Anti-LGBT+ hate has remained a central tenet for groups across the far-right spectrum.
Far-right movements have long persecuted and oppressed LGBT+ people. At worst, this has involved the Nazi imprisonment of more than 50,000 gay men, including an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 men who were sent to concentration camps, alongside lesbian and transgender people. Throughout the postwar period, anti-LGBT+ hate has remained a central tenet for groups across the far-right spectrum, with a recent, urgent example being Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has boasted of being “very proud” of his homophobia, and has claimed that he’d “rather have [his] son die in a car accident than have him show up dating some guy”.
However, anti-LGBT+ hatred has never been confined to just the far right and still, to this day, infects society more broadly, and it is imperative to understand and combat the challenges facing LGBT+ people.
The far right
It is no surprise that far-right movements have traditionally targeted LGBT+ individuals, given their tendency to emphasise traditional gender roles and family structures, to fixate on perceived societal decline, and to scapegoat minorities. However, it is not always a simple black and white issue. Whilst much of the far right remains resolutely and vehemently anti-LGBT+, some prominent far-right groups and individuals proclaim to hold the right to be gay as a core Western value. Whilst this voiced value is, in practice, very narrow and partly serves strategic purposes, explicit homophobia has become something of a dividing line for the far right in the West. There have long been openly gay, radical populist right and far-right leaders in Europe, such as Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, and as VICE states, figures such as Geert Wilders “have played to an LGB – but not T – crowd”.
This has especially been the case since the focus of many far-right groups shifted to exploiting anti- Muslim antipathy in the 2000s. By presenting Muslims as universally hating LGBT+ people, far-right groups seek to present Islam as incompatible with the West. British-born, US-residing former Breitbart figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos has driven this line, for example, recently writing for the ‘counter-jihad’ outlet FrontPage Mag that he is applying for asylum in America because “as a gay conservative in public life, [he does not] feel safe in an Islamized Britain anymore”. As an article in Slate states, for some far-right movements, such tactics also constitute “pinkwashing”, appearing gay-friendly to moderate their image and broaden the appeal to younger people who may be more supportive of gay rights than previous generations.
In the UK, the founder of the English Defence League’s (EDL’s) LGBT division, Tommy Cook (AKA Tommy English), also founded Gays Against Sharia, which held a small street demonstration in Stockton in 2018 featuring Anne Marie Waters, who is both a lesbian and leader of the far-right For Britain Movement. It is notable that at The Day for Freedom rally in May, the most significant far-right demonstration in London for years, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) introduced the drag queen Vanity von Glow (AKA Thom Glow) to the stage. It is also notable, however, that Glow’s performance prompted walkouts.
Whilst some may hold a sincere concern about attitudes in Muslim communities towards gay people, others have little genuine compassion towards LGBT+ individuals, and the far right widely continues to deride gay rights movements as overly sensitive and associated with societal decline. Many forgo pretences towards being gay inclusive.
Extreme homophobic material from the far right is readily available online, thanks in part to the white nationalist alt-right, and at its most fascistic, gay people have been presented as hostile parasites worthy of eradication. The London nail bombings may have been 20 years ago, but last year 20-year old Ethan Stables was convicted of preparing a terrorist attack on a pub hosting a gay pride night in Barrow-in- Furness. The BBC has reported that Stables was both a self-confessed neo-Nazi sympathiser and a self-hating bisexual man, and had intended to “slaughter every single one” of the attendees with a machete.
Despite a degree of divergence on the issue of gay rights, the contemporary far right remains near- uniformly transphobic, and increasingly vocally so as public awareness of trans rights campaigns increases. Notions of gender fluidity and pro-transgender policies are often held to be the result of malign, corrupting “cultural Marxist” doctrines. Yiannopoulos, for example, has labelled trans people as “deeply mentally damaged, and they are failed by a liberal establishment obsessed with making them feel good about themselves”.
This disparity between attitudes towards LGB people and trans rights is reflected in society more generally. Galop, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity, told HOPE not hate that far-right elements are capitalising on a widespread transphobia, evident when considering coverage of trans issues in the media. The Mail, for example, has run opinion pieces with titles such as “The transgender zealots are destroying truth itself”. As Owen Jones wrote in The Guardian, “just as gay rights was once seen as the preserve of the “loony left”, trans people are desperately lacking in influential media allies”.
A 2016 parliamentary report on Transgender Equality found that “high levels of transphobia are experienced by individuals on a daily basis (including in the provision of public services)”. In response, NatCen Social Research have written that findings from its British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey suggest that “the majority of Britons have supportive attitudes towards transgender people”, but “when probed deeper, some of that support becomes more qualified as you explore practical examples”. Its findings also state that only “About 4 in 10 [people surveyed] say qualified transgender people “definitely should” be employed as a police officer or as a primary school teacher. The need for radical improvements is starkly evident when examining hate crime statistics.
Of course, when exploring prejudice and discrimination against LGBT+ people it is certainly not enough to look at the far right in isolation. Rather, they make up just one part of a wider societal problem of anti-LGBT+ sentiment. However, while significant problems remain, there have been encouraging indications regarding the direction of societal travel on LGB rights, if not T, rights. For example, NatCen’s BSA findings report that the number of people believing that same-sex relationships between adults were “not wrong at all” has increased from 11% in 1987 to 64% in 2016.
However, while we have seen significant improvements over the last quarter century, progress has not necessarily been uniform across the whole of society. Unfortunately, elements of the UK’s religious communities appear to be increasingly out of step with wider societal trends when it comes to this issue.
For example, an ICM poll released in 2016 into attitudes amongst British Muslims claimed that 52% believed homosexuality should be illegal, and 47% thought it unacceptable for a gay person to become a teacher.
The study has faced criticisms for its methodological short fallings, but any evidence of prejudice and discrimination has to be taken seriously and clearly work has to be done to challenge such attitudes. Extreme groups will seek to exploit such sentiment; for example in February 2019, a school in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham experienced protests due to its “No Outsiders” programme, which includes education on LGBT rights. The Salafi-Islamist propaganda “news” site 5Pillars sought to capitalise and stoke tensions with inflammatory articles and a video.
Similarly, BSA findings show that the proportion of Christians who believe that same-sex relationships are “not wrong at all” has consistently been below the UK average since the survey began in 1983, although attitudes have improved significantly since 2012. Polling is hard to come by for other religious communities but conservative communities within many faiths have long had concerns about the increasing liberalisation of society regarding gay rights.
While all prejudice, whether rooted in religious faith or not is deeply worrying, it is particularly concerning when in elected office. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is rooted in an ultra-conservative form of Christianity and has a history of homophobia, has held the balance of power in Parliament since the Tories fell short of a majority in the 2017 General Election. Theresa May’s Conservative Party has proved willing to work with the DUP, which was founded by Ian Paisley. Among the MPs allied to May’s coalition is Ian Paisley Jr, who has stated that he is “pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society.” Despite May’s willingness to work with the DUP, it should be noted that the party, which is anti-same-sex marriage, does not yet appear to have influenced Conservative policy on this issue.
Understanding levels of anti-LGBT+ sentiment in society is vital, as it has a real and often tragic impact on LGBT+ people. Stonewall, Britain’s leading charity for LGBT equality, has impressed that whilst positive changes in the law have been made, “for many LGBT people, these legal changes have not translated into true equality, and for trans people in particular, there is still much progress to be made before they are fully protected and equal under the law”.
Whilst this overhaul is undoubtedly a factor in this increase, the Home Office’s Hate Crime statistics for 2017/2018 shows 11,638 incidents of hate crime based on sexual orientation (a 27% increase) and 1,651 for transgender people (a 32% increase), over the preceding year. Galop, who offer a range of support for victims of anti-LGBT+ hate crime, told HOPE not hate that they have seen a big escalation in use of their support services in recent years. A BBC Three analysis of homophobic hate crimes in Merseyside since the murder of Michael Causer in 2008 quotes an LGBT activist as saying that whilst the upswing is partly attributable to people feeling more comfortable about reporting hate crimes, and the police taking them more seriously:
“We’re more visible so we’re easier to find, and we’re easier to bash”.
The statistics also only show part of the picture. Stonewall’s 2017 report LGBT in Britain: Hate Crime and Discrimination, based on polling of more than 5,000 people, reported that 81% of LGBT people who have experienced a hate crime or incident did not report it to the police. Stonewall also reports that
21% of LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the past 12 months. Importantly, Stonewall have also found that “LGBT staff who are black, Asian or minority ethnic, trans or disabled” were all more likely to receive harassment and abuse in the workplace, with 10% of black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees suffering physical attacks from customers and colleagues in the previous year (compared to 3% of white people).
The internet age also poses new challenges. Stonewall’s 2017 report states that one in ten LGBT+ people, including one in four trans people, have been the direct target of “homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic” abuse online in the last month, and Galop’s Online Hate Crime Report 2017 highlights that “verbal abuse, insults, threats, intimidation, harassment, outing and doxing are all common components of anti-LGBT+ online hate crime”.
Whilst attitudes have slowly improved, and steps have been taken in the law, there is evidently much to be done to ensure that LGBT+ people are protected and treated equally in society. As the Conservative’s union with the DUP shows, unprecedented polarisation in the UK, and an increasingly unstable political climate, could lead to the de-prioritisation and neglect of vital issues such as LGBT+ rights. The far right will always be present to exploit such wells of prejudice.Download a PDF of the report here