England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

No Pride in Tories or Labour: Fight for queer liberation through socialism

By Ellie Costain, Socialist Alternative Merseyside

Pride is celebrated internationally over the summer months, and in 2024 it is once again taking place in the midst of a global right-wing backlash against LGBTQ+ rights.

2024 is also a year of elections, with historic contests taking place around the world. As we go to print, a number of right-wing and far-right parties are on the ballot for the EU Parliament elections, having been emboldened by decades of neoliberal austerity measures. In the US, working class people once again have to face the dire decision of Trump or Biden. In the UK, although Labour is almost certain to win this election, Starmer’s leadership has decisively pulled the party to the right.

Labour’s recent track record on LGBTQ+ rights is quite dismal, having abandoned any previous commitment to trans rights. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has gone as far as stating his support for the disgraceful proposal by Tories to separate cisgender and transgender women on hospital wards. Needless to say, as we approach elections in the UK (and globally), trans lives and the hard won rights of LGBTQ+ people will once again be used as a way to whip up controversy and debate.

Tapping into the real discontent and anger felt by working-class people due to rising cost of living and falling or flatlining wages, the forces of reaction have been successful in whipping up a culture war that targets LGBTQ+ people and trans people in particular. This has real-world consequences. Advocacy group ILGA-Europe found that homophobic hate crimes in England and Wales increased 41% and transphobic crimes by 56% in 2023. And of course in February 2023 the murder of Brianna Ghey, a transgender teenage girl, shows that so-called ‘culture war’ rhetoric has deadly outcomes.

When the Scottish Government introduced the Hate Crime Bill in April, which included protections for trans people, it was met with immediate and global backlash, including by figures like Joe Rogan who peddles conspiracy theories from his podcast. Online influencers such as Rogan, and members of the so-called ‘manosphere’, including Andrew Tate and others, spread hateful, LGBTQ-phobic and misogynistic ideology online, and help propagate fears of a ‘crisis in masculinity’.

Capitalism in crisis

Where is this backlash coming from? Rather than a ‘crisis of masculinity’, the capitalist system as a whole is in an era of crisis. In the last few years alone we have seen a global health crisis in the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing inflation, a cost of living crisis, rising housing costs, climate crisis, and an increase in militarism and war – as has been highlighted in the Israeli state’s genocidal, US/Europe-backed onslaught in Gaza. Capitalism has bred these problems and can provide no solution to them because it is a disorganised and chaotic system, based on the wealth and profit of a small elite of capitalists over the health and well-being of the majority.

At the same time, there has been a historic challenging of capitalism’s ideological stranglehold in society. We have seen mass movements for abortion rights in Latin America, Ireland and beyond, and a rise in young people questioning the ‘traditional’ gender binary, as seen in rising rates of young people identifying as LGBTQ+ themselves.

In a sense it is no wonder that, in a blatant attempt at divide and rule, the capitalist establishment has sought to reinforce reactionary ideas about the role of men and women in society, as well repugnant ideas about the supposedly ‘corrupting’ effect of ‘gender ideology’ on children. As if their system, which keeps millions of children around the globe in poverty and has stood over the state murder of thousands of children in Gaza, has any interest in ‘protecting’ children.

 Liberation means socialism

However, more than just divide and rule, capitalism as a system benefits from upholding rigid gender roles. Unpaid domestic labour, such as caring for children and the elderly, maintaining the home and other roles are essential for the functioning of capitalism. The idea of women as ‘homemakers’, ‘carers’, and other such stereotypes serve a cornerstone of this arrangement. In more recent years, women in the workforce – disproportionately represented in sectors such as health and social care – have seen such stereotypes used to justify the low pay and under-resourcing which have led to a full-blown crisis in the care sector.

This is why, especially in this age of disorder and crisis, the punishment for seeming to deviate from these rigid roles is often great. Young LGBTQ+ people are at the sharpest end of the various crises of this system. In the UK, LGBTQ+ youth face proportionally higher levels of homelessness and poor mental health. The charity AKT suggests that almost a quarter of the young people aged 16-25 at risk of homelessness identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or non-binary.

Since the beginning of the genocidal war on Gaza, there has been a clear attempt by Israeli and Western imperialism to portray Israel as an upholder of LGBTQ+ rights in the Middle East. This attempt at pinkwashing has been exposed by genocidal attacks that have claimed the lives of people in the region – men, women, children, and queer people alike – with a death toll that now stands at over 35,000 (but is likely much higher following the latest round of attacks).

Those at pro-Palestine rallies who march under the banner of ‘Queers for Palestine’ have faced derision by the right-wing press who have mocked the slogan on the grounds of Hamas’ anti-LGBTQ+ record. In reality, this call for global solidarity points towards an important linking up of struggles – but this needs to be organised around demands to take it forward.

That is why, to fight against the rolling back of LGBTQ+ rights, we need to fight for a whole new system! We need a fully-funded NHS under workers’ control as a step toward fully trans inclusive health care. As well as this we need an education system under democratic control and free from the right-wing, pro-capitalist propaganda used to reinforce the gender binary and other ideas their system relies on, and instead provide real education about consent, gender and sexuality. We need basic rights such as the right to gender self identification. We need decent housing for all and an end to imperialist wars that kill women and queer people around the world. 

Pride marches in the last ten years have gone from grassroots protests to often huge, corporate affairs more concerned with selling tickets and making profits from sponsors than raising fighting demands and community organising. In recent years there have been a grassroots attempt to organise ‘reclaim pride’ event and marches, highlighting that the cynical attempt by capitalism to ‘rainbow wash’ their reputations will not offer genuine liberation. Socialist Alternative support and attend these demonstrations wherever they are called.

Working-class struggle for liberation

We also call for serious mobilisations of trade unionists onto these demonstrations to raise the call for united struggle behind a fighting programme for liberation for LGBTQ+ people and the wider working class.

We cannot rely on an incoming Labour government or any other party of the ruling capitalist class to provide for LGBTQ+ or any people oppressed under this system. Instead we need mass organisation and struggle, built on the best traditions of solidarity between queer people, other oppressed sections of society, and the organised working class – as made famous in the 2014 film ‘Pride’.

This means preparing to struggle against a Labour government, and any trade union leaders who refuse to fight back against Starmer’s pro-capitalist rule. Meanwhile, Starmer, as well as the populist right, will use their culture war rhetoric and divide-and-rule attacks to resist any challenge to their status quo.

The trade unions, as mass organisations of the working class, and with enormous power, could play a decisive role in bringing such a movement to victory. By taking up the struggles of working-class people on every front, they can only become more powerful.

An injury to one is an injury to all! The workers’ movement must take up the fight for LGBTQ+ liberation, the issue of gender-based violence and all discrimination on the grounds of identity, ability, race and gender.

Members of Socialist Alternative have fought in a number of unions to clearly take up the question of trans rights, including at the Public and Commerical Services (PCS) conference, which passed a motion supporting trans rights, despite strong opposition from sections of the union bureaucracy and transphobic elements in the union.

Of course, this is only one step – it needs to be defended, acted on in practice, and spread across the labour movement as part of a mass movement for LGBTQ+ liberation.

Building a fighting resistance

The movement for genuine LGBTQ+ liberation needs to get organised and build a political voice now. Our rights are not safe in the hands of either of the two main parties, who represent the interests of the same reactionary capitalist ruling class.

That is why we must build the resistance to the right wing backlash against women’s rights and LGBTQphobia NOW! Pride this year should be a springboard toward further organising.

Socialist Alternative is calling for building conferences of resistance. These could be regional and nationwide where representatives from different struggles can link together the various movements taking place; from the mass protests against the war on Gaza, to those fighting for climate justice and trade unionists organising in their workplace for better wages and conditions, and democratically agree a strategy and demands to fight back under the next government.

However, we need to go further – such a conference could lay the basis for a new left party of struggle. This must be one that will boldly fight oppression in society through mass, working-class struggle. Such a party would have to fight for fully-funded, public health care, education, decent housing and jobs for all, and a society free from all oppression, inequality, and war. In short, a socialist society, based on public ownership and democratic control.

We will be active during Pride month and at demonstrations, parades and other events to raise these demands and in order to build a resistance that fights for our rights this Pride season and all year round.

 

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