The open letter from Out East to the organisers of East End Pride

As a result of the recent homophobic stickers that appeared in Shoreditch, Stoke Newington and broader East London, you have decided to organise a Pride March event on the 2nd April. Out East, with other local LGBTQ community groups, has great concerns about this demonstration and we have decided neither to participate in the event nor to call our supporters to be part of it, and we think it important to express the reasons why.

Firstly, it is not clear who is behind the stickers and the police are still investigating that issue. However, what is clear is that the message of the stickers identifies Islam as the cause for this hate. There have been allegations that it is an attempt from far right groups to stigmatise Muslim people. Whether this is true or not, what will remain in people’s minds is that Muslim people as a whole group are the cause for homophobia. It may not be the intention of East End Gay Pride to endorse this message but having a short term response and an emotional reaction to these stickers risks antagonising and scapegoating Muslim communities. Out East refuses that LGBTQ rights or pride demonstrations are used to promote islamophobia even if not intentionally. Furthermore the council, the mayor, the East London Mosque and the interfaith community worked with local LGBTQ people to take a stand against homophobia and support the police. Neither yourselves or the majority of the media have highlighted this approach, leaving the wrong impression that the east end is actually in danger of becoming a ‘gay-free zone’.

Secondly, we have serious concerns about the close links that this event and some of its organisers have with the English Defence League. This ranges from one organiser stating they are supporting the event on the Facebook group, to inviting Facebook members with EDL logos as their profiles to participate, and some organisers having EDL friends on their profiles*. This has been further compounded by the fact that East End Gay Pride has banned anti-fascist group UAF from attending the event. In addition to this, East End Gay Pride organisers have made it clear that they don’t want the event to be political.

On the contrary, we believe that our response to homophobia can only be a political response and must therefore include all political groups who are working against all discrimination. Taking this political position automatically excludes far right groups who preach a message of exclusion and East End Gay Pride should make it clear that such groups, including the EDL, are not welcome at this event. Instead, the organisers of East End Gay Pride prefer to say that everyone is welcome as long as they don’t bring any political sign or banner. It is clear from comments made on Facebook and responses to articles referring to East End Gay Pride that EDL members will be tolerated if they carry no specifically political signage. If nothing is clearly done to prevent EDL individuals taking part in East End Gay Pride we have great concerns regarding the safety of all the participants, including LGBTQ people themselves who have been repeatedly the target of the far right.

*(Latte Labour blog, containing screen grabs of EDL presence http://lattelabour.blogspot.com/2011/03/east-end-gay-pride-update.html)

In addition, Out East believes that our response to homophobia must be political because homophobia is a system which is present everywhere and not only a hate feeling from particular groups or individuals. Homophobia is not caused only by one particular group but is part of broader society and has political roots. It is easy to portray other minorities (even unintentionally) as the cause of homophobia rather than, for example, questioning the lack of means to fight discrimination in a period of cuts in public services. Instead, we want to highlight the intersection between sexuality, gender, race and class oppression. Homophobia is fed by political practices and ideologies which in turn encourage individuals to commit discriminatory acts.

Thirdly, we believe that the most appropriate response to the stickers is to liaise with Muslim communities and others to create bridges and communicate with each other. We want both homophobia and islamophobia addressed as a collective problem and not feed one against the other, we do not recognise these as distinct categories. We will refuse any attempt to divide our communities or take the risk that an LGBTQ event is used to oppress other marginalised groups, in particular LGBTQ Muslims who will be the most affected by this rising antagonism.

We cannot disconnect this particular event from the more general trend in western countries to use LGBTQ liberation campaigns and feminism as a way to stigmatise migrants and Islam as a monolithic culture or Muslim people as uncivilised, barbaric terrorists or hateful invaders.

We applaud the work of Rainbow Hamlets, the Tower Hamlets LGBT Forum to which we belong. It is building meaningful open dialogue between all communities, so that each addresses issues of homophobia, transphobia, islamaphobia and racism in their own midsts. We, in common with Rainbow Hamlets, would like public meetings to happen in East London where LGBTQ and Muslim communities come together and discuss the issues of homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia and racism and how we can all fight together against all discrimination. We welcome working with the local councils in East London to facilitate the organisation of these public meetings by providing safe spaces in which to meet and link all of our groups and organisations together.

For all the reasons above, we call on you and the organisations supporting this event to cancel it with a view to working with the local communities of the East End to ensure active, inclusive responses are made to homophobia, which do not inadvertently contribute to community tensions.

We encourage all other groups who agree with us to co-sign this letter and those already involved to reconsider their support.

On behalf of Out East,

Thierry Schaffauser, Chair.

Terry Stewart, Hackney Community Engagement Board.

[Denis Fernando of Unite Against Fascism and the Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils have also given their support to the letter]