According to recent statistics, anti-gay prejudice in NI has risen dramatically in the last three years. Even, shortly after these statistics were released, Ulster Unionist Ken Maginnis on a live radio debate condemned the LGBT community as “deviant” and compared homosexuality to bestiality!
Local politicians have played a disgraceful role in stoking homophobia. Iris Robinson was named “Bigot of the Year 2008” when she described homosexuality as an “abomination”. Alliance MLAs have publicly opposed equal marriage rights and Sinn Féin take part in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade despite calls for a boycott from excluded gay groups.
This homophobia has a concrete impact on the lives of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. For example, Health Minister Edwin Poots has ignored medical experts and refused to allow gay men to give blood, as they can in the rest of the UK. More dangerously, it gives confidence to thugs who carry out homophobic bullying and attacks, which are also on the rise.
In the context of economic crisis and brutal austerity, right-wing politicians and religious figures will cynically try to use homophobia and other forms of bigotry to try to divide the working-class. The LGBT community has won many victories in recent years but these can come under attack as the establishment try to distract from the real issues facing ordinary people.
In the face of rising homophobia and the continued institutional discrimination that members of the LGTB community face – lack of equal marriage rights, lack of adoption rights, the blood ban, etc – there’s no denying that its essential that the LGBT community gets organised to take on the Stormont politicians on these issues and resist bigotry. There are groups which do admirable campaigning work but, unfortunately, there isn’t mass involvement. While the Pride events which take place here are important, they have become de-politicised and Belfast Pride is largely a commercialised festival. This must be change.
Ultimately, homophobia cannot be done away with on the basis of capitalism. As the current economic crisis has demonstrated, this system cannot provide jobs, homes and a decent standard of living for the majority. It creates the social conditions in which homophobic hatred and other prejudices can breed and are often fostered by the political elite. The struggle for real LGBT equality must be linked to the struggle for socialism – where the massive wealth that exists in society is used in a planned, democratic way to meet the needs of everyone, not just provide massive profit for a tiny elite.