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Soapbox: Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants

Written by: Emma from Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants

The LGBTQ community has a proud history of campaigning, not just for LGBTQ rights but for the rights of others too. Interest in this strand of our history has piqued since the release of the film Pride, which fictionalises the story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) – a group of queer activists formed in the 1980s to support the striking mining community when Thatcher sequestered their union’s funds. Formed in September 2015, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants continues this tradition of supporting the struggle of other marginalised groups by taking action for migrants and refugees.

The scapegoating of migrants for a bewildering array of social and economic problems by our media and politicians is nothing new, but the venom with which this has been conducted since the start of Europe’s “refugee crisis” has been staggering. (Note the scare-quotes for “refugee crisis” because – as even the UN has pointed out – this is really nothing more than a ‘crisis of solidarity’ in Europe.) On one side of this ideological battle are disenfranchised individuals living with insecure immigration status or stuck in refugee camps such as the Calais ‘Jungle’; on the other, a powerful media establishment intent on drowning out their voices even as European governments fail to prevent them drowning in the Mediterranean.

One strand of this political and media backlash against refugees is the pernicious narrative that they pose a threat to LGBTQ rights in Europe. Take for example David Coburn MEP’s suggestion that accepting Muslim refugees may ultimately lead to us being “stoned to death”; or the Daily Mail’s selective concern for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Germany, who apparently matter suddenly if they are attacked by Muslims. For context: that’s David Coburn of UKIP, the only UK political party not to mention LGBTQ rights once in its 2015 election manifesto. Similarly, the Daily Mail was the only national UK newspaper not to mention the Orlando massacre of LGBTQ people on its front page the morning after the shooting.

Let’s be clear: this apparent concern for LGBTQ rights represents a cynical exploitation of our sexualities and an attempt to hijack our movement to promote a racist and Islamophobic agenda. As a society we desperately need to change the narrative on migration and, as LGBTQ people, we can start by challenging the notion that we should fear migrant communities and by resisting these attempts by right-wing nationalists to pinkwash their politics. The struggle for LGBTQ rights in Europe and elsewhere has taught us that a seismic shift in the public discourse about an oppressed community is necessary on top of – and is usually a precondition to – effective legal or other measures to improve their position. We therefore need to break the hold that right-wing politics has over the way that our society talks about immigration.

As a community with a history of abuse by the UK state and media, LGBTQ people should find solidarity with those migrants currently facing persecution here. Remembering that homosexuality was not fully decriminalized in all parts of the UK until 1982, we should have the empathy and the courage to wholeheartedly embrace the notion that ‘no human is illegal’. However the divorcing of the LGBTQ rights movement from broader struggles for social and economic justice has driven us off-course, leaving the community in-fighting over issues such as whether patently racist (not to mention frequently homophobic) groups like UKIP should be allowed to march in London Pride.

In the spirit of LGSM (whose common ground with the miners was simply a shared experience of oppression by the state, media and police), Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants is proud to stand in unqualified solidarity with all migrants – whether forced or voluntary, and whether LGBTQ or cis/straight. We are a group of activists from across the queer spectrum (the name was chosen for its historical resonance only) bent on leveraging the strength of our movement to improve the position of migrants in the UK through a range of tactics – where possible amplifying their voices and joining in their resistance.

We take creative action to push issues affecting migrants up the agenda and to send a strong, public message of unity between LGBTQ and migrant communities, disrupting the narrative that we are or ought to be in conflict. The past year has seen us bleeding into the Home Office ponds to highlight the violence being done to migrants by the new Immigration Act, dumping jewellery at the Danish embassy in protest at new powers allowing Danish police to seize valuables from refugees, “glitter bombing” SERCO’s headquarters to highlight their role in privatised immigration detention and burning £35,000 of fake currency bearing Theresa May’s face to protest rules allowing the deportation of non-EU migrants earning less than this after five years.

We are also building connections between LGBTQ and migrant communities and have worked with other LGBTQ, migrant and anti-racist activists to organise ‘No Pride in Borders’ entries in both London and Brighton Prides this summer (funding travel costs for asylum seekers to ensure they can participate). Earlier in the year we worked with the inexhaustible Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary to co-organise the first ever Peckham Pride event – a grassroots community parade protesting racist policing and immigration raids, building solidarity between local migrant and queer communities and resisting the commercialisation of pride.

We have mobilised LGBTQ people to join protests at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, anti-fascist demonstrations in Dover and migrant worker solidarity demonstrations outside Byron Burgers. Reviving the methods of LGSM, we have also raised money through street collections and fundraising gigs for refugee support organisations operating in Calais.

We believe in a society where no-one is denied the right to live, love, work and thrive regardless of borders, and are proud to campaign for a world in which no human is illegal. If Europe is indeed experiencing a crisis of solidarity, then we believe its LGBTQ and migrant communities can show it the way forward.

Free speech is a right that is worth preserving. We give our SOAPBOX pages to others to tell us their view of the world.

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