Transphobia and homophobia – two cheeks of the same arse

Connor Beaton of Radical Independence Dundee writes for RIQ on the relationship between transphobia and homophobia.

The ongoing campaign to demonise transgender people and limit or overturn their right to legal recognition and access to healthcare – which largely inspired the establishment of Radical Independence Queers (RIQ) earlier this year – doesn’t exclusively endanger trans people but lesbian, gay and bisexual cisgender people as well. Not only because the reactionary movement against trans rights relies heavily on the same arguments used to justify the likes of Section 28, as trans people and their allies have warned for years, but also because many of the highest-profile opponents of trans rights are clearly prepared to set us all back in their single-minded defence of the gender binary.

The so-called LGB Alliance, which launched its Scottish branch in January, is a useful case study. It represents perhaps the most sophisticated attempt by UK opponents of trans rights to break the unity of the LGBT+ community by falsely presenting a competition between trans rights and lesbian, gay and bi rights. The front page of its website claims, for instance, that lesbians are being forced to “accept that a transwoman [sic] is a woman as a matter of absolute fact” and that this represents “a form of sexual assault, an attack on the rights of lesbians and a threat to their very existence”. The group’s launch in London last year was heavily trailed in the right-wing British press (which also insists on describing it as a split from the established LGBT rights charity Stonewall, despite involving none of its staff or trustees) and it continues to receive prominent coverage.

As Scottish LGBT news hub Pink Saltire points out, the LGB Alliance “claims to stand up for lesbian, gay and bisexual people across the UK despite appearing to do no actual community work with LGB people”. Where its leading lights do make interventions on issues other than transgender recognition, it pushes back on progress for lesbian, gay and bi people rather than forwards. In January, Malcolm Clark, one of its co-founders and directors, rejected the concept of LGBT+ clubs in schools, where they are often a crucial support network for LGBT+ pupils, on the basis that they are “an unnecessary encouragement to predators”. By doing so, he shifted blame for child sexual abuse away from abusers while reinforcing homophobic myths that gay men are predators. Clark, who is originally from Scotland and has spoken on behalf of the LGB Alliance at events such as the hate-filled protest against transgender recognition outside Holyrood in March, also denies that homophobia continues to exist in Scotland, writing recently that gay people are supposedly ‘weaponising’ homophobia in political debates “long after homophobia WAS actually a crippling part of gay people’s experience”.

Both Clark and his fellow LGB Alliance co-founder Allison Bailey have argued that school-age children cannot know if they are lesbian, gay or bi. In response to a charity inviting black LGBT+ youth aged 12 to 23 to respond to a survey about education, health care and their families, Bailey tweeted: “A 12 year old is a child. Stop putting children in with adults and labelling them LGBTQ+. Let children grow up without adult agendas.” In practice, of course, children and even adults are typically assumed to be heterosexual until they say otherwise. Offering support or resources to children who are questioning or have newly discovered their sexual identity is a necessary counter-balance to this prevailing expectation. Clark, instead, has called for organisations like Stonewall to be “banned from schools” and to “leave our kids alone”, because children who think they’re gay could simply be mistaken (as if it’s not more common for kids who think they’re straight to be mistaken!).

“Section 28 often seems a long time ago to LGBT+ people who, like me, are barely older than the Scottish Parliament”

Very similar arguments were deployed from the 1980s until the early 2000s in defence of the now-defunct Section 28, which did in fact ban the likes of Stonewall from schools. Defending Section 28 in a House of Lords debate in 2000, Earl Peel said: “I know that teenagers are deeply impressionable and can go through periods of same-sex attraction. It can certainly be influenced by others […] There is no doubt in my mind that that can lead to confusion and a great sense of guilt and regret later. Therefore, I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to prevent such cases occurring.” Section 28 often seems a long time ago to LGBT+ people who, like me, are barely older than the Scottish Parliament, but the homophobic logic which underpinned it has not yet been fully expunged; even Earl Peel, for his part, is still around, now known as Lord Chamberlain in his archaic capacity as the most senior officer of the Royal Household. Russia’s notorious ‘gay propaganda’ law, introduced in 2013, rests on a similar premise.

The disturbing way in which long-standing homophobic arguments have been recast by transphobes as a defence of lesbian, gay and bi people has also provided progressive cover to some of the most reactionary voices in the British press. For instance, columnist Janice Turner moved seamlessly from defending Bailey from online criticism in a recent article for The Times to claiming that “on the outermost margins of the LGBT movement are voices which try to post child-sex as the next liberation struggle”. This is, on one hand, a reincarnation of the homophobic myth of gay men as child abusers, but she goes on to include an explicit reference to a discredited far-right hoax about supposed ‘Minor-Attracted Persons’ or ‘MAPs’ seeking acceptance in the LGBT+ community.

As the nonprofit Media Matters for America noted in 2018: “Each year since 2016, anonymous message board 4chan – a hotbed of far-right extremism, hoaxes, and harassment campaigns – has initiated or bolstered misinformation campaigns attempting to connect LGBTQ people to pedophilia.” Gay SNP MP Neale Hanvey, a supporter of the LGB Alliance, is among SNP figures duped by this; during his campaign last year, he condemned a supposed “growing attempt by MAP (minor attracted person) and paedophiles to add their initials to the LGBT+ group” and suggested that this informed his opposition to gender recognition reform. Indulging this baseless hoax boosts its credibility, endangering LGBT+ people and setting back social progress.

Meanwhile, neither the LGB Alliance nor its pals in press and politics raise issues of real substance for LGBT+ people in Scotland. Anti-LGBT hate crimes in Scotland recently reached a record high. LGBT+ people continue to face discrimination and harassment in Scottish workplaces. As many as 24 per cent of young homeless people in the UK are LGBT+ and face additional obstacles to accessing support in Scotland. Poor mental health is rife. Unsurprisingly, trans people, themselves denied even modest gender recognition reform, suffer more than their cis peers on all of these fronts. Crucial to this and little-discussed is class, with working class LGBT+ people facing the brunt of discrimination and exclusion, often exacerbated further by the impact of austerity.

Although the successful Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign is a useful example of what sustained political campaigning can achieve, struggles where the interests of working class LGBT+ people and the interests of private profit come into direct conflict will undoubtedly be more challenging. Winning them will only be made even harder by transphobic hate groups who threaten our greatest asset – LGBT+ unity and solidarity.

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