Young LGBTQ people need the right to live independently: defend benefits from Labour leaders’ attacks

Ben Towse, NCAFC LGBTQ caucus

Content note – this article discusses homophobic and transphobic intolerance and abuse within families

Photo of Liam Byrne MP (Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills) at a podium

Liam Byrne, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, last week reiterated his party’s intention to deny 18-21 year olds access to Jobseekers Allowance (JSA). In his essay on post-16 education and training policy, “Robbins Rebooted”, he wrote that instead, young people out of work or education should be given a “Youth Training Allowance”, which would be means-tested based on their parents’ income, and which would be taken away if they did not accept training programmes and stay in them.

Like the Tories’ previous attempts to cut housing benefit to under-25s – which Byrne and Labour themselves criticised – this is a foul assault on all young people. Such policies blame young workers for their poverty and mass unemployment: as if by bullying us into “rolling up our sleeves” and getting stuck in, decently-paid jobs will magically appear for us to fill. But even more perniciously, because these policies are founded in the assumption that young adults should remain dependent on their families, they threaten particularly acute consequences for LGBTQ youth, among others. Labour is not only abdicating, once again, its supposed role as champion of the working class, but also its claim to a positive record on LGBTQ liberation.

The assumption that parents will step in to support young adults is all very well for those fortunate enough to come from families that are financially secure and accepting of their childrens’ identities and lives. But many families, for all sorts of reasons, either refuse to support their children, or make their support conditional upon their own views of who their children should be or how they should live their lives. This is not to mention those simply unable to supply the necessary level of support; some always fall through the gaps in means-testing systems. For LGBTQ young people hiding their sexuality or gender identity from intolerant families, some in fear for their safety, these policies mean prolonging the pain of being trapped in the family home. And many young people who are out of the closet are subject to intolerance and abuse, or are simply prevented from living as who they are. Financial dependence is frequently used as a tool by abusers to control their victims and prevent them taking action or leaving. Easy availability of financial independence from the family is a key class struggle demand for LGBTQ liberation.

Labour’s policy is based on proposals from the “progressive” IPPR think-tank, which says the system should mirror means-tested access to undergraduate maintenance. That system supposedly allows students who cannot rely on support from their parents to be recognised as estranged and funded as independent. However, to do this you have to convince Student Finance – and presumably in future your Jobcentre – that you are completely estranged from your parents and have been for some time. The burden of proof is, of course, entirely on the applicant (proving such claims can be difficult to do and a distressing process in itself), and if recent history is any indicator, harsh targets for cuts will be set that push assessors to reject the claimant. Moreover, none of this is any help to those who are in the closet, still living with intolerant families or even just keeping in touch: even unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation have been held against applicants. In this way, the system demands that young LGBTQ people struggling with their families, or even just individual family members, completely give up on their entire families and cut them out. A bitter irony, given the conservative moralising of the major political parties about the importance of the family unit.

And if young people don’t comply with the training “offered” to them, they will be cut off entirely. There is no guarantee that what’s provided will be remotely useful or relevant to each individual forced into it, and as with other benefits sanctions this is yet another example in which something painted as an opportunity becomes a moralistic stick with which to beat disadvantaged people, or cut them off to save money. Moreover, the IPPR proposals would fund this involuntary training by “redirecting” up to £1.5 billion from skills and apprenticeships for older adults: voluntary opportunities are to be raided to fund involuntary programmes! Parents’ access to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit will also be cut back from age 20 to school-leaving age, so they will be expected to support their adult children while having the means to do so removed.

Byrne only mentions JSA and doesn’t say whether Labour plans also to cut almost all young peoples’ access to Employment & Support Allowance, which the IPPR does advocate as part of the same reform. ESA supports those unable to work due to illness or disability*. Replacing it with a system that demands they “take responsibility” for training their way into work or lose the support they need to survive is dangerous and cruel, and in many cases nonsensically so.

The ruling class’ media and politicians rail against a “culture of entitlement” as they launch these attacks. The members of that same ruling class live lives of incredibly disproportionate privilege and luxury. The exploited working class of our world produces more than enough wealth for every human being on the planet to exist very comfortably. So it is not too demanding, but extremely modest to feel entitled, at minimum, to whatever share of that wealth is needed for us to live decently, and with the liberty to be who we want and live as we wish.

That means, from at least age 16, living stipends for every student, living wages for every worker, and full living benefits for those not in work or education.

Student and trade unions, left activist organisations, and advocacy groups like Stonewall – have a responsibility to take up this struggle. We should fight tooth and nail everyone pushing them, but Labour leaders who claim to stand for us, and who are theoretically accountable to the labour movement, must in particular be made to feel the weight of our anger and whatever pressure we can bring to bear.

 

*[CORRECTION: ESA is not only for those unable to work, but also those with a limited ability to work]

Alan Turing’s pardon: No more than a gesture

Alan Turing has been granted a posthumous royal pardon for his 1952 conviction for consensual sex with another man. If this provides a degree of comfort to some living LGBTQ people, then it’s perhaps a welcome gesture – but it’s no more than a gesture.

Neither Turing nor the many tens of thousands of others whose relationships were criminalised had done anything wrong. A pardon serves no purpose for a sentence already served. It is in effect an assertion that the conviction was correct, and that the convicted is “forgiven” their crime. In Turing’s case and the others not deemed worthy of equivalent treatment, the state should be seeking, not insultingly presuming to grant, forgiveness.

A picture of Alan Turing

It emerged this week Moazzam Begg, who sued the British government over his extrajudicial detention at Guantanamo Bay, was stripped of his UK passport. Royal Prerogative – the same authority on which Turing was pardoned – was invoked by the Home Office on the grounds that his freedom of movement was “not in the public interest”. Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling who signed the request for pardon, has – just in time for Christmas – banned prisoners from receiving parcels and packages.

Just as we oppose police brutality and repression against our political opponents, LGBTQ people can take no comfort in the state granting us freedoms by the same means it uses to abuse the freedoms of others.

State oppression of LGBTQ people in the UK of course didn’t end with the decriminalisation of similar-sex relationships. This is the first year that anyone who began secondary education in England after the repeal of Section 28 will graduate from university. Instead of fighting to rid the country of its shadow of ignorance and prejudice, we are having to fight its reinstitution through web filters, which are blocking access to basic information on LGBTQ health and well-being – bitterly ironic given Turing’s own immeasurable contribution to computing.

The web has given LGBTQ adults access to the information and support networks we needed to plug just some of the gaps in a generation of neglect. We should in turn demand that LGBTQ youth are allowed unfettered access to vital information about their own sexual/romantic orientations and gender identities. Simple “ok to be gay” platitudes are not enough. LGBTQ people – all people – deserve free and open access to a health service which promotes their mental, physical and sexual health.

Nor has the state divested from intrusion into and regulation of our orientations and identities. LGBQ people seeking asylum – if not told to simply leave and pretend otherwise – are made to prove their orientation in the courts. Trans people seeking basic legal recognition of their identities must pay for the privilege of the Courts and Tribunals Service prying into – and adjudicating on – the legitimacy of their gender. These submissions are no less of an intrusion than Turing’s own 5 page confession. We are who we say we are, and no government holds the authority to say otherwise.

The ceremony of the pardon then – “reflecting the exceptional nature of Alan Turing’s achievements” or not – stands in clear contrast to the reality of this (and all previous) UK government’s bureaucratic acceptance of LGBTQ people’s lives, and civil liberties more generally. There is plenty yet to be done in spite of the veiled triumphalism of today’s announcement.

For now perhaps the most fitting ministerial pronouncement to LGBTQ people past and present is that offered to Alan Turing in 2009 by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

We are sorry, you deserved better

No to anti-semitism! Defeat support for “Zeitgeist” at NUS LGBT conference!

The following statement is being distributed at NUS LGBT conference by Jack Saffery-Rowe, one of the NCAFC LGBTQ Officers. Please circulate widely. [Read more...]

USI Congress 2013 – Report from Aisling Gallagher, NUS USI Women’s Officer

NCAFC are republishing this statement and report from USI Congress, by Aisling Gallagher, NUS USI Women’s Officer

[Read more...]

Daily Transphobic Fail

Daily Failings

By Thais Yanez, NCAFC LGBTQ+ Officer, Trans* Place

 

The death of Ms. Lucy Meadows is not just another statistic or tragedy we have to protest against, it is the result of a campaign of bullying and discrediting led by the Daily Mail and Richard Littlejohn who would have Transgender people like Lucy disappear quietly and move away from their neighbourhoods. According to the columnist Lucy Meadows was “not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job”

In addition to the constant hateful reference to Lucy as a ‘he’ (as though if he said it enough ‘she’ would go away indeed), no attention was paid to her record as a teacher or the fact that parents, pupils and colleagues might have been supportive of her decision to transition. Littlejoh is in fact the actual man in totally the wrong job as he has dismissed his duty to truth and investigative journalism and used his column to spread his personal views which are fiull of hatred, bigotry and transphobia.

Last year we in the Trans* community had to mourn 267 of our sisters and brothers lost to transphobic hate crime which was largely ignored by the media. And that is the ones we know. Suicides seldom go reported as transphobia. We are in constant mourning as a community but it is ther families and friends whose lives have been shattered and whose loss we feel and we send our most heartfelt sympathy.

It is said there is no clear link between Lucy’s death and Littlejohn’s article of media coverage but the Guardian reports activists in the Trans* community received e mails from Meadows complaining about the stress she felt after her private and difficult transition became national news thanks to the Daily Mail. A heretofore competent teacher was portrayed in the triggering article as a ‘selfish’ ‘man’ who should have had “ the operation and then return to work as ‘Miss Meadows’ at another school on the other side of town” . Like if it would have been so easy to find another job. Unemployment in the Trans* community is high and thanks to bigotry like this is likely to remain so.

The Trans* people who go through with transitioning will testify how the process is not only stressful and lengthy but invasive and even dehumanising, as well,  as they are pathologised. Littlejohn hismself asserts he is ok with ‘sex changes as long as they are a medical necessity’. Thanks, then.  Trans* people are forced to justify their very existence to professionals that have never gone through anything alike. As queer/non binary person I can only imagine and sympathise with sisters and brothers who are put through this but I would not attampt to describe their feelings and experiences.

And like if this wasn’t enough Littlejohn patronisingly implies that children, who still believe in Father Christmas, he says, are too dumb to understand gender identity. I wonder if he would have them being brought up with his transphobic values instead, if they are not too young to be taught hatred and discrimination. Why does not safeguarding of children extends to the very paper on which he writes whose page 3 shows these children half naked women and teaches them thus that women can be objectified and exploited? Why does he not safeguard children from prejudice and intolerance that destroy lives?

His false cries for freedom of speech should not be louder than ours for freedom to exist.

Bigots don’t seem to realise they are harming children to the point of it being abusive by raising them up to hate others and have total disregard for other people’s rights. Why doesn’t Littlejohn complain about EDL members raising children. Why did not he show outrage when the French right wing Le Marif per tous held a rally in Trafalgar square to protests agains equal marriage on 24th of March and the dozens of children as young as three shouting against LGBTQ people getting equal rights. This group, which is banned in France, did not catch the attention of Littlejohn who seems to be only in the lookout for someone to bully to death. And he found Lucy. Rest in Peace, Miss Meadows.

e, Miss Meadows.

PROTEST Transphobia!!

TPOWERLast Wednesday 22nd of February our sister Ms. Dos Santos was victimised and mocked by police officers claiming she was ‘not normal’. When is this going to end? We face transphobia eevryday even from those who are ment to be there to protect us. If not even an allegedly LGBTQ friendly space like SOHO is safe equality and Liberation are far far away!

 

This protest is not only about or by or for Trans* people but everyone! It starts like this! 267 sisters and brothers in our community were murdered last year around the world and that is only the ones we know about! Most of them In Brazil. It was distressing and upsetting for us to read or hear their names in Transgender Day of Rememberence last November.

This is about basic Human Rights and the freedom to exist and lead meaningful lives. Martin Luther King said he had a dream: that his four children were “one day be judged not by the color of their skin but bybut by the content of their character” We have that dream too! We are thousands and we do not wish to be judged, victimised, taunted, mocked or killed.

According to witnesses, as reported by the Independanet (which nevertheless named HER with a man’s name) Ms Dos Santos ” had her wig ripped from her head, her handbag and purse literally emptied out on the road, so her personal belongings were damaged and scattered around her” she was then told to be ‘normal’. I do not want to know what our sister has gone through before, but a country like  UK which claims to be accepting is appaling as it fails to protect its residents from attacks some of us have fled from.

 

Join the PROTEST TRANSPHOBIA PROTEST at Charing Cross Station to actively resist discrimination, victimisation and prejudice. RESIST TRANSPHOBIA! Let’s make sure it won’t happen againg. EVER! LIBERATION, INTERNATIONALISM, ANTI RACISM AND AN END TO TRANSPHIC ATTACKS!!!

 

http://is.gd/KRxT38

 

Royal Holloway calls for Philip Hammond to resign over homophobic comments

Students protest against Philip Hammond

Last night, Royal Holloway Students’ Union (SURHUL) passed a motion calling for Philip Hammond to resign from his posts as both defence secretary and MP for Runnymede and Weybridge.

The proposers were NCAFC LGBTQ rep Jack Saffery-Rowe and Joe Rayment, who were both present in the meeting in which, among other comments, Mr Hammond said, when asked why two people who love each other shouldn’t get married, replied “Well, we don’t let siblings get married either”.

The motion overwhelmingly passed after half an hour of heated discussion.

Part of the motion called for the motion itself to be proliferated through student and liberation networks. And so, we hereby publish the motion and hope that those who agree with it propose it at their unions. Only through collective action on this can we call Mr Hammond to account on his blatantly homophobic comments made on the 25th January.

 

Motion to call for the resignation of Philip Hammond MP

This Union notes

  1. that Philip Hammond, MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, met with two members of this Union on Friday 25th January ahead of a talk he gave at the university on defence for the Politics and International Relations Society.
  2. that at that meeting he made numerous homophobic arguments against the forthcoming same-sex marriage bill, which will be put before Parliament this month, including comparing the relationship for a same-sex couple with that of two siblings.[1][2]
  3. that when later questioned on whether he said this, he has admitted to doing so.[3]

This Union believes

  1. that any two people who love each other and are committed to each other should be allowed to marry.
  2. that marriage is a right, not a privilege, regardless of sex, race, gender or ability.
  3. that homophobia is never excusable.
  4. that elected officials are in the public eye and so comments like the ones Philip Hammond made are not only appalling in themselves, but moreover promote homophobia in all its forms.

This Union mandates

  1. the President and Vice-President (Communications and Campaigns) to publicly call for the resignation of Philip Hammond. This should be done by:
    1. writing a blog post to be publicized on the website.
    2. publishing this blog in the Union’s media outlets.
    3. to write a letter on this issue to the Prime Minister.
    4. to adapt this motion as a model motion to be sent to other Students’ Unions around the country, using the NUS Jisc email, the NUS Zone and Liberation email lists, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the London Liberation Network, ULU and other student networks.
    5. the Vice-President (Communications and Campaigns) to write to NUS and request that they publish this model motion and an explanation on their website.

 

Proposed: Jack Saffery-Rowe (Campaigns sub-committee)

Seconded: Joe Rayment (Union Chair), Jamie Green (VPComCam), Oli Rushby (Student Trustee), Tom Harris (Academic Affairs Officer), Rose Walker (Campaigns sub-committee)



[1] http://anticuts.com/2013/01/25/philip-hammond-homophobia/

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/jan/28/philip-hammond-gay-marriage-incest

[3] On Radio 5Live’s Breakfast show on 31st January http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01q98mj/5_live_Breakfast_31_01_2013/

 

 

Royal Holloway activists confront homophobic minister

Philip-Hammond-protestActivists involved in NCAFC at Royal Holloway have confronted Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, over his comparison of homosexuality to incest.

The story has received a lot of coverage in Pink News, the Guardian and the Telegraph.

NCAFC stands for an education system that is free and accessible to everyone. This isn’t just about money: it’s about a bold, radical new vision of education. To win it, we have to confront and oppose bigots and homophobes on our campuses.

Jack Saffery-Rowe, one of the NCAFC’s LGBTQ reps who ambushed Hammond, said:

“The comments he made on the Tuesday were blatantly homophobic. We felt that as fellow students at Holloway and LGBT activists, we had to take the opportunity to confront him on this issue.

“The comments he made, particularly about comparing the love in a same-sex couple and an incestuous one, showed his true colours.”

For comment and press contacts, email [email protected]

Human rights are “a silly game”, according to defence minister Philip Hammond

Philip HammondTonight, over sixty people took part in an LGBTQ rights protest at Royal Holloway University against the Tory Minister for Defence, Philip Hammond, who is also the local MP for Runnymede and Weybridge. Hammond was giving a talk on his defence policy at the university. Hammond has in recent days made his opposition to same-sex marriage public, and has previously voted against many gay rights bills including the repeal of Section 28.  Present at the protest were activists from NCAFC-affiliate the Royal Holloway Anti-Cuts Alliance, representatives from the Students’ Union, student societies including Amnesty, Labour and LGBT, local members of the Young Greens, and from Workers’ Liberty, staff members, and a delegation from the neighbouring college’s NUT branch.

When the planned protest gained momentum, the minister’s aides agreed to meet two students to hear the protestors’ grievances. I was one of them and the other was Union Chair Joe Rayment. We questioned Hammond about his opposition to the Same-Sex Marriage Bill, and he responded that the bill would “redefine marriage” and appealed to its ‘tradition’. We responded that marriage, like many civil institutions, had hardly remained static, and that regardless equal rights should trump tradition. Hammond objected to religious groups being forced to marry same-sex couples, ignoring that the bill does not do this – and that religious opinion about same-sex marriage ranges from conservative opposition to support (for example from the Quakers), and has changed over time as well. He claimed that Maria Miller’s ‘quadruple lock’ of exemptions is not “robust enough” – in other words, does not do enough to limit same-sex marriage.

Hammond suggested that civil partnerships were sufficient, and we stated that for many people marriage was an important religious, or cultural, event, and that civil partnerships represented an ‘equal but separate’ divide in the law. As I wormed through his incoherent excuses, his homophobia surfaced. when questioned why I shouldn’t have the same rights as a heterosexual couple, he brushed the question aside as a “silly game” talking about human rights. And when asked why the state should be allowed to say who can and who cannot have their relationship recognized by the law, he retorted that you wouldn’t allow “two siblings who loved each other to get married”. He equated the love of a same-sex couple with incest*. This is the bile that the right-wing of the Tory party are pushing: the Victorian maxim that anything other than love between a man and a woman is as invalid as incest. He then abruptly left our meeting for his talk discussing Britain’s defence strategy and latest arms deals, pausing only to call use juvenile as we refused to shake his hand.

As he did so, he was greeted by protestors’ chants of ‘Gay, straight, black, white: marriage is a civil right’, ‘Hey,( hey), ho, (ho), homophobia’s got to go’, ‘Say it loud, say it clear, bigots are not welcome here’, ‘Unequal rights? We don’t buy it: we remember the Stonewall riots’, and ultimately, ‘Fuck off Philip Hammond, you homophobe’.

We plan to continue the campaign, having a variety of talks, film showing and action-planning meetings arranged for LGBTQ History month, and will visit Hammond’s surgery to continue protesting. NCAFC LGBTQ caucus will publicise and support any action confronting homophobic politicians, and urge you to organise them too.

Jack Saffery-Rowe

LGBTQ rep (open place)

(Demo photos to follow)

*EDIT: This post was written directly after the meeting with Philip Hammond. We were not allowed recording equipment in the meeting itself and so had to jot down what he said directly afterwards; this was complicated further by the mindset I was in directly after Mr Hammond refused to tell me that I shouldn’t be allowed to marry whom I love. When originally writing this I omitted the details concerning Mr Hammond’s comparison of same-sex marriage with incest. Though he did’t use the word ‘incest’ but strongly implied that you wouldn’t let siblings married. Joe asked “What right does the state have to tell two people who love each other that can’t get married.” he replied”Well, you we don’t allow siblings to get married either”.