England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Interview with LGBT+ Socialists founder Paul McGowan

Here we carry an interview with Paul McGowan, an activist with Merseyside based LGBT+ Socialists, a broad campaign of LGBT+ people fighting for solidarity through the workers movement. For more on what Socialist Alternative says about the fight for LGBT+ liberation, read here, here and here!

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So what led you to set up LGBT+ Socialists? 

I, like many others now involved with were until recently members of the Labour Party, and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. In 2018 I became my Constituency Labour Party’s first ever LGBT+ officer, as well as for Liverpool Momentum and set up a LGBT+ officer’s policy forum. But it quickly became obvious after talking to fellow LGBT+ officers outside the city, that there just wasn’t much organising happening elsewhere. 

This made me decide to expand what I had been trying to build as socialists in Liverpool to other areas of the country. So in November 2018, I founded the campaign, originally under the name Labour Party LGBT+ Network. We did so to not only bring together and build an active campaigning nationwide network of socialist LGBT+ members of the labour movement, but to coordinate for events, demonstrations, strikes, and so on. 

Since then, it has become extremely clear that the Labour Party is no vehicle for struggle, or a political space that is welcome for socialists. The witch hunts and attacks on left-wing members, but also Starmer’s throwing of LGBT+, black, GRT and Muslim members under the bus led us to drop the Labour banner. In the Summer of 2021, we thus became LGBT+ Socialists! 

Can you say more on why it is so important for LGBT+ liberation to be organised through the workers movement? 

It is absolutely essential. We must take a strong stand against homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, racism and all forms of bigotry in this society. This is why we call for a programme of genuine, democratically-organised education on these issues in our union branches and campaigns. But we also have to connect all of these to the crucial role played by class struggle. The labour movement should be leading anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigning within our communities and mobilising on the streets where necessary. 

We can’t see politics as just a series of parliamentary manoeuvres, and nor can we wait until the next election to bring about change. Issues of equality and oppression are visible every single day and are inherently a class issue; we must treat them accordingly, standing against divisions to give everyone a voice.

We also believe in actively supporting workers and the struggles of working-class communities, and recognise the importance of grassroots organising towards building and transforming the labour movement, such as supporting the campaigns to repeal all anti-union laws. The first thing we did as an organisation was get a banner made to instantly start showing visible solidarity with workers at picket lines and building relationships of collective support. We have quickly built very good relationships between ourselves and the local RMT and UCU branches. Just recently, we have stood in solidarity with higher education workers in the UCU’s Four Fights campaign, and with the 800 sacked P&O workers, protesting at the Port of Liverpool to save jobs and fight back against mass sackings. 

How have your work and ideas been received within the movement?

Extremely well! Since our founding in 2018 with a core team of just 8 members, we now have over 400 members of our Facebook group. We have, in collaboration with others, organised campaign days for LGBT+ identifying socialist candidates, produced articles on campaigns, showing solidarity with workers in dispute, organising protests and political-education events, making links with like-minded groups, and so on. 

Doing this has brought us into contact with many others who are fighting many of the same struggles we are. We have connected with BLM groups, Kill the Bill, feminist groups, Palestine solidarity initiatives, trans liberation groups, homeless and food poverty groups, left-wing musicians and many more. As we realised that the Corbyn leadership was coming to an end, we all saw the need to start bringing together our struggles into one large umbrella organisation to work collaboratively, we founded the United We Stand – Solidarity Network in February 2020.

We have in that time also worked very closely with activists and liberation groups, for example building a close working relationship with Merseyside BLM and their founder Chantelle Lunt. In 2021 we are also an initial founding organisation of the national Kill The Bill Coalition alongside over 100 BLM and XR groups nationwide.

What struggles has LGBT+ Socialists helped to lead since setting up? 

In 2019, we were proud as an organisation to have (despite some opposition) organised Labour involvement with Liverpool’s first ever Trans Pride march in 2019. We also organised the 2019 ‘Red Bloc’ at Liverpool Pride, which saw the largest number of socialists and trade unionists to ever march together in solidarity with the LGBT+ community at a Liverpool Pride event. In 2020 we partnered with The World Transformed to democratically build a trans-led political education programme for the labour movement supported by MPs like Nadia Whittome, which has now begun to be rolled out within trade union branches.

At the same time, a spate of violent homophobic and transphobic attacks have been reported across Britain. In Liverpool since 2014, reported anti-LGBT+ hate crimes have risen over 900%. We have seen the LGBT+ community rocked by over five high profile attacks happening in the space of just 4 weeks last summer. In response to this, we called a demonstration in the city, spearheaded by our trans rep Felix Mufti-Wright,  which was hugely successful, and was attended by up to 3000 people.

But we didn’t stop there. We used this protest to start a campaign to ‘Reclaim Pride’ from the capitalist system. We used the platform we built to fight against ‘pinkwashing’, and call on other local pride organisations to for instance drop Barclays and other unethical big business sources as sponsors, the protest itself had a wide variety of speakers from different national campaigns such as Kill The Bill, BLM and also included Tom Costello and Sara Guardiola from Socialist Alternative in Merseyside! 

Paul McGowan and Chantelle Lunt from LGBT+ Socialists and Merseyside BLM standing with International Socialist Alternative at the COP26 demonstrations, November 2021

The calls to reclaim pride, from New York, to Manchester and Liverpool are only growing and growing. Liverpool Reclaim Pride has received public backing from Jeremy Corbyn, organisations like Kill the Bill, BLM, XR, and more, while also getting the backing from local and national organisations, not least including Socialist Alternative. 

But most importantly, we have provided a voice where one hasn’t been present. As the Liverpool Echo commented after our first Reclaim Pride protest: “Young LGBT+ people say Reclaim Pride protest offers hope”. That is the kind of force we want to keep building, and have taken forward in all our work. We in the last couple of months have been supporting striking UCU workers in dispute, co-organising IWD actions with Socialist Alternative, and co-organised a protest against the exclusion of trans people from the conversion therapy ban.

The demands made by Liverpool Reclaim Pride are:

  • Stop stalling on Trans Rights and LGBT+ healthcare!
  • End all conversion therapy now!
  • End commercialisation of Pride Events and unethical sponsorship of Pride organisations!
  • Stop the Police co-opting Pride!
  • End commercialisation of Pride!
  • Inclusion of our disabled LGBT+ siblings!
  • End transphobia in the media!
  • Unionise and decriminalise sex work!
  • Give a safe haven to LGBT+ Asylum Seekers!
  • Call for climate, racial and social justice!

Socialist Alternative stands for:

  • Mass struggle to smash LGBT+ oppression through class struggle! Organise, strike and demonstrate for the services that LGBT+ people need
  • Reclaim the NHS to fight for LGBT+ health! Renationalise and end outsourcing in the NHS. For democratic control by workers and service users to provide free access to quality mental and physical health services, including counselling and HRT treatment when needed 
  • Free, genuinely public and high-quality education at all levels for all! For fact-based LGBT+ inclusive sex education
  • Tax the rich and nationalise the banks and major corporations, close the tax havens to invest in good quality council house building, to provide everyone with the freedom to leave abusive relationships. 
  • For a socialist world free of oppression, poverty and war!

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