Naked Politics Blogger
Earlier this month Owen Jones, journalist and author of ‘Chavs’ and ‘The Establishment’ didn’t attend an anti-Trump march. He said it was because it was organised by the Socialist Workers’ Party who, he wrote on his Facebook page, have been accused of covering up ‘rape by a leading member’ – allegations which he takes ‘very seriously.’ This was met with some criticism from the left, criticism to which Jones was under no illusion he would face. What was particularly pertinent, along with the cries of ‘fauxalist’, was one leftist Facebook page which commented, ‘In the main, he advocates for the LGBTQI+ community, and more power to him – but why on earth are these champagne socialists trotted out and touted as representatives of the working class?’ This may well be clumsily worded, but it could also read as implying that one can’t be both an LGBTQI+ activist and a political activist.
Jones is a self-defined political activist. While he has a sexuality (who doesn’t?) his primary public interest is in writing political commentary. Yes, he spoke out about the attacks on the Orlando nightclub, but he should be able to do both without being pigeonholed. Talking about one’s identity shouldn’t have to define you, and moreover we should be able to have multiple identities. Sadly there are few comparable female socialists in the public eye, but it is not hard to imagine they would face similar criticism. Perhaps LGBTQI+ women would face the double burden of being both women and LGBTQI+, rendering their views even further from the ‘pure’ socialist cause.
This issue is symptomatic of the wider problem facing LGBTQI+ people who are simultaneously trying to be proud of their identity, while also being able to make claims based on other experiences they may have. If talking about your sexuality renders you unable to talk about anything else, the political world is going to remain just as difficult for LGBTQI+ people to navigate.
This is a problem created by others, and not by the LGBTQI+ community. The LGBTQI+ community has made a name for itself across numerous campaigns, offering support to causes other than their own – you only have to look at the effect that Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) has had and is still having today. LGSM was set up in 1984 to support families affected by the British miners’ strike. Eleven groups across the UK were set up, and in London alone £11,000 was raised to support miners’ families. The story of LGSM was made into the BAFTA-award winning film Pride, in 2014. The film continues to attract public attention, with regular film screenings such as the recent one at the Royal Albert Hall. LGSM also undoubtedly inspired the campaigns group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants. Launched in 2015, the group exists to challenge right wing discourse that fuels racism, xenophobia, islamophobia and homophobia.
Political activism by LGBTQI+ groups should not be taken for granted. In 1984 it wasn’t easy for LGSM to persuade the National Union of Mineworkers to accept the group’s support. They worked hard to gain the Miners’ respect and it paid off, with such recognition of LGBT rights leading to the establishment of an LGBT network for members of Trade Unions. It would be a huge shame if, over 30 years later, LGBTQI+ support still isn’t considered relevant to a left-wing cause. In today’s climate, it seems that political conversations are dominated by terms such as ‘fear’ and ‘anger’ rather than ‘solidarity’ and ‘togetherness’. Everyday under Trump’s administration more and more groups are coming out in fear of their rights being taken away. From women who are afraid they won’t have access to safe and legal abortions, to migrants and Muslims who face racist political persecution, there is a common theme. Such groups have all had to fight to achieve equal rights and these rights are at risk of being taken away.
For a socialist movement to have impact it must have the people at its centre, and the people includes LGBTQI+ people and women. Sometimes including the people even means drawing attention to issues that are perhaps disruptive to the ideal socialist cause. While some interpret Jones’ reluctance to engage with Socialist Workers’ Party as detrimental to a unified socialist cause, we should recognise that he is instead part of a ‘Stop Trump’ campaign that supports the rights of all, including women. Yes, campaigning groups should come together, but allegations of rape should never be swept under the carpet in the interests of a unified voice. Nor should activists be dismissed as ‘true’ socialists based on their sexuality.