A union of Pride in the face of oppression
For the UK’s LGBTI community, last year marked a monumental step forward in the fight for equality – the legalisation of same-sex marriage. David Cameron cited its introduction as one of his proudest achievements of 2014. For once, I’m inclined to agree with him. Same-sex marriage is testament to where our democracy is in its attitudes towards non-discrimination, fairness and respect for the rights of all.
The Spartacus Gay Travel Index – listed within the Spartacus International Gay Guide – last year ranked the UK as one of its top 10 ‘gay-friendly’ countries. The guide rates countries based on fourteen categories, ranging from same-sex marriage to the death penalty for homosexuals. Unsurprisingly, we find ourselves leagues apart from the likes of Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran which come in at 136, 137 and 138 respectively.
However, turn the clocks back to the 1980s and you’ll find that life for Britain’s lesbian and gay community (the LGB – and later LGBT and then LGBTI – acronym began its use in the 1990’s) was very different and riddled with inequality.
Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 outlawed the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local education authorities. Surely, I can’t be the only one in thinking that this draws a scary resemblance in its use of terminology to Uganda’s recent anti-homosexuality act? Russia’s LGBTI anti-propaganda law also seems to mirror section 28 – the rhetoric that homosexuality is a ‘threat to traditional family values’ being a theme of both.
At what was the height of the AIDS pandemic, ‘queer bashing’ violence and murder increased, with little protection or sympathy from the police. The story of Ihar Tsikhanyuk, a Belarusian man beaten by police for being gay, resonates strongly here - trust in those served to protect us should never be misplaced, but unfortunately sometimes is. And as if that wasn’t enough, AIDS education, prevention and support groups received no state funding. No doubt this left many gay men feeling isolated, scared and alone.
Of course it’s not just homophobia that this period is associated with. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost, countless communities destroyed and many lives shattered when Margaret Thatcher’s government closed coal mines all over the north of England, Scotland and Wales. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) took on the establishment and called for industrial action in an attempt to defend the rights of its workers. Trade unions were branded by Thatcher as the ‘enemy within’ and many of the working-class people whom they represented were left behind, as those further up the social hierarchy prospered.
But, in the harsh and seemingly never ending story of injustice, hope can flourish. This is where a shared history begins – an unlikely union of Pride in the face of oppression.
‘Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners’ (LGSM) was founded at the start of the 1984 miner’s strike and immediately began raising money from within London’s lesbian and gay community for those taking part. For Dave Lewis and Mike Jackson, two of the original members of LGSM, this cause served to highlight the “parallels between their plight [the miners] and ours”. LGSM twinned with the South Wales mining community of Dulais, where the miners went on to lead the 1985 London Pride march.
In the years that followed, the miners supported calls for greater lesbian and gay equality within the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the Labour Party, and helped to build opposition within the trade union movement to section 28.
But despite its eventual enactment (section 28 was repealed in 2003) and the defeat of the miners at the hands of the state, what remains vitally significant and heart-warming about this historic companionship, is that two minority groups, both very different in culture and aims, could put aside their differences and recognise their commonalities. Their campaign was heard louder and clearer as a result and will no doubt continue to stand as a powerful and profound example of united activism in the face of shared marginalisation and belittlement.
We take comfort in the fact that we live in a country that serves as an example in its upholding and championing of equal rights for LGBTI people, what with same-sex marriage, adoption rights and anti-discrimination legislation. But, seeing as it’s LGBT History month, let us also remember our nation’s past, that tells a tale not so different to the struggles faced today by LGBTI peoples in countries such Uganda, Russia and Belarus. In doing so, we should also reflect on the power of voice, when differences are put aside… together, our voices are heard louder.
Thanks to Dave Lewis and Mike Jackson from LGSM for their help with this blog.
In celebration of our joint history, join the LGBTI and Trade Union networks on Tuesday 17 February for a free screening of the film Pride, which tells story of LGSM and the miners. Afterwards there will be a drinks reception with stalls and an opportunity to take action on a current case. We would love to see you there.
Tickets are free but they’re almost sold out – so be quick and book now!
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.