As we arrive at the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexual ‘acts’ between men, the mainstream press has been full of self-congratulatory nonsense about the supposed liberal nirvana that is the UK today, ignoring the horror of oppression that many LGBT people continue to face on a day to day basis.
Nothing has been more sickening than witnessing the Tories paint themselves as allies of LGBT people, while their rotten government is propped up with the support of Northern Ireland’s most reactionary bigots in the form of the DUP.
Theresa May herself has taken the opportunity to say that the Tory party were “wrong on these issues in the past”. But admitting to being wrong isn’t the same as apologising! And if the Tory party as a whole were wrong, then few were more wrong than Theresa May herself who, prior to the 2004 vote on Civil Partnerships, either voted against or abstained on a whole series of key votes in the advancement of LGBT rights.
Since David Cameron’s introduction of equal marriage in 2013 many in the LGBT community have allowed the Tories to pull the wool over their eyes regarding the Conservatives’ supposed liberalism. Leading LGBT charity Stonewall even welcomed Cameron’s 2015 election victory and recently said of Theresa May that, “The Conservative Party, and the Prime Minister, have been on an incredible journey over the past 20 years recognising the importance of achieving equality for LGBT people in the UK.”
Capitalism and oppression
But why have the Tories experienced this apparent damascene conversion after centuries of supporting LGBT oppression?
The systematic and specific oppression of LGBT in the UK arose from the social and economic needs of capitalist society and its ruling class. Such oppression and discrimination is actively used and promoted by the ruling class to divide the working class, strengthen the atomising institution of the traditional bourgeois family, and maintain the status quo. As the political representatives of capitalism, the Conservatives have always supported this oppression.
The development of British capitalism after the Second World War and the breakdown of the bourgeois family to some extent removed this material basis for LGBT oppression. Nevertheless, during this time, homophobia and transphobia remained a useful tool for the Conservatives to divide the working class and maintain support by whipping up reactionary hysteria, hence Thatcher’s introduction of Section 28.
As such, almost every advancement of LGBT rights in the UK has been implemented under the watch of a Labour government, won on the basis of the struggle of LGBT people and our allies in the labour movement. Beginning with decriminalisation in 1967 and extending to the equalisation of the age of consent, the abolition of Section 28, the legalisation of adoption for same sex couples and the introduction of Civil Partnerships: our struggle for liberation has brought with it a new level of acceptance for LGBT people in the UK.
All that is holy is profaned
This has led to a new political climate when it comes to LGBT rights. After losing three general elections in a row, the Tories chose David Cameron as their leader in 2005, who sought to ‘detoxify’ the party, presenting the Conservatives as warm-hearted, hoodie hugging liberals, including support for LGBT rights in their programme.
In government, little of this supposed liberalism remained as the Tories, with Cameron as Prime Minister, carried out a series of brutal attacks against workers, the youth, and the poor in the form of cuts and austerity. In this context, the introduction of the same sex marriage bill in 2013 was little more than a desperate attempt by Cameron to cling on to what little remained of his liberal image. It was also convenient that it didn’t impinge on the profits of the capitalists.
One is reminded of Karl Marx writing in the Communist Manifesto about how, with the development of capitalism and the search for ever greater profits, all that is “holy is profaned”. Similarly, in the search for votes the Tories are prepared to profane upon any views they once held holy. But whether David Cameron, Theresa May or any other Tory ever personally held homophobic views is beside the point – it is their actions that matter.
Austerity and attacks
Despite this surface support for LGBT rights and the achievement of formal legal equality for LGBT people, oppression continues in many forms, overseen by a Tory government. While champions of identity politics fawn over Ruth Davidson or celebrate the fact that the Tories now have as many LGBT MPs as Labour, the reality is this government are directly responsible for making the lives of working class LGBT worse.
The class context of LGBT oppression is abundantly evident in the impact of Tory austerity. Homelessness has skyrocketed since the Conservatives took power in 2010, and with over 24% of young homeless people identifying as LGBT, they are disproportionately affected. To make matters worse, the Tories have abolished Housing Benefit for under 21s, meaning what little safety net did exist for young LGBT people chucked out of home has now been shredded.
At the same time Tory austerity has brought the NHS to breaking point, which has a particular impact on the LGBT community and trans people especially. Oppression means LGBT people are much more likely to suffer from mental health problems. For example, a survey showed that 48% of trans people under the age of 26 have attempted suicide. Yet it is now almost impossible to access NHS mental health services. The NHS funding crisis has also led to it refusing to make PrEP available, endangering the lives of LGBT people at risk of contracting HIV.
But the Tories have reserved their worst treatment for LGBT asylum seekers. Under Theresa May’s watch as Home Secretary 99% of LGBT asylum seekers in 2010 were refused asylum and told to go back to countries like Uganda, where homosexuality is punishable by life imprisonment. There are countless stories of horrendous treatment of LGBT asylum seekers by home office officials, including a lesbian woman being told she couldn’t be gay because she had a child; a Jamaican man being asked to provide sexual explicit images to prove he was gay; and an Afghani asylum seeker told he could just “pretend to be straight” when he was deported.
With friends like these...
All the while Tory gays are more than comfortable with their private healthcare and tastefully decorated homes. These well off LGBT people can afford to cushion themselves from much of their oppression in a way that working class LGBT people cannot. Some are actively members of the ruling class and - despite their theoretical oppression - have a clear stake in defending this rotten system.
While the past 50 years have brought much progress in the fight for LGBT equality, oppression of all sorts remains. Despite their warm words, the Tories’ record shows that they are not allies in this battle, but are clear enemies.
The class nature of LGBT oppression and its deep intertwining with the capitalist system show it can only be effectively fought on a class basis, and Ruth Davidson is certainly not our comrade in this struggle. It is only as part of a generalised fight against capitalism itself that we hope to rid ourselves of oppression of all kinds. Join us in this struggle.