Gay rights: end the silence

First published in Communist Student no.3

Surely, the left fights unequivocally for the rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals? Unfortunately, it’s not so straightforward, says Nicholas Jones

At first glance, it seems that the issue of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people has reached unparalleled prevalence on the far left. Every year, the issue features relatively prominently at ‘Marxism’ and ‘Socialism’, the public events sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party respectively. But in the last five years or so, there has been an abdication of basic solidarity – a trend all communists and democrats must fight against.

Accusations of retrospective homophobia levelled at the former Militant Tendency are dismissed as nonsense by Socialist Party comrades, or simply attributed to the lingering ideological baggage of previous political leaders. Such as Socialist Appeal’s Ted Grant – a man prone to describing the movement for gay liberation as “petty bourgeois” nonsense.1

However, it is the SWP which is the most guilty today. Comments made by Lindsey German most clearly show how the SWP is trying to accommodate to potential allies to its right (in this case, the mosque, leaders of the muslim establishment and businessmen in east London). Notoriously, she said at a meeting at Marxism 2003: “I’m in favour of defending gay rights, but I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth.”2

Just like on the question of abortion, it took an explicit and heavily contended motion at Respect conference to enshrine – if just formally – that Respect stands for the rights of LGBT individuals.3

I cite these examples not for the joy of the inarticulate genuflection within which they are couched, but to instead suggest it is expressive of the wider politics of the SWP’s role inside and outside of Respect. Beyond the lip-service occasionally paid to the issue at conference time and in policy documents, scant attention is paid to the rights of the oppressed minorities they begrudgingly champion.

This is perhaps most clearly the case when it comes to the situation in Iran. Reading the pages of Socialist Worker, you would not know that there even existed a persecuted LGBT movement in Iran. This belief coincides with the views of London Central Mosque cleric Sheikh Sharkhawy, who has been quoted as saying that homosexuality simply “does not exist” in the Islamic Republic of Iran.4

The most obvious rebuttal of this statement lies in the – admittedly scant – media coverage of the hanging of gay teenagers, which gay rights organisations such as Outrage have publicised. The threatened deportation from the UK of Iranian lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh – to near certain “arrest, imprisonment, torture, lashings and/or possible execution”5 – also looks set to be met with silence from some quarters.

This silence extents to the struggles of other democratic and progressive movements in Iran. In their blatant attempt to side with ‘the enemy’s enemy’ (and there is no country the US currently despises more than Iran), the SWP comrades are forgetting the most basic principles of solidarity and end up as apologists for this reactionary regime.

* The newly established Hands Off the People of Iran campaign fights against both an imperialist attack on Iran and the theocratic regime there. Hopi actively supports the LBGT, women’s, workers’ and trade union movements in Iran.

To find out more about Hopi or book a speaker for a meeting, visit or phone 07950 416 922.

2. Weekly Worker July 10 2003:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *