Lead-off from LGBT Equality Meeting

15th Feb 2011 - Andrew Howe

Image for the meetingOn Tuesday 15th, Socialist Students Southampton had a meeting on the subject of LGBT equality, in recognition of UK LGBT History Month (February). As it was asked that it be put on this website, here is the lead-off that started the discussion:

For over 40 years there have been laws in this country against sexual and racial discrimination. These laws were introduced through gradual reform that was fought for by ordinary people. Despite the introduction of new law, sexism and racism are still present and cause problems in our society – you only have to look at the 2005 race riots in Birmingham, or the statistics showing the gender pay gap to see this. If it has been 40 years and we still don't have sexual or racial equality, how can we expect LGBT equality to be achieved in the near future, or even within our lifetimes? Despite the evidence to the contrary, there are people and organizations that claim that sexism and racism have been overcome. Even more ludicrous are those who would, and do, claim the LGBT liberation has been achieved. An outrageous statement, especially considering the small amount of concrete change that has taken place so far in this relatively new anti-discrimination battle.

We find ourselves living in a fundamentally discriminatory society; one based on Christianity, which, despite the more liberal trends emerging in recent times, has historically proven itself to be homophobic in its outlook. A society which has depended on divide and rule tactics to keep the poor masses poor, and to allow the rich to get richer; to allow existing exploitative class relations to continue – the very essence of the capitalist system. How far can you go with a fundamentally bad system? Can reform bring real change? It cannot, as has already been touched upon. In the 21st Century we still refer to women as 'Miss' and 'Mrs', propagating age-old, sexist traditions. Can any form of equality be found under such an oppressive system?

To drive for equality does, by its very nature, create inequality. Fighting for LGBT rights, for women's rights, for children's rights – this exposes in plain light the fundamentally unequal and divided basis of society. Until all are considered equal under the law, with equal rights and equal opportunities, no one will be truly liberated. Take, for example, the case of civil partnerships. Before you take into consideration the legal differences between civil partnership and marriage, the very fact that it exists emphasises inequality. The fight for LGBT rights brought about the introduction of civil partnerships for LGBT people. How can this be considered equal, in any sense? Was it a step forward? Undoubtedly, but the fact remains that LGBT people are permitted only to do one thing, that is to get a civil partnership, while heterosexuals are permitted only to do another, that is to enter into marriage. The only way to attain true equality in this area is to create a single legal entity applicable to all. A single partnership permitting adequate legal rights and applicable to any two people of consenting age. Would this mean the abolition of marriage? No. Religious institutions should be free to follow whatever practices they see fit, provided they follow the law and are not discriminatory.

The LGBT movement in the UK shows a well documented history of inaction and, at times, overt hostility from the government. Civil partnerships were only introduced in 2005, despite Tony Blair and the Labour Party having promised, as a campaign pledge, to introduce them immediately were they elected to power, which happened in 1997. This passing of a whole 8 years shows that the Labour Party clearly doesn't place LGBT issues highly. Today we see the Labour Party once again campaigning for LGTB equality – like in '97, they are once again out of government and need votes. If they were elected back into power tomorrow, would it be another 8 years before they acted on their promises of equality? Or 12 years? Or 16?

It's no secret that the Conservative Party is against LGBT rights. The Tory government introduced a provision to the Local Government Act, known as Section 28, in 1988. Section 28 prohibited, “the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”, essentially making it illegal for a teacher to say to their pupils that a family with a same-sex couple was acceptable. Section 28 wasn't repealed until 2003. Even though David Cameron has publicly apologised for Section 28, the Tories haven't fundamentally changed. Privately, many Tories are still homophobic, including Theresa May, who is ironically the current Minister for Equality. Also telling is the fact that, in the European parliament, the Conservative Party caucuses with right wing, nationalist, homophobic political groups, notably the Polish 'Law and Justice' Party, whose president has stated that, “...homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization. We can't agree to it.”

As a footnote, the Liberal Democrats officially are in favour in LGBT equality, however since being in power, they have worked against campaign pledges and ignored previous policy, instead following the Tories. The Liberals have proven they cannot be trusted, and what direction they take on LGBT issues is anyone's guess.

Ordinary, working class people are not fundamentally discriminatory. Only under a capitalist system, where the working class masses are oppressed, does discrimination appear. When resources are limited and times are tough, people will naturally fall into groups based on their backgrounds in order to protect their own interests. Only in an equal society, with resources, industry and government publicly owned and democratically controlled, with jobs, opportunities and a decent standard of living available to all, will true liberation be achieved.

Come to our next meeting: Banner making, Tuesday November 1st at 19:30, Nuffield Theatre Room B