Gay Pride after Orlando

Huw Lemmey

Many LGBT people will have mixed feelings at the sight of police patrolling outside the Stonewall Inn in New York. The community has a fraught relationship with law enforcement; for years, the police were the strong arm of a homophobic and transphobic society, harassing, beating and imprisoning us at the behest of a ‘moral majority’. For some of us – especially sex workers, trans people, queer Muslims and queers of colour, that relationship continues.

In June 1969, trans and gay regulars fought back during a routine police raid on the Stonewall, leading to days of anti-cop riots. The police are currently posted outside the now-gentrified bar following Saturday night’s homophobic terrorist attack on a gay club in Orlando, Florida, in which 50 people died.

The Stonewall riots precipitated a huge upsurge in LGBT consciousness. Both radical and reformist LGBT groups existed before the riots, but after them there was a boom in such militant groups as the Gay Liberation Front and STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). Stonewall also provided the impetus for the first Gay Day and Christopher Street Liberation Day protests, the direct precursors of Gay Pride (now renamed Pride in London). Pride marches are still traditionally held in June to commemorate the raid.

But Pride’s radical anti-establishment roots are barely visible today. Early Prides saw placards railing against fascism and police harassment, and calling for the liberation of gay people; at today’s Pride you’re just as likely to see police officers and soldiers marching in uniform, representatives of the arms industry in corporate T-shirts and, for the first time this year, a flyover of military jets.

Radicals see this as a violent and exclusionary takeover of a liberation struggle by capital’s most reactionary institutions; liberals see it as a mark of society’s progress, with LGBT people now enjoying many of the rights and protections once denied us. For one group, Pride is a celebration of an anti-cop riot, representing the fundamental disconnect between LGBT people and heterosexual society. For another, Pride is the world’s biggest party, representing a spirit of judgment-free inclusiveness, if only for a day. Both are right.

Pride is a negotiated and contested event, not a ritual of fixed meaning and politics. It emerged not as a plea for acceptance, but as a radical assertion of our existence and a demand for recognition on our own terms: ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.’ That remains its strength; lacking the fixed meaning of, say, an Orange Order parade, the event is shaped by the queer culture of its age. Demanding that Pride be a political event is futile; it can only ever be as political as the culture it emerges from. If we want a more radical Pride, we must work to highlight everyday racism, misogyny and transphobia in our own scenes, raise awareness of the economic and material challenges LGBT people face, and organise against homophobia and transphobia from straight people.

After a year of dehumanising anti-trans rhetoric from US lawmakers, however, followed by an act of obscene violence this weekend, it’s clear that some sort of political message beyond grief will emerge during this year’s Pride marches. And that political message may well be the reassertion that violence and abuse are a part of the daily life of LGBT people, not just the reserve of spree killings.

Politicians condemn the hatred in Orlando as uniquely other, imported, foreign, anti-Western; but last year Ted Cruz gratefully accepted the endorsement, with a warm handshake, of a pastor who had just called for the execution of gay men. LGBT people see this. Just as we see the hand-wringing equivocation from cisgendered people who are ‘uncomfortable’ about sharing public bathrooms with trans people. We understand who the political buzzword ‘family’ includes, and who it excludes. We understand violence and hatred as the ever-present look over the shoulder when we hold our lovers’ hands.

There’s a faultline between the way much of the media and many straight people are interpreting the Orlando attack, in the context of Islamist terrorism and the attacks in Paris and Brussels, and the way many LGBT people understand it, on a spectrum of daily violence and prejudice. It makes sense within a general tendency intent on denying our humanity, from the ongoing attempts to prevent trans people from using public bathroom facilities to the bombing of Target, attacks on Gay Pride parades, transphobic murders, the Admiral Duncan nailbomb and the constant, low-level threat of aggression you face by simply being a queer person in public. And if we say that this attack is part of living in a homophobic and transphobic society, we will further be insulted as shills for terrorists, liberals in denial, cowards and more. Queer Muslims, meanwhile, face the combined bigotry of homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and racism.

The one shared value of all transphobic and homophobic violence is a belief in the supremacy of cisgendered people or heterosexuals; the political expression of this understanding, laced in grief, is the one reaction we will all be denied. It has already been suggested that the killer was a self-hating homosexual himself, further distancing him from the complicity of heterosexuals. As with the instrumentalisation of the executions of gay men by Islamic Sate, LGBT deaths are worth mourning only when they support the ostracism of Muslims or as an avatar of unspecified ‘Western values’. As victims of straight people and heterosexual society, they are invisible. If Pride is to rediscover its politics, a starting point would be the assertion that life for LGBT people in a heterosexual society remains a maelstrom of violence, with the most marginalised at the sharp end.

Read more in the London Review of Books

Jacqueline Rose: Trans Narratives · 5 May 2016

Colm Tóibín: Why is gay literature so dark? · 21 January 1999

Terry Castle ties the knot · 29 August 2013

Richard Hornsey: Queer London 1918-57 · 7 September 2006


  • 13 June 2016 at 9:59pm
    Graed says:
    Individual Muslims shouldn't be judged based on the actions of one man. Likewise, those individuals who serve in the police force today shouldn't be judged by the actions of a small minority of their colleagues, or the actions of those in the past. This is what I believe.

    If you're going to highlight individuals within the police force who've acted unscrupulously as being products of a racism/homophobia that's embedded in the very culture of the police force, it's irrational (if not ingenuous) to not highlight Omar Mateen as being a product of that very same cultural of homophobia that also exists in the Islamic community.

    You can respect individuals by not tarring them with the same wide brush, as well as acknowledge that the group this individual is a part of, in a general sense and by and large, exhibits certain values and behaviours that you may not condone.

    At least attempt consistency if you expect people to care about and be persuaded by your arguments.

    I knew what to expect of you before I'd even read this piece -- An argument of moral equivalence that does nothing but hinder and obscure. In a desperate attempt not to offend anyone, everyone is roundly blamed, and so nobody is held accountable. This attack was perpetrated by an individual, but a pertinent issue at the heart of this particular attack is clear - Islam's relationship with homosexuality.

    Also, the gossamer thin attempt at objectivity in this piece barely conceals your contempt for the armed forces, and for the members of the LGBT+ community who don't subscribe to your politics. So much for tolerance.

    • 14 June 2016 at 9:27am
      Huw Lemmey says: @ Graed
      I can only thank you for providing a solid example of the instrumentalisation of queer deaths and the erasure of our voices regarding our own experience of homophobic violence from both police and heterosexual culture that, due to the word limit, I was unable to include in the article proper.


      Huw Lemmey

    • 14 June 2016 at 10:50am
      Joe Morison says: @ Graed
      There's an article in today's Daily Telegraph that nicely illustrates how wrong you are, homophobia is rife not just in Islam but widely throughout Western conservatism. It's gay hatred that's the enemy here, not the ideology used to justify it.

    • 14 June 2016 at 2:53pm
      Graed says: @ Huw Lemmey
      I'm gay. You don't speak for gay people. My voice is as representative of a gay opinion and experience as yours. You speak for yourself predominantly. Stop with the "our".

      Of course homophobia exists. At no point did I deny this. You have no qualms calling out specific institutions like the police force, or majorities such as heterosexuals. But somehow, a critical and legitimate look at the role Islam on the whole plays in the persecution of homosexuals is off the cards. You've traded in rationality and even-handedness for the sake of ideology.

      You're smarter than this. You're smarter than the undergraduate-level politicking you peddle.

    • 14 June 2016 at 2:58pm
      Graed says: @ Joe Morison
      That's a straw man; At no point did I say that Islam is solely responsible for homosexual persecution.

    • 14 June 2016 at 10:11pm
      1Cedar says: @ Huw Lemmey
      What a self-congratulatory response, Huw!

      As someone involved in the old US Gay Pride marches, I think it's better to have openly gay police officers than exclusively straight or closeted ones. Their politics on other days may be such that we profoundly disagree with them, but Gay Pride was about inclusiveness, about showing "We are everywhere". And those men & women working for the military or police had to have especial courage to march with us, as they risked more than columnists or musicians do to be "out & proud". I don't instrumentalise anyone when I say I grieve for my chosen kindred in Orlando & you have no right to constrain my sorrow into your measure.

      And while you're correct to point out how multiply oppressed queer Muslims may be, they are choosing the religious aspect of their oppression by continuing to identify with an ideology which disdains them and oppresses others. Ex-Muslims may be subjected to violence from inside their communities of origin, or from outside, but at least they've chosen not to oppress themselves.

      If it's true that the troubled Omar used to hang out in gay clubs, over a period of years, then it's likely that he did murder gay people because he feared he was one, and brought up by a father who supports the Taliban and says - when he's on his best behaviour for the public- that only Allah should punish the homosexual, you can see why Omar might have experienced some cognitive dissonance. Graed's points are not unreasonable, and you do neither him nor yourself a service when you answer so petulantly.

    • 14 June 2016 at 10:15pm
      1Cedar says: @ Joe Morison
      You're right that after 50 years of supposed sexual freedom, homophobia still lingers in conservative Western minds. But neither Church nor State is in the habit of justifying torturing gay men to death, or throwing them off buildings. That seems a fairly significant difference to me. Hatred means different things in different places.

    • 15 June 2016 at 4:26am
      Joe Morison says: @ 1Cedar
      Well, the Lt. Governor of Texas promptly tweeted his Christian justification for the attack; and it was only a few hundred years ago that the Western church and states were enthusiastically burning gay men and women. The proportion of Muslim religious and political leaders justifying Daesh's behaviour is miniscule, and there are plenty of Christian countries in which being gay is punishable by prison and until very recently by death.

      The fact that mainstream Christianity in this country has gone from burning gays to, at best, marrying them, and, at worst, reaching out to them as beloved by god and welcome to be part of their communion, shows that the problem lies not in a particular religion but in the people who interpret and control it - conservative men and women (not that there aren't lots of tremendously pro-gay conservatives, but in that particular respect they are being radical - even if in a conservative way by urging monogamy and marriage).

    • 15 June 2016 at 4:41am
      Joe Morison says: @ Graed
      No, but you singled out Islam. The leaders of Daesh want nothing more than for their followers to kill us in the name of Islam, and for us to react by vilifying Islam thereby further alienating moderate Muslims.

      You criticize Lemmey for being 'desperate not to offend anyone'. I'm sure he's more than happy to offend the sick saddos who support this outrage; but very sensibly he's keen to make it clear to ordinary Muslims that the problem is not with them or their religion. Hardcore male conservative extremists have been responsible for Koranic exegesis for a long time; but if you listen to more enlightened Islamic scholars, you will find that very different interpretations are possible. Instead of attacking Islam as a whole, we should be offering support for those Muslims reject this conservative reading.

    • 15 June 2016 at 5:26am
      Joe Morison says: @ 1Cedar
      It's hideously patronizing to say that all LGBT Muslims are 'choosing' to oppress themselves (the inverted commas because some people are as fixed in their faith as others are in their sexuality). Those who accept the homophobic interpretation, perhaps; but what about those who are fighting to bring their faith into modernity? These are people we should be supporting not condemning.

    • 15 June 2016 at 6:55pm
      J.I. Smith says: @ Graed
      Quite right, Huw was "instrumentalising" (to borrow his on-trend jargon) the events just as much as you were, he just happened to be doing so from a more "regressive-left" perspective. To conflate the disgusting prejudice and quotidian harassment that historically plagued and still persist in aggrieving gay communities in America and Western Europe with the murder, torture (e.g. flogging or -- in Yemen, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia -- stoning) and/or imprisonment that are meted out as punishment for gay sex in most (and I use that word quite literally) Muslim-majority countries, and the extrajudicial killings of gay activists such as Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy in Bangladesh, is relativism at its worst.

      He is a spokesman for no one but himself.

    • 17 June 2016 at 6:57pm
      gary morgan says: @ Joe Morison
      In fact I think there quite likely is a problem with Islam since it is rather socially conservative. Very interesting Radio 4 piece by Sarfaz Mansoor a couple of social years ago when he went back to his home town, Luton, finding that on most issues his contemporaries accepted a "conservative reading" in much the same way that Bible Belt Americans endorse a "conservative reading" of Christianty. It was though more likely to attract zealots who would persecute those who would "oppress" them, hence no one dares even yet to publish the Muhammad cartoons for fear of murder. Interesting that even the Sikh critial 'Beshti' and 'Jerry Springer' didn't attract quite the most extreme from of literary criticism, as V.S. Naipaul once rather naughtily said of Salman Rushdie. I wonder why.

  • 13 June 2016 at 10:15pm
    Graucho says:
    The LGBT and Islamic factors in this outrage will dominate the discussion, but let us not lose sight of the overiding issue. 49 families are in mourning, 53 person have had life altering injuries and all because in the U.S. any homicidal maniac with any political agenda and or hatred for any group can obtain an assault rifle, a machine gun in old language, and vent their murderous spleen in a bloodbath. The second amendment is more clearly expressed thus. A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the U.S. firearms industry to maintain and grow its $50 billion turnover through ruthless lobbying and political funding shall not be infringed. As long as the victims of these massacres are school kids, gays, cinema goers, social workers, students and so on the NRA and the industry they front could give a damn. Until someone shoots up one of their meetings they will continue to maintain the fiction that guns make people safer.

    • 14 June 2016 at 4:18pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ Graucho
      Your comparison between the police and "all Muslims" is ridiculous. One is an immensely diverse group of 1.7bn people from all over the world, as wide ranging in age, sex, sexuality, politics, nationality, and values as any similar set of human beings. The other is a small group of people selected and trained by (western, in Huw's example) states, to enforce laws and more broadly a certain social order and set of values. There's a reason they wear uniforms. To suggest that a desire to not stigmatise all of the former means you can't criticise the latter is ridiculous.

    • 14 June 2016 at 4:22pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ Harry Stopes
      This was directed at Graed

  • 14 June 2016 at 2:12pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    I'm on the same page as Graucho on this one - the discussion and continuing arguments responding to this mass murder should be focusing on anything and everything relating to gun-control in the US (second amendment, background checks, waiting periods, restrictions on types of weapons available to US citizens who are granted permission to own them, the general BS and amoral positions of the NRA, the cynical weapons business, etc.). While there are gay-person targeting and Islamic homophobia sides to this particular story, the more general problem of allowing our crazy gun culture to thrive regardless of its consequences is the real framing issue.

  • 14 June 2016 at 7:11pm
    DuBose says:
    Apparently the person who killed all the people in Orlando was gay himself:

    This might change your narrative some.

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