Friday, 7 August 2015

Still Pulling up the Drawbridge: Cultural and "Physical" Erasure.



Two things have happened this week which suggest that LGBT rights are not what they should be, or at least LB and T rights. The apparent erasure of trans people, lesbians and bisexual people from the film “Stonewall” to be released in September essentially rewrites history, erasing people like Silvia Rivera who played arguably the most important role in the riot which started Gay Lib and eventually LGBTI rights movements.

This is important not merely because we need to remember our history but to recognise that cis gay people continued to erase trans people in particular from LGBTI rights for a long while afterwards. Veteran trans rights campaigner, Denise Norris explains;

"My blood is boiling. The seed crystal in final creation of LGBT arrived in 1994 when G&L excluded T (&B) from the main Stonewall 25 march in NYC because T inclusion would hurt G&L chances at equality. We could march on the secondary, less visible, parade, we were told (sort of like being told we should ride at the back of the bus). At the same time, T was being excised from the official G&L Stonewall history. T pushed back on the systematic erasure, threatening to block the parade on Fifth Avenue. Eventually, G&L resistance broke and here we are today.

Today, two decades later, we are revisiting the same revisionism now in a major Hollywood movie.”

Strong words from someone I know does not often express such forthright opinions these days.

In other words the revisionism of the early 1990s is back. This revisionism harmed trans people in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the early part of this century, the fact that the director is continuing to engage in this can only be cause for serious concern. The LGBTI rights campaigning organisation in the UK of the same name, Stonewall, has become trans inclusive at last and their wonderful director Ruth Hunt has ensured that this erasure will not continue from their side, and we await this organisation's response, which will doubtlessly be considered and inclusive. However it would appear that some cis gay men still have not understood the past and how they have pulled up the drawbridge on trans people again and again and again since 1969.

It now appears that the film will, rightfully, run the gauntlet of trans protests both outside venues where it premieres and online. This is not only to be expected but should serve as a wake-up call to the cis-male dominated film industry. One would like to imagine that it might constitute a learning experience but I have enough experience to know that this is unlikely to be the case.

However more seriously the United Nations has also engaged in an erasure this week, removing LGBTI rights from its development goals. This is no cultural erasure like Stonewall, it will result in physical erasure (i.e. death) of LGBTI people through state-sponsored murder and oppression and worse and through religious and culturally-inspired vigilanteism encouraged by the state authorities turning a blind eye to crimes against LGBTI people. 

Despite the fine speeches by Ban-Ki Moon, and many countries that have supported LGBTI rights including my own, the United Kingdom, these countries have failed to stand up to oppressive regimes, from Russia to Zimbabwe, from Mongolia to Lithuania which have had LGBTI rights removed and who encourage, or connive with, transphobes and homophobes. The UN has failed in its duty to these people. This will cost lives. It will embolden those who, around the world, are violently and oppressively resisting the advance of LGBTI people’s rights, it will have an important actual and symbolic effect, it will let the Putins and Mugabes of this world off the hook.



It reminds us that, although the erasure resulting from the Stonewall movie is serious, it is not as serious as the erasure of LGBTI people in some countries by the UN. Here in the UK we can, and will, oppose Stonewall the movie, we will make our point through social and mainstream media as well as outside cinemas where it is playing, we will un-erase the people upon whose shoulders we stand. We can do that because long fought-for rights have made that possible, but we should not forget our LGBTI siblings in countries where their genders, their sexualities, and in some cases their bodies, are illegal or the cause of oppression, presecution and death, countries where attending Pride marches means risking death or imprisonment. Countries where being yourself can be a death sentence.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, Stonewall, no the actual historical incident, not its decades-long cultural erasure, should remind us about something important. It shows that we in the 'civilised West' have violently oppressed (and in some cases continue to do so) LGBTI people in our recent past. Even a war hero was not able to escape this oppression. we should be careful about how we regard these jurisdictions in relation to our own societies.

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