Guest Post: East End Pride
Posted on April 1, 2011
This is a guest post by Julie Bindel
As a lesbian who has lived in London for most of my adult life I can safely say the police do not usually display prejudice towards the gay community, especially in recent years. On gay Pride marches officers on duty can appear to be having as much fun as everyone else, and take seriously any verbal or physical threats to the marchers from passers by.
But it would appear that when the insults come from Islamists it is a different story. And it would also appear that even gay white liberals, who should know better, are playing their part in covering up a deeply unpleasant tide of Muslim homophobia currently festering in the East End of London.
Last autumn, stickers began to appear all over the East End proclaiming that the area is now a “Gay-Free Zone.” “And Fear Allah: Verily Allah is Severe in Punishment.” The gay human rights journalist Johann Hari noticed one outside of the apartment block in which he lived, and said in his report about it, “I’d like to say I’m shocked – but anybody who lives there knows this has been a long time coming.”
But the plot thickens. Whilst it was known by gay activists from the offset that the stickers were the work of Islamist homophobes, Rainbow Hamlets, the forum for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people in Tower Hamlets, claim that it was a gay man, one of the organisers of the forthcoming gay pride party in the area who was behind the campaign after Raymond Berry was outed as a former member of the English Defence League (EDL).
Berry soon resigned from the East End Gay Pride Committee (EEGP) and a statement was issued confirming that the gay pride party, scheduled for April, would still go ahead. But other gay groups in the area did not agree and other gay groups withdrew support from the event, accusing EEGP of “stigmatising” Muslims and of having links to far-right agitators. The party was cancelled.
Police then claimed that it was the EDL that put up the stickers in order to unfairly malign the Muslim community and stir up further divisions and hatred in the East End. Having failed to take definitive action against homophobic Islamists in the past, police turned its attention away from the real perpetrators altogether, as it has since been revealed that the EDL were not involved in the sticker incidents. Further, according to gay human rights activist Peter Tatchell, the police have known all along that it was instigated by homophobic Muslim youths.
When Tatchell spoke at an event hosted by The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association recently he was asked how he thought that conflicts between the LGBT and Muslim community in the wake of the sticker incident could be resolved.
The audience was visibly shocked as he revealed that the police knew that an Asian youth was responsible for this homophobic act weeks ago. He stated that the police had CCTV footage of the youth being handed these stickers by extremists outside The East London Mosque. Furthermore, Tatchell revealed that the groups Out East and Rainbow Hamlets also knew that this youth was responsible. It had been revealed to them in a public meeting and they had been sworn to secrecy for fear of upsetting the Muslim community. There were cries of “shame” and “disgraceful” from the audience.
East London, which has the highest Muslim population in London, has seen a significant increase in homophobic attacks in recent years. The two are not unconnected – a recent survey by Gallup found that no British Muslims would say that being lesbian or gay is “morally acceptable.”
Some gay spokespeople are still in denial about the sticker incident despite all the evidence that some Islamic extremists operate at high levels within the area. They appear to be more concerned with being branded as racist or ‘Islamophobic’ than they do to protect their own human rights.
I have witnessed homophobia in the area myself. On the way to dinner with a group of female friends last year I was handed a leaflet by a young man in traditional Islamic dress warning me that gay men were out to corrupt ‘our’ children
The East London Mosque is supposedly opposed to homophobia, with a spokesperson recently stating that, “We stand together with our fellow citizens against all forms of hatred, including homophobia.” Despite this, it has a bad record, including hosting talks by homophobic preachers.
The sticker campaign is not, in and of itself, gravely serious. It is deeply offensive, and of course can be viewed as incitement to hatred and prejudice. But this is not an isolated incident. Firstly, this is the second time the stickers have been distributed, and second, it comes after a spate of violent anti-gay attacks including violence and harassment. A number of gay men who had lived peacefully in the area until these attacks have actually moved out as a result of the atmosphere of intimidation and the fear of assault. What is gravely serious however is the apparent reluctance of the police in areas where political Islamists operate to intervene when they stir up prejudice against another minority group.
Alex Hopkins, a campaigning journalist and proud member of the gay community says he is “furious” that gay people have been treated in such a disgraceful manner in order to appease homophobes and bigots.
“The really logical question is: do we want groups like this representing us as a community,” asks Hopkins. “Do we really want groups who have hidden vital information advocating for us? Do we want groups who have continued to propagate a lie pretending to defend our rights?”
Hopkins is right to be angry with members of his own community for appeasing right wing homophobes, but our main concern should be about the apparent softly-softly approach of the police involved in this shameful affair.