The ongoing refugee crisis has seen no shortage of anti-Islamic rhetoric. And as the Islamophobic sentiment ramps up, those who perpetuate it will sink to new depths to justify it, to normalize it and dispel any suggestion of fascism. The latest attempt at validation came last weekend from UKIP’s David Coburn, who suggested an influx of Muslim refugees would threaten the safety of Britain’s LGBT population.
“Many of these people, as we’ve heard, are ISIS,” Coburn, UKIP’s MEP and most senior gay figure, told Buzzfeed. “I don’t know about you but I am a homosexual and I do not want to be stoned to death."
Hyperbolic, hysterical, and laced with bigotry, his comments are also egregious pinkwashing — an attempt to mask his prejudices behind a seemingly pro-LGBT agenda. That the right is now willing to embrace certain elements of the queer community demonstrates how normalised they have become. But using LGBT issues as a promotional for promoting a fascist mentality bastardises the movement. It debases the very essence of the liberal values the movement was conceived under: freedom from oppression and freedom of expression, inclusion, and equality.
More importantly, it ignores the fact that many refugees are themselves LGBT, fleeing the persecution Coburn fears they bring with them.
It’s certainly not the first time the far-right have adopted pinkwashing as a means of justifying racism. Homonationalism — the favorable association of LGBT rights with nationalistic ideals — has been steadily rising in recent years. Even the far-right English Defence League has its own LGBT faction (though this appears to be somewhat diminished).
As UKIP’s party core has surged, so too has its LGBT group, with thousands of combined likes on their Twitter and Facebook profiles. Back in July, they infamously infiltrated London’s Pride parade after being banned from marching, unfurling banners which warped the Stonewall charity’s slogan: "Some Gays are UKIP, Get Over It." As the party desperately tries to prove they’re not fascist, they’ve continually pushed their apparent pro-LGBT stance and the existence of this group: How can we be xenophobic if we’re pro-gay? They’ve even selected a gay candidate to run as their mayoral candidate for London.
UKIP are not the only guilty culprits of pinkwashing in politics though. Under Cameron’s government LGBT issues have become heavily politicized, used as a rebranding the Conservatives as a modern party. But when it comes to tackling issues specific to the community — LGBT youth homelessness, asylum, inclusive SRE education, to name a few — same-sex marriage remains the legislative outlier (and probably the least urgent).
Just like UKIP, the UK government’s pinkwashing is designed to make them more palatable. Just like UKIP, it’s marred in hypocrisy.
It’s pinkwashing when the UK lauds the recent arrival of same-sex marriage and proclaims the UK a haven for LGBT people, yet continues to arm regimes like Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality and transgenderism are punishable by, among other things, flogging, chemical castration, or death.
It’s hypocrisy when Cameron champion’s the UK as the most progressive in Europe or tries for political points over international rivals like Russia, but forgets that until recently the Home Office was detaining LGBT asylum seekers indefinitely, forcing them to prove their sexual orientation or gender identity with archaic ‘tests’ and deporting them to countries where same-sex is illegal, sometimes punishable by death.
It’s negligence when the government criticises states with a poor record on LGBT rights, yet forgets that institutional homophobia was a British invention, an export of British Empire. Many LGBT asylum seekers are fleeing countries that still use these laws to persecute. If the UK is to take it’s role as an ambassador of LGBT rights seriously then it must properly assist activists in those countries which are still trying to emancipate themselves from the shackles of colonial anti-gay laws. The international LGBT community needs resources, not rhetoric.
More and more politicians and parties are tactically affiliating themselves with the queer cause, pinkwashing their transgressions. But the queer movement is worth so much more than that. It’s not a moral compass, a barometer for right and wrong. Nor is it a panacea for the guilty conscience, a booster for improved polling, or a justification for restricting basic human rights. It’s most definitely not a defence against racism, xenophobia or the persecution of the vulnerable.
As for Coburn’s comments regarding the apparent barbarism of refugees: lLst August, atrocities committed by ISIS prompted the Muslim Council of Britain to publicly denounce those who perpetuated them, stating "Not In Our Name." To those, like Coburn, who debase the LGBT movement, co-opting it for their perverse nationalistic ideologies and fascistic principles, the same applies.