Is Pride a protest, a party or a corporate jamboree? London’s annual Pride took place this Saturday – the first since 2019, due to Covid – and, while the banks marched and the capital’s LGBTQ citizens revelled, a shadow loomed over the parade. All minorities must at some point confront a cruel truth: complacency bred by the illusion that history is a story of perpetual progress is an unwise error. After Britain’s anti-gay laws were repealed and unapologetic homophobia lost its vice-like grip over public opinion, Pride became depoliticised. The important battles had been won. Now we simply celebrate past victories in a mass piss-up, allowing some companies with questionable records to wrap themselves in the feelgood rainbow flag.
Well, bad news: history isn’t a merry tale of humanity skipping into an ever-more enlightened sunny upland. London Pride took the correct decision this year to ban uniformed police officers from marching, re-imposing a ban lifted in 2003. It was a nod to this reality: families of the victims of the murderer Stephen Port denounced the Metropolitan police for institutional homophobia after a disastrously bungled investigation into the so-called “Grindr killer” – a reminder that, no, the authorities are not your friend.
Across the Atlantic, the reversal on LGBTQ rights is stark. It was unsurprising but gruesome when Donald Trump banned trans Americans from serving in the US military, and eliminated civil rights protections for trans people in healthcare. Despite Democratic rule at federal level, this backslide is continuing. The so-called “don’t say gay” law in Florida, which bans schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity between Kindergarten and third grade, is one striking example. Even more terrifying is Texas’s banning of gender-affirming healthcare for young trans people, with their parents now legally defined as child abusers if they seek it. Republicans across the US are seeking to introduce so-called “bathroom bills”, banning trans people using toilets corresponding to their transitioned gender.
In this deteriorating climate, it’s unsurprising that reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are soaring across the US. The same here, too: reported homophobic and transphobic hate crimes have surged in the UK. In January, the Council of Europe placed the UK in the same category as Hungary, Poland, Russia and Turkey for its position on LGBTQ rights, while for the third year running the UK has been relegated in the annual ranking of LGBTQ rights across Europe. The overriding reason is the anti-trans moral panic that grips British society, fostered by an overwhelmingly hostile media and a government that is using trans people as a prop in a “culture war” (just as Margaret Thatcher used gay people in the 1980s), and has refused to ban trans conversion practices.
There is a common culprit here: and it’s the P-word – patriarchy. It is no coincidence that attacks on gay and trans rights in the US have been accompanied by the onslaught against reproductive rights – or indeed that the same politicians are leading the charge against each. Historically, it has ever been thus: it was natural that the Russian revolution legalised both homosexuality and abortion, while Joseph Stalin re-criminalised both over a decade later. Progress and regression were interlinked. More recently, Hungary’s far-right government has banned the teaching of young people about LGBTQ issues, ended legal recognition for trans and intersex people and toughened its anti-abortion stance. The same applies in the opposite direction. Thanks entirely to grassroots struggle in the face of a reluctant political elite, Ireland has loosened its abortion laws, introduced equal marriage and made it easier for trans people to transition. This understanding of common struggle is reflected by Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign, which boycotted the Irish Times because of its negative stance on trans issues.
The past and the present offer an obvious truth: the fate of women – of all sexualities – and LGBTQ people are bound together. While women are the principal targets of patriarchy (that is, a society rigged in favour of men), this system also punishes those seen to deviate from rigid gender norms. Improving the position of women will probably be accompanied by progress for LGBTQ people; likewise, rolling back women’s rights will also mean those of LGBTQ people deteriorate in tandem.
This underlines why it is wrongheaded to claim that trans rights and women’s rights are on a collision course. Is it a coincidence that the lawyer who was instructed to act against the Tavistock Clinic – which provides gender-affirming healthcare for young trans people – previously worked on cases involving abortion rights and a challenge to legalising the homosexual age of consent? Is it really a coincidence that the rightwing Tory MP David Davies – who called claims to introduce equal marriage “barking mad” and consistently voted against abortion rights – would so gladly support groups that are opposing trans rights?
For LGBTQ people on both sides of the Atlantic, the reversal of progress is bewildering and frightening. But it isn’t happening in isolation. After suffering historic defeats, patriarchy is roaring back, and it’s angry. Our rights and freedoms are bound together: we rise together, and unless we’re united, patriarchy will come for us all.
Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist
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