Did you know that the 17th of May is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia? I didn’t. IDAHTB (or whatever clonking acronym it goes by) has been going since 2004, and I’m sure it’s probably a well-intentioned and positive thing. GCHQ celebrated the day by getting itself lit up in rainbow colours. Dave Cameron promptly tweeted about it.
Cameron mentioned Turing, of course, because the life and suicide (in 1954) of Britain’s greatest code-breaker, Alan Turing, is a sorry episode of homophobia at work. But I’m sure that GCHQ is now as meticulously impartial and institutionally tolerant as any other government department, which is a good thing. In fact, I doubt the private sector will ever be able to match the public sector in this or any other aspect of employee welfare. Nevertheless, you have to give this light-show a thumbs-up. Except. Except, except, except. There are some humongous caveats.
GCHQ is an institution with no regard for privacy, that helps disseminates propaganda, and which facilitates death and division – and this is simply assertion of fact, not a criticism. Which is why, over on The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald describes this rainbow gesture as “a deeply cynical but highly effective tactic… Support for institutions of militarism and policies of imperialism is now manufactured by parading them under the emotionally manipulative banners of progressive social causes.”
He does have a point. Issues of equality are increasingly used as justification for military action. There’s a crowd of people, here and in the US, who believe we can achieve greater sexual equality in Iran, for example, by bombing and starving their people, and then forcibly imposing an undemocratic government on them. There are even people stridently insistent that this should happen, who consider any contrary position to be moral cowardice.
Most recently, this tactic reared its head in Russia, over the winter olympics at Sochi in 2014, in the aftermath of the Urkainian Euromaidan, and concurrent with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The media, and a swathe of government-funded NGOs, relentlessly pushed the line that Russia was a homophobic country worthy of sanction and boycott – policies which by no small coincidence were at that same time being pushed by Washington, Langley and the Pentagon for entirely geopolitical reasons. Russia certainly looks like a homophobic country to me (a Levada poll had 85% of Russians against same-sex marriages, for example, and a further 87% against gay pride marches) but let’s not forget that according to several studies, the Ukraine is more homophobic still. Russia’s vaguely worded law against “gay propaganda”, which proved so controverisal in the west, was passed in Kiev without a murmur of disapproval – or even awareness. And the extremely right-wing street thugs at the forefront of the Kiev coup, so ardently supported by the West, are the ones in the vanguard of Ukraine’s violent intolerance.
At exactly the same time Western governments were vilifying Russia for homophobia, they were effectively encouraging it in her Ukrainian neighbour. So these LGBT concerns are transpararently hypocritcal, even without taking into account the gross sexual prejudice to be found in other Western allies, such as Saudi Arabia. It’s worth stressing that homosexuality is not a crime in Russia, as it is in Nigeria, India, or all the Arab emirates, for example.
Incidentally, this “gay propaganda” we’re talking about? Much of it appears to be distributed by US- and NATO-funded NGOs, and it would be considered pretty provocative in many parts of the US and the UK, let alone Russia.
A final point. Russia’s biggest LGBT organization, the Russian LGBT Network, opposed the sanctions and boycotts and general Western hysteria over Sochi. It wasn’t really helping, they said. But all the organizations that beat the drum over Sochi were either Western, or Western-funded, and they did not care. Russian gays, like Russian Crimeans, Russian Ukrainians, like the Russians of South Osettia and Transnistria, like the Shia of Iraq and Yemen, like the secular Arabs of Assad’s Syria, or the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, simply do not exist in the eyes of the West. They are invisible people, and so they cannot really suffer. Their opinions do not count.
Before we send over the bombers, before we freeze the bank accounts, and before we commence our finger-wagging, holier-than-thou diatribes over the importance of sexual equality, or gender equality, or religious equality, or any other force-fed issue de jour, we need to respect our common humanity first. Tolerance comes from love and acceptance. It does not come from bombing, from spying, from propaganda, from hatred, from intimidation, from capitalist greed or imperial avarice.
There is something sickening and transparent about a regime which trumpets its tolerance for lesbians and gays and bisexuals and all other members of the sexual spectrum while denying the most basic human rights to Palestinians, or Russian Ukranians, or any other ethnic group. But it happens an awful lot these days.