A Response to LGBT-Identity Politics
In the last weeks CTDC has noticed two major news topics, which have gathered considerable attention centred around Islam and LGBT ‘subjects’: the first, resistance by Muslim parents to ‘No outsiders’ LGBT state education in the UK school system; and the second, recent anti-LGBT state legislation in Brunei. Both topics featured widely in UK media citing Islam as the core ‘problem’ in discrimination against LGBT ‘subjects’: framing LGBT as victims and Muslims as perpetrators. The simplistic narrative consisting of only two ‘identities’ scapegoats a faith to whitewash structures of oppression. The uncritical engagement with both stories across social media platforms further evidences the levels of anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK. Oppression does not take place in a void, rather even seemingly local oppression falls within global structures of oppression. Therefore, these are not the only news topics which have perpetuated anti-Muslim sentiments, nor will they be the last, but addressing violence in the UK and globally against any marginalised group is necessary in dismantling oppression for all marginalised people whether on the grounds of race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, nationality or dis/ability.
Earlier this month, Brunei made global headlines after passing new legislation, which punishes same-sex practices with stoning to death. Western activists, politicians, celebrities and journalists alike have emphasised the ‘Sharia’ (Islamic) nature of the law emphasising a red line crossed and encouraging boycotts of the Sultan’s hotels across the world. It is necessary, however, to examine the roots of legislation against same-sex practice: colonialism. Britain introduced Section 377, the first sodomy law, across the Empire in order to ‘civilise’ and control the behaviours of its colonial subjects. This colonial legislation defined and controlled understandings of decency, body, rape and sodomy, a legacy which is often ‘forgotten’ but legacy reverberates today across the Global South. Underlining the discussions around the case of Brunei and other former colonies with Muslim majorities is a silence around the colonial legacy of sodomy laws, the emphasis is instead placed solely on Islam.
The singling out of oppressed groups is used by the state to manipulate and pit groups against each other; this is reflected throughout history, such as in a context of colonialism. In discussions around marginalised groups the aim should be to locate the powerful in order to fight against structures of oppression. Identity politics is not resistance to power, it is a mechanism of power: constructed to present the idea that ‘identities’ are compartmentalised and by virtue of this, ‘identities’ (e.g. race and class) compete with each other. This serves the interests of those in power because it prevents unified struggles against structures of oppression.
In parallel to the case of Brunei, UK media (and subsequent social media) discourse around the backlash to the UK’s new ‘No Outsiders’ LGBT curriculum has led to similar anti-Muslim tropes symptomatic of identity politics. The curriculum initiated by the UK government to tackle LGBT related discrimination from a young age, according to curriculum designer, aimed to target certain groups’ LGBT discrimination namely Muslim communities with particular focus on schools in Birmingham. ‘No Outsiders’ ironically was designed to shed light on a single marginalisation, in doing so it: (1) compartmentalises identity by addressing one oppressed group; (2) perpetuates the idea marginalisation can be ‘solved’ without structural change, reflecting an identity politics. In delivering a curriculum that focuses on one oppressed ‘identity’ the UK state does not undo oppression but rearticulates it.
Intersectionality, on the other hand, pushes us to have a nuanced understanding of different peoples’ different experiences of oppression according to their gender, sex, class, ethnicity and race. On this note, we should reject singular notions, claims and myths around peoples’ identities, we emphasise the underlining relation between different oppressions and the importance to deconstruct marginalised and unheard voices when discussing injustice. Structures of oppressions should not be understood in isolation in the way the UK media and wider discussions in the Global North portray and monopolise LGBT ‘subjects’, like in the cases of the UK and Brunei, to push certain agendas.
CTDC believes in education that teaches against oppression, and to this end believes in linking LGBT-related oppression to other struggles in order to account for how different systems of oppression (based on class, race, ability or sexuality) intersect to shape our experiences. Structures like patriarchy, neopatriarchy and capitalism. Distinguishing between fighting an oppression and fighting against oppression is important here. Whilst the UK fights LGBT oppression, it reproduces anti-Muslim oppression, whereas groups like Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners or Lesbian and Gays Support the Migrants fight against oppression as a system. The history of the UK in reproducing oppressions both at home and in colonies is symbolised in the anti-LGBT legacy across its former empire. And, whilst efforts made to address LGBT oppression in the UK are underway, we should remember who continues to be ignored and marginalised through global structures of oppression.
Gupta, A. (2008). This Alien Legacy | The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British Colonialism. [online] Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2008/12/17/alien-legacy/origins-sodomy-laws-british-colonialism [Accessed 18 Apr. 2019].