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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

“We need to say it: this is wrong”

In Umberto Eco’s essay about Ur-fascism, he describes 14 signs of fascism or a pre-fascist state. The list includes the cult of tradition, the rejection of modernism and contempt for the weak; it also includes fear of difference and the obsession with a sinister plot orchestrated by the people who are different.

The UK’s government is showing a worrying number of these signs in its demonisation of Black Lives Matter and its Trump-esque “War on Woke”, but anti-trans activism has been there for some years.

Here’s Sarah Ahmed writing in 2015.

Those who are oppressed – who have to struggle to exist often by virtue of being a member of a group – are often judged as the oppressors. We only have to turn the pages of feminist history to know this. When lesbians demanded entry into feminist spaces, we were called a “lavender menace.” We got in the way of the project of making feminism more acceptable. To be rendered unacceptable is often to be treated as the ones with the power (the power to take something away). I recently heard a heterosexual feminist speak of lesbians in feminism in exactly these terms: as wielding all the power. When black women and women of colour spoke of racism in feminism we were heard, we are heard, as angry, mean and spiteful, as hurting white women’s feelings. The angry woman of colour is not only a feminist killjoy she is often a killer of feminist joy. She gets in the way of how white women occupy feminism.

The current media narrative is one of silencing. People with extraordinary power – politicians, millionaire authors, celebrities – claim to be silenced by a sinister trans lobby, a lobby so powerful that it controls the government, the judiciary and the media despite there being no trans MPs, newspaper editors, newsreaders or judges.

The people who claim to be silenced make their claims loudly, repeatedly and in some cases lucratively as they go on programme after programme or write article after article about how you’re not allowed to share the views they constantly share. As I’ve written before, the sinister trans lobby is paying quite a few anti-trans writers’ mortgages right now.

Ahmed:

Whenever people keep being given a platform to say they have no platform, or whenever people speak endlessly about being silenced, you not only have a performative contradiction; you are witnessing a mechanism of power.

Inevitably, many of our supposed free speech warriors are highly litigious. In recent months multiple authors and a politician have threatened people with defamation suits for daring to suggest that loudly expressing anti-trans views and supporting anti-trans hate groups might possibly be transphobic. And those are just the ones we’ve heard about: most SLAPP threats (strategic lawsuits against public participation) require a vow of silence.

Ahmed:

These dynamics are familiar to me from my work on racist speech acts (racism is so often defended as freedom of speech). Racists present themselves as injured/ under attack/a minority fighting against a powerful anti-racist lobby that is “busy” suppressing their voices.

For some people the demonisation of the “woke” is a grift, an opportunity to build a media brand on the backs of vulnerable people; for others it’s misdirection, a way to distract attention from things like the UK having the highest per-capita COVID deaths in the world. And for others it’s part of a wider ideology of right-wing populism.

Free speech has thus become a political technology that is used to redefine freedom around the right of some to occupy time and space. It is “the others” who become the oppressors; those who in speaking of a wrong are judged as speaking wrong.

We need to say it: this is wrong.

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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Regulatory capture

OpenDemocracy:

British government proposals for strengthening free speech at universities cite an American anti-LGBT ‘hate group’ and a British ‘dark money’-funded think tank that has recommended no-platforming Extinction Rebellion.

The hate group is the Alliance Defending Freedom, which you may remember from its campaign against Scotland’s hate speech laws, or its witnesses in the case that banned puberty blockers for trans teenagers.

The ADF is viciously anti-LGBT+, as its its fellow Christian Right organisation the Heritage Foundation. That has its hooks in the UK government too: in the same month equalities minister Liz Truss decided to ignore public support for GRA reform, she was a guest speaker at a Heritage-funded event. Both groups have pretty obvious links to the highest profile anti-trans groups here too, and are often deeply involved in the legal cases aimed at removing trans people’s healthcare and human rights.

ADF International has spent more than £410,000 on lobbying in the UK since 2017. Last year, openDemocracy revealed that its US parent organisation has spent more than $21m of dark money outside of the US since 2008. The group does not disclose who its donors are, and has gone to the US Supreme Court to defend donor secrecy.

ADF International’s UK office has publicly opposed protest-free ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics, supported calls for “freedom of conscience” provisions to enable medical staff to independently object to providing legal abortion services and were linked to a supposedly ‘grassroots’ campaign opposing assisted dying.

…ADF supports a ‘legal army’ that fights hundreds of court battles around the world, often using freedom of expression and religious freedom arguments.

The organisation has also taken legal action to support opponents of same-sex marriage and a Canadian pastor accused of hate speech for criticising “the promotion of homosexuality”.

The US group has also become increasingly involved in funding disputes in UK universities. In 2019, it threatened legal action against a Scottish student union council after it decided not to recognise an anti-abortion student group.

This money is perverting our politics in an attempt to take human rights backwards.

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Hell in a handcart

“You can’t say anything these days”

This piece by Omar Khan was written a year ago and is even more timely now.

The political right is angry, empowered around the world by electoral gains and successful campaigns. In many ways this is still the establishment, the people who hold the power, regardless of their attempts to pose as ‘populist’ voices. But at the same time they feel under threat from a world where the parameters of acceptable behaviour have gradually shifted. When you have been used to dominance, equality feels like oppression, and when you have been used to pushing other people around with no regard for their feelings, any limits on your own behaviour feels like an assault on your rights.

…Not everybody writes a book; not everybody has the cultural or social capital to do so, or to get their book published, or publicised. If everyone has the theoretical right to freedom of speech, not everybody has the actual ability to be heard. And it is a truism that the people complaining that their freedom of speech has been attacked or denied are often the ones with the loudest voices and biggest platforms.

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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

“A stark rise in abuse and hate speech against LGBTI people”

ILGA-Europe is an umbrella organisation for multiple human rights organisations across Europe, and its annual review is deeply worrying. The full report is linked in the quoted text below.

Reporting from every country in the ILGA-Europe ‘Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTI People in Europe and Central Asia 2021’ is a glaring clarification that progress which has been taken for granted is not only increasingly fragile, but particularly vulnerable to exploitation by anti-human rights forces.

According to Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe: “Our Annual Review shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted all of the gaps in terms of lived realities of LGBTI people across Europe and Central Asia. In reports from country after country, we see a stark rise in abuse and hate speech against LGBTI people; many of whom became vulnerable to homelessness have been forced to move back into hostile family and community situations. LGBTI organisations have had to skew their work towards provision of basic necessities like food and shelter as many governments left LGBTI people out of their relief packages; and there has been a resurgence of authorities and officials using LGBT people as scapegoats while authoritarian regimes are empowered to isolate and legislate without due process.”

ILGA-Europe isn’t just talking about the obvious places such as Poland. It’s scathing about the UK too, with both the Westminster and Holyrood governments’ handling of gender recognition consultations and much of the media coming in for particular criticism.

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Hell in a handcart Media

The Tories’ shameful attacks on journalists

Kimi Chaddah writes in Gal-Dem about the Tory government’s use of social media to attack journalists for simply doing their job.

These Tory attempts to delegitimise journalists parallel the accusatory tone of internet call out culture, which thrives on sowing doubt. Ministers publicly draw attention to individual journalists, rather than a faceless publication, deliberately drawing negative attention their way and attempting to enact a digital “pile on” that calls into question the accuracy of their reporting – and attacks their personal character. While it may not be as overt as telling somebody they should be “fired” or proposing the concept of “alternative facts”, the spectre of Donald Trump haunts British politics. Although the government is not publicly unleashing humiliating verbal tirades where individual reporters are told they’re “terrible”, “fake” and “nasty”, the goal – to discredit all journalists who don’t toe the government line – is the same.

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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

TERFed out

I have lots of thoughts about the ‘sacking’ of SNP MP Joanna Cherry, but for now I’ll just post some tweets by Tristan Gray of the Green Party.

What happened: The SNP leadership silence as transphobia swallowed their party crossed a line, triggering dozens of resignations by young activists and office-holders. Sturgeon issued a statement making it clear action was coming. Cherry was sacked.

Direct cause and effect.

…This isn’t Cherry vs Sturgeon.

It’s ideological, and to an extent generational.

Cherry was the leading edge of a group of SNP politicians willing to ride the wave of a reactionary hate campaign, one overwhelmingly opposed by the younger generation who also back independence.

Cherry was willing to whip up that hate campaign for her own benefit (and that of her ideological support of it) at the expense of trans people, younger activists and SNP support with the younger generation.

Sturgeon knows the SNP and indy need those young voters.

The younger generation is overwhelmingly trans-inclusive and pro-independence. Sturgeon picked that side when sacking Cherry, someone who has built her support among an older and more reactionary demographic who view the ideals of this new generation with hostility.

To not even mention these young activists who were the trigger for the sacking of Cherry does them a disservice, but also does one to the readers of this media who are being sold fabrications instead of reality.

It might be a more comfortable fabrication, but it still is one.

It’s no coincidence that on the same day, the SNP dropped its awful plans to exclude various forms of anti-trans abuse from Scotland’s hate crimes legislation.

Online, the response demonstrates the two camps very well. On Scottish Reddit, which attracts a younger demographic, I’ve read hundreds of comments basically saying “about time too, she was doing severe damage to the party and to the youth vote”. And on Indy Twitter, which skews older and more conservative, there’s the same fury you find underneath Daily Mail stories about the wokerati nanny state immigrant one-legged lesbian thought police. And that’s being reflected in the media response too. Scotland’s commentariat is largely old and conservative, and much of the newspaper coverage is being twisted by that.

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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

New targets, same bullshit

Regular readers will know that I often state the bleeding obvious: people who are bigoted against one group are usually bigoted against other groups too.

Over the weekend, the anti-trans faction of the independence movement turned its attention to disabled people. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: by allowing disabled people to say they’re disabled (in the context of creating more representative shortlists for potential office), such “self-ID” will be abused by predatory able-bodied people to gain access to disabled people’s rights and erase real disabled people.

So now disabled people are being demonised and abused online by supposed progressives.

When you open the door for one kind of bigotry, you open the door for its friends.

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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

QAnon with Prosecco

I’ve written before about the glaringly obvious similarities between QAnon, the deranged conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is fighting a secret cabal of paedophiles, and UK anti-trans faux-feminism, which is basically the same thing with Prosecco. But I haven’t seen it illustrated quite so dramatically as I have today.

In a Twitter thread, a number of apparently intelligent adults openly discussed their belief that puberty blockers are part of a plan by a secret cabal of paedophiles to get round the laws on the age of consent. They will achieve this by making sure their targets don’t go through puberty, and will wait until they are sixteen before shagging them, presumably for the rest of their adult lives.

Because if there’s one thing kiddie-fiddlers are attracted to, it’s adults.

Puberty blockers don’t stop you ageing, and they only pause puberty for a short time. They are a fork in the road, not a stop sign. Their purpose is not to ensure that someone doesn’t go through puberty; it’s to ensure that they don’t have to go through it twice.

It’s batshit insane, I know, but it’s hardly unrepresentative: many anti-trans people are hilariously ignorant about the “basic human biology” they shout about. Some refuse to accept that estrogen causes breast growth; others claim that trans women don’t have pelvises.

And it’s not just the fringe. The UK’s various anti-trans groups all support an organisation that submitted written evidence to a government committee claiming that trans people are created because they are hypnotised by sissy pornography on YouTube.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening about moral panics, and we’re firmly in Killer Clowns, Ritual Abuse, Satanic Backwards Messages in Music territory.

In Folk Devils and Moral Panics by Stan Cohen (1973), he described moral panics as occurring when “a condition, episode, person or group of persons comes to be defined as a threat to societal values and interests”. Examples of moral panics can be found throughout history, and many are laughable in hindsight: remember the 1980s panic over Dungeons & Dragons players, or the panic over murderers stuffing razorblades in Hallowe’en treats?

R Drislane and G Parkinson wrote in the online dictionary of the social sciences that “moral panics are usually framed by the media and led by community leaders or groups intent on changing laws or practices… moral panics gather converts because they touch on people’s fears, and because they also use specific events or problems as symbols of what may feel to represent ‘all that is wrong with the nation.’

Cohen:

A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight.

Cohen argued that there are three stages to a moral panic: one, making exaggerated and distorted claims; two, predicting terrible consequence if action is not taken against the targeted group; and three, characterising all members of the targeted group as a threat.

That sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

The other widely used model has five steps, not three. In that model, by Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda, the first stage is heightened concerns being expressed about certain groups or categories; the second is hostility towards supposed “deviants”; the third is the development of a popular consensus about the existence and seriousness of the threat; and fourth, disproportionality: where public concern is far in excess of what is proportionate or justifiable. Stage five is the actual panic, where reason is left behind and things get ugly.

And that’s where we are right now. As with QAnon, the more embroiled people become in these paranoid fantasies, the harder it is to get them back out again. I feel sorry for them: they’re victims of the most powerful disinformation machines ever created. But I’m much more sorry for the people whose lives they want to ruin, and for the family members watching loved ones lose their grip on reality.

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Health Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

A global hate campaign

The horrific new anti-women legislation in Poland, a near-total ban on abortion, is already harming women. The country already had some of the strongest anti-abortion legislation in Europe, and it has now removed the exception for foetal abnormalities. According to the New York Times, 1,074 of the 1,100 abortions performed in Poland last year were for that reason.

Poland’s right-wing government is not the only evil here. Its bigotry and intolerance has been assisted legally and financially by the US Christian Right. As OpenDemocracy reported late last year, Trump-linked religious groups in the US have spent hundreds of millions globally to assault women’s rights and LGBT+ people’s rights: in its report it noted that one organisation had taken part in multiple Polish cases “to defend that country’s conservative policies including against divorce and abortion”.

One of the organisations in the report is the Alliance Defending Freedom, which operates in the UK too: it has been a loud voice against Scots hate crime legislation and against trans people.

The EPF’s [European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights] Neil Datta said: “As Europeans, we cannot sit back and watch what’s happening in the US with distance, thinking that the erosion of democratic norms and human rights cannot happen here. The same US Christian groups pushing for this in the US are now spending millions in Europe trying to achieve the same over here.”

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Health Hell in a handcart

100,000 grieving families

You don’t need me to tell you that Boris Johnson lied when he said the UK government had done everything possible to minimise the COVID-19 death toll.

There is a reason we have a death toll exceeding 100,000 while New Zealand has 25, Vietnam 35 and Taiwan 7. As Devi Shridhar writes in the Guardian, we didn’t close our borders, we abandoned community testing, we didn’t lock down quickly enough, we didn’t have enough PPE for key workers and our government messaging has been incoherent and incompetent. So many of the UK’s deaths were completely preventable.

But this is not just about the Government’s incompetence and corruption. It’s also about a media that’s consistently failed in its most basic function, which is to hold power to account. For more than a year, too much of the press has been more interested in parroting the government line, platforming cranks and giving airtime to dubiously funded pressure groups than holding our failing government to account.

Journalist Mic Wright:

Every newspaper front page that heralded ‘Independence Day’ last summer when the first lockdown was eased, every headline that passed on the government’s message that people should get back to offices, every report that passed on demands from bloviating backbenchers and astroturfing groups of suddenly ‘militant’ mums contributed in its own way to reaching that number that is so abstracted in today’s newspapers — 100,000 people have died.

Every puff piece about Boris Johnson and his cute little family, every shot of his future mother-in-law coming to Downing Street, every photo spread about their dog, every column that made excuses for Dominic Cummings, sneered at ‘hipster analysis’ in the early days of this avoidable disaster, or told us about ‘Dishy’ Rishi and how much he cares, contributed to 100,000 people dead.

Every jingoistic throwback pun to a war that none of us fought and to a history that most people misremember contributed to 100,000 people dead, ever ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ promo plastered on a tabloid front-page, every syllable uttered by political hyena Matt Chorley played its part, every Rod Liddle column, every Fraser Nelson quote, every Sarah Vine column oscillating between bafflement at government policy and insidery snideness, every story that poured more shame on celebrities and influencers than the government that got us here shares a piece of the blame.

None of these people will be held to account.