My most memorable day of 2013 was being part of a huge crowd of anti-fascists preventing the British National Party from having a march around London on June 1st. The slogan that still rings in my ears among many from that day is, “The BNP is a Nazi party – Smash the BNP.” It’s not in my nature to be violent or confrontational. But when faced with supporters of the BNP or the National Front, many of us who usually want a quiet life become a different person. There’s no doubt why this is. It’s because you know what they think of you and what they’d do to you with any power. You know what they think of you whether you’re queer, a trade unionist, non-white, a religious minority, or you simply care for the wellbeing of any of these people. When I shout, “Smash the BNP” it isn’t just a scary chant but it’s what I want to happen.
They still have a couple of councillors but hopefully, with bankruptcy, internal crisis and splits, and no more MEPs!, the nationalists really are smashed. Though they might like to pretend otherwise, UKIP has taken a great deal of their vote. It is wrong to call UKIP fascist and probably wrong to call them far right. But the people they are a threat to are the same people who have been intimidated by the BNP. (No, I’m not talking about the ‘political establishment’.) Being gay myself (more-or-less) I can’t help but focus on their homophobic element.
Everyone knows that Nick Griffin hates us. He has used homophobia to appeal to traditionalist Christianity; uses slurs like “poof”; has intimidated individual same-sex couples; and has out-right called gay couples and men who kiss each other ‘creepy’. A great deal of media attention has been directed to the more outrageous comments made by UKIP candidates and supporters. Some have been suspended but it has ultimately had little impact on the outcome of the European Parliament elections. Roger Helmer MEP has been re-elected in the East Midlands despite his comment that “Homosexuality is not a valid lifestyle worthy of equal respect”. Nigel Farage has predictably defended Helmer by pointing out how old he is, apparently letting him off the hook: “If we asked the 70s and over in this country how they felt about [homosexuality], most of them still feel uncomfortable.” Farage doesn’t harbour the same hatred as someone like Nick Griffin but you’re a fool if you think his party doesn’t benefit from his kind of thinking being mainstream.
But how can UKIP possibly be homophobic! They also just elected David Coburn, an openly gay MEP in Scotland! We all know this excuse. “I’m allowed to make those comments – some of my best friends are disabled.” A National Front member once told me: “Why are you calling me a racist? I’ve got black family,” to which I responded, “Oh yeah? Why don’t you bring them on a fucking NF demo!” An openly gay MEP is just as capable as anyone else of internalising homophobic and sexist junk and being an oppressor. The only openly gay MP, Rokas Zilinkas (Homeland Union Party), in Lithuania is one of the key politicians in that country in opposing equal rights of protest and assembly for LGBT organisations like Baltic Pride. He also supports Russian-style laws against ‘gay propaganda.’ Coburn’s attitude suggests that he will do nothing to further the cause of queer liberation; he feels the battle has been one with civil partnerships.
I’ve heard Black and Asian comrades describe the racism they face day to day by saying it often makes them want to cry and hide under the covers. This doesn’t mean they are lesser activists or that I don’t consider them heroes. It’s the same way I feel most of the time faced with homophobia. It doesn’t hurt to hear one increasingly irrelevant and desperate fascist idiot like Griffin say what he has to say about sexuality. It hurts that his party has shifted the debate and that so much of his hate speech has mainstream acceptance.
There’s a particularly nasty conversation I overheard in school that I still play over in my head. I failed to intervene, probably because it was so accepted in secondary school that being gay was in some way sick or wrong. One of my classmates was telling about how his brother’s best friend recently came out as gay. Another student advised, “You should tell your brother to sew his arse-cheeks together.” Most of the class laughed. The teacher must have heard the conversation but ignored it. What’s the implication of this joke? Firstly that all gay men are sex addicts and attracted to every other man they meet; secondly that gay men are more likely to be rapists. These two ideas are the substance of so many jibes and insults you hear every day made against gay people which so often go unnoticed. There’s a parallel here with what one rs21 speaker called, in a meeting on racism and resistance, ‘politically correct racism’. He gave the example: “I don’t hate Muslims but don’t they treat women appallingly?”
Anyone can see a problem with the racism of a neo-fascist party, but the ruling class—the political establishment that UKIP must now admit it is part of—will always find a new way to make oppressive language acceptable. The efforts of Hope Not Hate and others in ‘exposing’ UKIP are not enough. I’ll leave it up to someone cleverer to work out the details, but to truly remove homophobia from political acceptability, sexuality and gender studies must be taught and understood in a way that allows future generations to see through the evasive language of ‘politically correct bigotry’.