGBT politics encourages a tunnel vision which views LGBT individuals as one-dimensional beings affected only by issues of equal access to the privileges afforded to certain heterosexuals. So the politics of companies such as Barclays become solely concerned with their affinity with and treatment of their Western LGBT employees; the human rights records of leaders like Cameron and Obama become overwhelmingly dominated by their actions on LGBT rights. Further, these rights are solely the aforementioned ones regarding legal equalities – economic issues are almost entirely neglected and wider rights seen as unrelated to sexuality are ignored. I’ve previously voiced the question of how the response to the Guantanamo residents would differ had they been white gay men pleading homophobia – it seems to me that this would insert Guantanamo firmly into the tunnel vision of ‘Gay Inc’. Chelsea Manning is of course a perfect example of this, with her treatment (and actions) viewed as unrelated to her gender status and so as irrelevant to LGBT politics, which spent the previous year almost entirely ignoring her and instead fixating on the almost-entirely symbolic (and unthreatening to authority) question of gay marriage.

Of course such tunnel vision isn’t confined to LGBT politics and this is a great danger of the view that ‘all politics is identity politics’. Just as Cameron and Obama’s stances on gay marriage can be said to have obscured more meaningful (and harmful) examples of their use of power, we are seeing with increasing frequency the exploitation of ‘identity politics’ (e.g. LGBT and feminist politics) to obscure and divert in the service of authority. The justification of interventions in the Middle East in the name of ‘women’s liberation’ is an obvious example. Glenn Greenwald wrote this week about the Republicans’ use of homophobia to oppose Chuck Hagel. The abuses exposed by Wikileaks, meanwhile, ceased to exist for many as soon as Assange was accused of rape and became a feminist cause célèbre, despite these accusations having no bearing on the leaks themselves. In the rush to combat inequality and discrimination many are all too eager to reduce themselves to a cosmetic humanity capable only of outrage at slights against their particular identity and uncritical of all else. It is here that I take issue with the article’s talk of “Proletarian drag” and “history’s costume shop”, as positing political identity as a grab-bag of choices easily leads to its co-option and manipulation. Classical Marxism and ‘class vocabulary’ certainly have problems galore, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that they are anathema to LGBT and other issues of ‘identity’ and in fact I would argue that they provide a core critical grounding to political identity which is lacking in the postmodernist ‘all politics is identity politics’ view.  Such a critical grounding is undoubtedly completely lacking in much LGBT politics – as the article suggests, “the gay establishment is paid very well to underscore it every day” with their focus on ‘the gay angle’ and perceived slights overriding any rigorous and wide-reaching attempts at analysis. Indeed, it’s clearly possible to make quite a decent living from being a ‘useful idiot’ for your identity of choice and churning out columns on the homophobia/sexism etc of the day. It’s an approach which is as insulting and damaging as any bigot. We shouldn’t need Chelsea Manning’s status to be relevant before LGBT people take notice – rather anyone who is concerned with abuses of power, justice and human dignity should take heed and always strive to be sceptical of the authority which Manning bravely opposed.

Hegemony and Sodomist Strategy

The Stonewall Awards/Useful Idiots

Now that Timeout magazine has adopted a free distribution model, I’ve been flicking through it absent-mindedly in the mornings for the first time in many years. I’d forgotten all about its LGBT section, which I used to pore over for appealing club nights when I first moved to London. No doubt due to the need to reduce the magazine’s size and increase the amount of advertising in it, the section is now a sad-looking one-pager. The main item in it this week is a preview of the Stonewall Awards, which are apparently on November 1st.

The sub-headline explains that Paul Burston ‘asks the campaigning group’s Ben Summerskill why (the Awards) are still necessary’. You don’t have to read it to predict the response – visibility, homophobia, bullying. The answers that are invariably given for gay-related ventures these days. How could anyone be against something which makes life easier for gay kids, after all?

A more aggressive questioning of the Award’s purpose would perhaps ask how such an insipid and absurd occasion benefits anyone other than Stonewall and assorted celebrities. I think it’s fair to say that few people take any notice of them (Time Out was the first I’d heard of them this year, despite the nominations apparently being previously announced) but if you look at the nominations, it’s difficult not to laugh. Stonewall has a habit of prostrating itself before companies which make some nod, however tokenistic, towards the gays (much in evidence in its almost-meaningless ‘Workplace Equality Index’). So we have companies with (to say the least) dubious social and ethical records like Barclays and PWC sponsoring the event while Ben & Jerry are nominated as ‘Heroes of the Year’ presumably for making a promotional-only ice cream ‘supporting’ gay marriage’. In the latter case, if Ben & Jerry want to use their corporate clout to support gay marriage then they can knock themselves out but I fail to see anything ‘heroic’ about it (see first comment below.) In the former case, it’s just blatant pink-washing. It allows an organisation like Barclays to use the issue of homosexuality to portray itself as liberal and progressive while it profits from arms deals and money laundering. Even more perversely, Barclays has traded with and supported the brutal regimes of Zimbabwe and Iran – hardly renowned for their sterling human rights and particular targets of many gay rights activists over the years. Presumably tackling homophobia is only worth celebrating if it’s done on a superficial, PR-driven level which financially benefits Stonewall and those ethnic folk dying across the sea are an unpleasant diversion from the quaffing of champagne.

Stonewall’s other embarrassing habit (one that is, to be fair, reasonably widespread amongst the ‘gay establishment’) is to fawn at the feet of celebrities who are nice to the gays. So we have the ludicrous inclusion of former rugby player Ben Cohen on the panel of judges deciding the Awards. Cohen is very popular as he set up an ‘anti-bullying foundation’ and strips to his pants a lot.  I’ve written about some of my concerns surrounding his elevation as a ‘hero’ previously and I’ve yet to witness a journalist tackle him about the nuts and bolts of his work in his frequent appearances in the gay media. Instead we’re given asinine puff pieces, over and over again. Indeed, this approach is typical of some of the ‘gay media’ nominated for Stonewall Awards (presumably DC Comics and Tatler are nominated because they did something gay-related, at some point, while the Evening Standard is surely being applauded for its incessant campaigning for ‘former homophobe’ Boris Johnson.)

The absence of critical rigour really is astonishing. Jessie J is presumably awarded because she said she was bisexual. Yet the contortions around that have been many. It’s been claimed that she’s actually gay and was told to say otherwise by her record label. She’s spoken of being ‘irritated’ at the fixation with her sexuality – but given that she’s hardly associated with campaigning against homophobia, her sexuality must be the sole reason she’s here. Britain’s biggest LGBT (I know they have a very dodgy record on the ‘T’, I’m being charitable – see first comment below on this) charity reduce her to her sexuality just as much as The Sun did. Similarly, Frank Ocean is nominated because he said he once loved another man. That’s it. That really is the extent of it.

Such a reductive approach is typical of the Awards. The ‘Journalists of the Year’ are either gay or people who have written nice things about gay marriage. The ‘Broadcast of the Year’ includes ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ because it featured some gay people, because being a show predicated on contrived humiliation is perfectly fine as long as you do it equally.  The ‘Politicians of the Year’ are either gay or nice to gays in a very obvious way, so the Conservative Iain Stewart is included despite being a loyal supporter of the government in privatising eduction, the NHS, reducing benefits, attacking the disabled and preventing House of Lords reform, to name but a few big issues. Hey, who cares if you’re attacking the most vulnerable people in society, YOU’RE A GAY!

It really is the most insipid nonsense and only the most facile of analyses could possibly think these Awards meaningfully combat homophobia. Instead they continue to elevate sexuality as the core raison d’être of any person who isn’t 100% heterosexual; they continue to elevate ‘gay rights’ above basic human rights as an ostentatious liberal identifier; they continue to allow celebrities, companies, politicians and others who want a bit of easy PR to engage superficially with ‘gay issues’ and receive hysterical praise in return. It’s embarrassing. Summerskill is quoted in Time Out as saying that ‘we really hope that one day awards like these will no longer be necessary’. It seems to me that Stonewall itself is the biggest obstacle to that day.