Waltham Forest Pride: we can’t arrest our way to liberation

A Muslim woman who abused Pride marchers has been arrested. LGBT people deserve the protection of the state as much as anyone else. But the original vision of gay liberation was never about getting the cops on our side. Colin Wilson thinks through the issues.

Photo courtesy of We are Waltham Forest Pride

A friend joked a few years ago that he could tell I was no longer a member of a Trotskyist organisation because I occasionally said things like “God, I don’t know what to think” or “this is complicated, isn’t it?” The joke comes back to mind in the case of a niqab-wearing and presumably Muslim woman who shouted “Shame on you, you despicable people” and a few similar things at the Waltham Forest Pride march on Saturday. The Guardian says that “She has been taken into custody at a north London police station.”

I can remember when LGBT people were effectively outside the law – if you were attacked there was no point going to the cops. In the 90s in Manchester we had a right-wing Christian police chief, James Anderton, who said, when AIDS came along, that lesbians and gays were “swirling around in a cess pit of their own making”. The Manchester cops arrested gay men on one occasion in the backroom of a club and dragged them into the street in their underwear. I was entrapped by the cops in a cottage, taken to Bootle Street nick at 2am and coerced into accepting a caution – when I asked for a solicitor (“sarge! He wants a brief!”) I was told there would be a delay, I would be put in a cell with who knows what drunken homophobe and  it would be much easier to get the whole thing over with.

The experience of Melania Geymonat and her date Chris, attacked on the bus a few weeks ago, was quite different. They felt they could go to the cops. I don’t trust the cops. I believe a society without police is possible and something to fight for. But in a situation where we have cops, I want them to pursue people who kill or attack LGBT people as much as they do attackers of straight people. I want them to conduct proper investigations when women make accusations of rape, which will mean more rapists are jailed. I believe that the killers of Stephen Lawrence should be locked up. I don’t trust the state, but at the moment, while we have a state and cops, I want them to treat the population equally.

But I also think that we’ve got where we have with LGBT politics because we persuaded people, not because coppers threatened them. I don’t like people shouting homophobic abuse. But it seems to me disproportionate to arrest them and hold them in police stations – particularly, perhaps, because I think of my own experience in Bootle St at 2am and how scary the inside of a police station can be. And I think this in particular in the case of a Muslim woman, because of the racist way the state treats Muslims, and because I resist any version of relations between the LGBT and Muslim “communities” which comes down to the claim that you have to pick a side. I don’t think, for example, that I’ve ever heard of anyone being arrested before for heckling a Pride march – I’ve seen plenty of people do it, but they were generally white, and yet the first person to get nicked is a Muslim woman in a niqab. Would the cops have arrested a Tommy Robinson fan in an England shirt? A nun? And in Waltham Forest it’s even more the case that we can’t choose to side with Muslims or with LGBT people, because the woman was specifically abusing members of Imaan, the Muslim LGBT group. 

We need to be clear about this in particular because the far right are keen to amplify any conflicts between LGBT and Muslim people. Katy Hopkins shared a video of the woman shouting at marchers on Twitter, suggesting that this was what you could expect in a borough with a high Muslim population. The hypocrisy here is striking – Hopkins’ alt-right pals are much more powerful homophobes and transphobes than a lone woman in north London. So it’s very reassuring to see a statement from the Pride organisers rejecting attempts to divide their community, which they see as the whole of Waltham Forest including both LGBT and Muslim people. 

As far as the police are concerned, I’m old enough to remember the gay politics of the late 70s and early 80s – including my first Pride in 1980, where a copper told me to fuck off. We weren’t fighting then for the police to be on our side, and if they are on our side and against Muslims now it greatly alarms me. We were fighting for what we thought of as liberation – and that’s still worth fighting for. Back then we were a tiny group against the world. Now it’s more complex. But the only way we will get anywhere, really, is by winning the Muslim woman, or people like her, to support us – and by winning LGBTQ people to support Muslims – and joining to fight the real enemy, by which I mean the ruling class and the state, including the cops.

Official statement of the Waltham Forest Pride organisers:

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