A shameful anniversary

It’s 32 years since the Conservatives introduced Section 28. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.

That was Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

The newspapers were full of stories of a sinister “gay agenda” pushed by an equally sinister “homosexual lobby” determined to turn all your children gay. Politicians said they weren’t concerned with “responsible homosexuals”; they were concerned about the “sick” ones who had “an urge to persuade other people that their way of life was a good one.”

This video, shared by Ben McGowan, makes me wonder how much has really changed.

The video includes quotes from politicians, including one who decried “Labour’s appalling agenda encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools” in a piece in the Spectator in 2000, compared equal marriage to bestiality and wrote about “tank-topped bum-boys” in a column about the politician Peter Mandelson.

He’s the Prime Minister now.

The writers who want your granny to die

Peter Geoghegan and Mary Fitzgerald in The Guardian on the “lockdown sceptics“:

It is no surprise that so many professional contrarians are paid-up lockdown sceptics. They are products of our distorted media ecosystem, which invariably privileges heat over light. For them, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about – even if what you are talking about amounts to social Darwinism.

But the lockdown opponents are not just media “personalities”… How long before a British parliamentarian goes full “plandemic” and wonders aloud if Covid-19 is all a conspiracy?

A sinister cult


The ‘gender critical’ feminist movement is a cult that grooms, controls and abuses, according to a lesbian who managed to escape.

…“They really don’t even care about gay people, which is the bottom line [for me],” she says. “They’re going for gay rights too, including marriages, the rainbow, LGBT+ clubs in schools.”


A simple message


Liberty joins other UK human rights organisations to say: trans rights are human rights.

In a joint statement with Amnesty International UK and Human Rights Watch it says:

“Human rights are universal and belong to everyone. Yet too often in the UK trans people are spoken about and treated as though their rights don’t matter.

The toxic media coverage about trans people has recently spiked. At times of crisis and political change, marginalised groups are often singled out for abuse and hate. History has shown us time and time again the dangers of setting the rights of one marginalised group up for debate. But we know that our rights and freedoms are bound together.

What’s more, this isn’t an equal conversation or level playing field. Key voices are missing – trans and non-binary people, and in particular young trans people. They are so often spoken about, not listened to. As a society, we need to make space so they can be finally heard without having to defend who they are.

We need to do this because denying rights leads to dehumanisation.

This is already happening in Hungary, Russia and the US, where trans people are facing serious human rights abuses, and new and vicious attacks on their fundamental rights.

We cannot allow this to happen here. Today, as we mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), our collective of UK human rights organisations wants to remind people that trans rights are an indivisible part of human rights.”

Benjamin Ward, UK Director of Human Rights Watch said: “For too long now, trans people in the UK have been dehumanised and their voices silenced.” said Benjamin Ward, UK Director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time for people in the UK to stand together with trans people and for the human rights and humanity we all share.”

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “Trans people often face extreme discrimination, and right now we’re seeing growing threats to their human rights in the UK and abroad. But the biggest human rights organisations are united by their side – we won’t rest until trans people can live freely as themselves, without inequality or abuse.”

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “We must, as a human rights movement, demonstrate that we will forever stand by the side of trans people and I’m proud to join others to spread this message on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.”

What is transphobia, anyway?

I mentioned that today is the international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia but I don’t think I’ve ever explained what transphobia actually is. The Trans Actual website has put together a comprehensive explanation.

Transphobia, like homophobia and biphobia, is an umbrella term to describe various negative attitudes towards people based on a single characteristic: who they love, or who they are.

You can be perfectly pleasant to trans, gay or bi people and still be transphobic, homophobic or biphobic; you can vote for equal marriage but feel uncomfortable around gay people, use trans people’s pronouns but think they’re mentally ill, accept that bisexual people exist but believe that bisexuality means promiscuity or sexual greed. And while that’s not ideal, you’re not directly hurting anybody. But unfortunately some people with transphobic, homophobic or biphobic beliefs do hurt people – not necessarily physically, although god knows there’s plenty of that, but also by discriminating against them or making their lives more difficult or dangerous.

And just as people who are racists don’t like being called racist, people who are transphobic (or homophobic, or biphobic) get very upset when people point it out. Some of the most transphobic people around are adamant that they don’t have a bigoted bone in their body.

Like many of their strategies, that one has been nicked wholesale from the religious right and the far right: racists aren’t racists, they’re race realists who just want to protect white people’s civil rights; religious conservatives don’t hate LGBT+ people, they just believe in family values. The transphobes’ equivalent is to claim to be protecting “sex-based rights” or battling “gender ideology”, terms that come from right-wing religious fundamentalism. The term “gender ideology” was barely used before 2016.

Most people who say they aren’t -phobic truly believe it: in the movie of their life, they’re certain that they are Luke Skywalker, not Darth Vader. Few of us want to believe we’re the baddies. So to protect that, they attempt to define what homophobia, transphobia or biphobia is or isn’t. That definition always, always, finds in their favour. They are the judge and the jury of their own prejudice, and they always find the defendant not guilty.

The thinking goes like this. Transphobia, homophobia and biphobia are traits that bad people have. I am not a bad person, therefore what I do cannot be transphobic, homophobic or biphobic.

Racists do this too. My favourite (and I say that with bleak humour) example is the Ku Klux Klan, some of whose chapters recently claimed that because they no longer go around wearing pointy hoods and burning crosses on people’s lawns, they can’t possibly be racist. But of course, they are.

Transphobia, like racism, doesn’t just mean acts of violence. It can be pushing a narrative that human rights for trans people are in conflict with human rights for others. It can be trying to limit trans people’s access to healthcare, or demanding that charities do not help trans people. It can be misrepresenting the actions of a few as representative of the many, or misrepresenting science and medical opinion to cast doubt on trans people’s very legitimacy. It can be choosing not to hire trans people, or to give them a platform you offer to others. And most dangerously, it can be about stochastic terrorism: demonising a particular group of people in the knowledge that such demonisation may lead others to commit violence against them while your own hands remain clean.

Today, like every day, LGBT+ people are on the receiving end of all of those things. It’s terrible everywhere, but in some parts of the world it is also exceptionally dangerous.

Graeme Reid in Advocate.com:

The annual celebration  is an opportune moment to reflect on the advances made in LGBTQ+ rights, and the challenges that remain.

…At a time when access to health care is a global concern, LGBT people remain vulnerable to discrimination, driven by health workers’ personal prejudice or government policy.

…Access to appropriate health care is a struggle for transgender people in many parts of the world. Coercive medical requirements can foster abuse.

…LGBTQ+ people are often cast as a threat to traditional notions of the family, society and the nation. Stigma and hate speech are even more threatening in a pandemic, when vulnerable groups are blamed and targeted.

…As IDAHOBIT is celebrated throughout the world, as an aspect of  “breaking the silence,” challenges to  equal access to healthcare, education, protection from discrimination and violence, and rights to association, expression and privacy remain pressing in many parts of the world. Even in a crisis of staggering proportions, the advances that have been made in human rights, including for LGBTQ+ people, need to be protected.

“I am proud of the progress I intend to reverse”

Equalities minister Liz Truss has marked international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia with a feel-good Twitter message:

It’s a shame that that progress is threatened by, er, Liz Truss.

“People aren’t protesting for the right to BE waitresses and hairdressers, they’re fighting for the right to HAVE them.”

This is the sound of a nail being hit squarely on the head (video in the pic.twitter.com link).

What was won can be lost

There’s a famous cartoon by artist KC Green:

As Green told The Verge, it’s popular because:

it’s a feeling we all have, apparently. It’s a feeling we all get of, just like, “Things are burning down around me, but you got to have smile sometimes.” It’s a basic human [feeling], “Well, what are you going to do?”

The version you see online is usually just the two panels I’ve shown here, but the full version shows the dog continuing to ignore the fire. Green:

it is kind of grotesque at the end. It’s easier to sell the first two than the entire panel where the dog melts into nothingness.

As a two-panel strip, it’s a funny “hey, what can you do?” thing. The full version shows the problem of doing nothing.

You’ll find the “this is fine” attitude in all kinds of places, about issues large and small: faced with a mountain of evidence that the room is very much on fire, many people choose to ignore it and tell themselves “this is fine”.

LGBT+ people are not immune to this – particularly older, more conservative LGBT+ people who tell others not to worry about their countries’ lurch to the right, about the well-funded campaigns against equality legislation, about the campaigns against inclusive education, about the return of blatantly homophobic and transphobic rhetoric in politics and in the media. This, they tell us, is fine.

It isn’t fine.

Progress can be reversed all too easily. The latest Rainbow Map of Europe shows that: the map tracks European countries’ LGBT+ rights and protections, and it shows that some countries are sliding backwards.

The UK is one of them. In 2015, it was rated the best place in Europe for LGBT+ rights; this year, it’s ninth. And that’s before we see the effects of having an equalities minister who doesn’t see protecting LGBT+ rights as part of her portfolio.

Other countries are worse. Hungary is going after LGBT+ people (and inevitably, protections for women and girls generally). Poland has declared “LGBT-free” zones. As many countries lurch to the right, LGBT+ people make for easy scapegoats for both politicians and the church.

That’s likely to get worse. Buzzfeed News reports that there is “an emerging global trend during the COVID-19 pandemic: the scapegoating of LGBTQ people.”

reports across the world reveal a parallel phenomenon: Institutions of power — from governments and churches to police and media — are blaming sexual or gender minorities for the spread of the virus.

It forms part of a wider campaign against LGBTQ people, the resonance of which stretches back decades. With the world’s attention elsewhere, administrations are capitalising on the crisis by removing LGBTQ rights, weaponising lockdown restrictions against members of this community, and neglecting those who cannot access government support because of their identity — with many left destitute and in danger.

Human rights defenders are calling for help, warning of the collateral damage within and beyond this minority. But in the chaos of a pandemic, the message is going largely unheard.

As ILGA-Europe executive director Evelyne Paradis says: “History shows that those who are vulnerable before a crisis only become more vulnerable after a crisis, so we have every reason to worry that political complacency, increased repression and socio-economic hardship will create a perfect storm for many LGBTI people in Europe in the next few years.”

This is not fine.

“How private equity drained the record industry”

As a rule of thumb, when a famous company goes under it’s usually because private equity firms bought it, hollowed it out and loaded it with so much debt that even a relatively small drop in demand made it unsustainable.

As David Turner writes, private equity has had a huge influence on the music business too. What began with firms buying record companies has morphed; the firms are now buying copyrights too. “Nearly thirty years since Sony’s purchase of CBS Records, private equity can be found within nearly all aspects of recorded music,” Turner says.

Cherries, condoms and coronavirus

During the AIDS epidemic, some people who didn’t want to wear condoms claimed that it wasn’t because they were selfishly putting other people at risk; it was that the virus was so small that it could pass through microscopic gaps in the material condoms were made from, so there was no point in people wearing them.

During the coronavirus pandemic, some people who don’t want to wear masks are claiming that it’s not because they’re selfishly putting other people at risk; it’s that the virus is so small that it can pass through gaps in even the fabric of medical-grade masks, so there is no point in people wearing them.

Both groups of people were wrong, because viruses don’t travel by themselves; they need a host. In the case of AIDS it was bodily fluids; with coronavirus it’s droplets. And in both cases, the hosts are much, much bigger than the virus – so condoms prevent the spread of AIDS and masks reduce the spread of coronavirus.

This is technically known as the fallacy of incomplete evidence, although we know it as cherry picking. It’s when you carefully choose evidence that appears to support your position and ignore or discount anything that contradicts it. You’ll find it in climate change denial and creationism, anti-trans activism and racism and pseudoscience of all kinds, and it’s been with us for millennia.

Or at least, all the evidence I choose to believe says it has been.