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Queer Spaces: Opportunities & Threats by Luke Campbell

We may have been in various phases of lockdown across Europe over recent months, yet queer politics remains an ever present issue for we L.Q.B.T.Q.+ folk, but seemingly also for those who police and legislate our lives. Advancing the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland to protect and safeguard the lives of trans folk has been postponed; whilst cuts to community-run initiatives and Third Sector bodies across the U.K. continue to disproportionately harm low income, working class, and queer communities of colour. Simultaneously, on the European continent, governments are no longer debating the lives and rights of queer folk, but rather many politicians are actively dismantling legislation once designed to protect (to varying extents) gay or queer communities, and (at times) non-binary people.

The Polish President, Andrzej Duda, for example, has made ‘defend[ing] children from LGBT ideology’ central to his current re-election campaign. Historically allied to Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (the self-titled Law & Justice Party), Duda has produced what he terms his ‘family charter’ – a programme that protects a very white European hetero-normative and nuclear family model. The charter and Duda’s broader work has gained significant support amongst primarily right-wing but homophobic people more generally across the country during his presidency, demonstrated by the violent outbursts against participants in the 2019 Pride March in Białystok where participants encountered a heavily militarised presence surrounding a ‘family picnic’ event organised by the aforementioned Law & Justice Party.

More recently, as much as one-third of Poland has been declared as ‘Strefa wolna od LGBT’ (LGBT-free zones), and though the Provincial Administrative Courts have ruled these as unlawful and openly discriminatory, anti-queer activist continue to harass and intimidate same-sex couples, as well as trans and gender non-conforming individuals, many continue to operate as such.

These L.G.B.T. free zones emerged following efforts to reform Polish school education programmes to become L.G.B.T.-inclusive in line with guidance from the World Health Organisation, action which Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski committed to in early 2019. In terms very similar to those who experienced Section 28 in the U.K., the Law & Justice Party suggested that any such queer-informed programme would ‘sexualise children’. It’s worth remembering that hate speech against queer folk is not criminalised in Poland the way it’s meant to be in the U.K.The party’s current leader Jarosław Kaczyński has gone as far as to claim L.G.B.T. rights are ‘an import’ from Western Europe that threatens Polish culture and the position of the Catholic Church.

The small eastern town of Świdnik has in fact passed legislation outlawing the supposed ‘L.G.B.T. Ideology’; whilst Pink News reported that national and local charities will no longer receive financial support for L.G.B.T. inclusive practice. National newspaper Gazeta Polska even issued free stickers to readers proclaiming their towns as devoid of this supposedly damaging ideology. Once again this terminology will be familiar to those who’ve witnessed, encountered, or been subjected to ‘Gender Critical Feminists’ who denounce what they deem ‘Trans Ideology’. Inclusive events for peace and acceptance have occurred recently in Szczecin, Gdańsk, and Łódź, however counter demonstrations continue.

These attacks on L.G.B.T. rights are far from restricted to Poland. As demonstrated by a vote of 463 to 107 from M.E.P.s at the European Parliament in favour of condemning the proclaimed L.G.B.T. free zones. There was been some support for Poland’s queer communities as towns in France and the Netherlands severed twinning agreements with partners in the L.G.B.T. free zones, but the 107 votes supporting discrimination towards queer communities illustrates a far broader problem. Similar to Poland, the governments of Romania and Hungary have each banned gender and sexuality studies from all university curriculums; with the Hungarian parliament also voting through legislation barring transgender people from correcting their legal documents to their ‘acquired’ gender as opposed that assigned to them at birth.

In the face of this, there are individuals and organisations taking action against the right-wing ideological perspectives and bans on queer rights. One such example is Antonella Lerca, a queer trans Roma woman working towards her parliamentary candidacy within the Romanian capital. Yet international officials present in these nations, such as the U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, have suggested the international response and condemnation from queer communities and their supporters have been an overreaction to the situation.

Mosbacher’s comments, as well as ignorant, may also be related to new ties between the U.S. and Polish governments that will see thousands of U.S. soldiers become stationed in the Eastern European nation. In Hungary, Prime Minister Orbán has worked with the World Congress of Families, a U.S. right-wing Christian hate group with a track record of anti-L.G.B.T. campaigning. Like the Polish town of Świdnik, the southern Hungary town Ásotthalom passed short-lived legislation banning same-sex education as well as any learning centring on Islam.

Clear wars are taking place against queer folk throughout Europe, but also well beyond. Brazil continues to have the highest L.G.B.T. murders, whilst Congressman Jean Wyllys stepped down from his role following continuous death threats based on his sexuality and is understood to have fled the country. In the U.S., whilst it was announced that the country’s highest ever percentage of openly queer folk are standing for election, last year the American Medical Association described violence against trans people as a national epidemic. Violence against black transwomen in particular remains a constant, with five such women murdered in June 2020 across four states – their names were Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Draya McCarty, and Bree Black.

As global sporting bodies award many of the most financially lucrative hosting rights to nations with proven records of human rights abuses and anti-gay laws (Russia hosting the Winter Olypics 2014; Qatar set to host the Men’s F.I.F.A. World Cup in 2022), the passive acceptance of mainstreamed queer-phobia remains evident. This begs the question of what we in Scotland can do to support those in our own nation state whilst also aiding folk in countries where acceptance is being rolled back or violence towards queer people is treated as the ‘norm’.

Domestically, we can continue to lobby our current elected representatives – some of whom have been vocal in their support of the progressive reformations to protect transmen and transwomen; though others have spoken out against such protections – yet the reality is that writing to politicians can only achieve so much – votes hold them more accountable. Recent support for the S.N.P., though particularly for Nicola Sturgeon, has remained steady and even advanced based on her perceived handling of the pandemic, yet the complex reality that is the multitude of battlegrounds in Scottish and broader U.K. politics means that supporting and advancing the protections for queer communities is merely one ongoing battleground.

Scottish independence is an ever constant, whilst the eligible Scotland-based electorate (on the whole) splintered further from U.K. politics by supporting sustained membership of the European Union. Consequently, even those S.N.P. politicians who have shown themselves to be trans-exclusionary in their various forms of feminism (where present) will likely retain electoral support for what their party represents more broadly. We’re unlikely to see any radical overhaul from the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party, or the newly founded groups of ‘Alliance For Independence’ / ‘Max the Yes’, Independence for Scotland Party, or these Salmond and / or Wings parties, each of which will rely heavily (or stand exclusively) for list seats.

Electoral politics is, therefore, unlikely to achieve much for queer folk in the coming months. We consequently have to turn to everyday activism to see genuine acts of mutual aid and solidarity. In the Scottish capital, volunteer-run M.A.T.E. (Mutual Aid Trans Edinburgh) was established by local activists to supports trans and queer people during the Covid-19 pandemic, providing assistance with accessing healthcare, completing welfare forms, shopping, collecting prescriptions, etc. for those who were ill, isolating, shielding, or housebound for other reasons. The teams involved were also able to signpost to other existing services ranging from S.W.A.R.M. (the Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement) to several hardship funds dedicated to marginalised communities.

It’s also important to note new initiatives emerging during these latter stages of the lockdown – particularly two new queer sober spaces within the Scottish central belt, each intending to break with what have at times been problematic or toxic relationships to substance abuse within certain elements of our spaces. In September 2020, The Greenwood (Edinburgh) is set to come under new management as its becomes an explicitly queer venue, whilst in the west coast QuTo Glasgow ‘are working towards a safe space especially for people who identify as queer, disabled or BPOC (Black or person of colour) or those looking for spaces free from alcohol and other substances’. Supporting these safe zones for queer folk is vital to our general wellbeing, emotional and physical safety, and also to our emotional and mental health.

This issue really hit home for me just two weeks ago when I saw a French student post in a local queer Facebook Group asking for suggestions of the safer or more accepting places to stay in Edinburgh. Most respondents merely suggested Leith, yet several replied strictly advising against my neck of the woods – north Edinburgh (Pilton, Granton, Muirhouse, etc.). As if by coincidence, a few days later two young lads tried to intimate me outside the local McColl’s for wearing my black nail varnish. Similarly, a conversation with a colleague at another educational institute about queer life in Dundee promoted him to comment that ‘Dundee certainly isn’t Glasgow’, adding that most same-sex couples he knew would be quite cautious about holding hands late at night in the city centre. So please, support your local queer spaces, organisations, and networks. For those of you in Glasgow, I highly recommend LeGit Boxing, a queer boxing club in the city centre.

But what about supporting others abroad? As noted above, the U.K. set to leave the E.U., so (limited as it is) engaging our M.E.P.s and pressuring them to support queer rights will no longer be an option. The great frustration we face is that individually we are limited in our time, capacity, reach, and resources. Whilst we can organise and act locally, we often rely on elected officials to represent us. In the case of international sporting events, once again we can only pressure our respective associations to advocate for inclusive practices that demand reforms for safety and the protection of human rights in candidate host nations.

So what are we left with? A friend of mine recently proposed a contingent of us travelling to Poland for Pride 2021 – no longer merely utilising online platforms to express our solidarity, but rather embodying our politics by joining with local residents and queer folk in an in-person form of support. This, of course, places a financial demand on anyone wishing to participate. Similarly it places activists and demonstrators in danger given the  precedent of violence leading to further concerns over physical mobility, linguistic barriers, and navigating unfamiliar territory. For me, I hope to be in a position that this is an option come 2021, but for now we remain focused on what we can do immediately from within our own communities.

As internationally-oriented as I’d like to be in my politics and activism, I find myself partially reduced to the slogan of ‘think global, act local’ that we own see association with environmental campaigns. Our individual reach is restricted, so if we can work towards safety within our own communities, this is a major first step – so once again I encourage you to support local queer businesses and sports clubs, but also your L.G.B.T. charities and artists. Beyond that, however we can continue to raise awareness. In our political parties, campaign groups, and activist networks we can invite representatives of these communities to share their experiences with us – be that folk now living locally to us with sustained links to their former homes, or those who can join us via online video communication.

We can, as far as possible, be the conduits for relaying their stories, help identify new platforms that raise an international awareness, and that instruct us on how best to support them – even if that is as simple as statements of solidarity, letting them know they are not alone in their struggles. A commitment to self-education through reading, listening to, or watching accounts from folk with lived experience of these issues is essential, but with the best of intentions, our international solidarity must be led by them. The current pandemic has shifted many events to online spaces. If you have the resources through which to access such sessions, I encourage you to do so.

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In closing, shou-touts to several organisations to can provide aid, support, or assistance to queer folk domestically:

L.G.B.T. Youth Scotland; L.G.B.T. Health & Wellbeing; Traveller Pride; L.E.A.P. Sports Scotland; the Scottish Trans Alliance; Equality Network; Glasgow L.G.B.T. Centre; the T.I.E. Campaign; L.G.B.T. Domestic Abuse Project; and Imaan (London).

Luke x

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