Comment: Stephen Twigg on the parallels of homophobia and antisemitism

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February 2011 marks LGBT History Month in the UK. Together we will celebrate the achievements of the LGBT community and celebrate its diversity and that of society as a whole.

The organisers of the month encourage everyone to see “diversity and cultural pluralism as the positive forces that they are and endeavour to reflect this in all we do”. Such a positive message should go hand in hand with the responsibility to tackle the homophobic prejudices that persist.

There is an interesting comparison to be made here with the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the PCAA Foundation which provides the secretariat to that group. The PCAA Foundation seeks to use education as a basis for the elimination of antisemitism and states its fundamental belief to be that the struggle against prejudice and discrimination is not just the responsibility of the victims.

We have many common goals and ambitions. Indeed, in 1998 the late widow of Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta Scott King, said: “Homophobia is like racism and antisemitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanise a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.” Sadly, she continues to be proven right.

As Michelle Goldberg of the American Prospect Magazine highlighted, the rhetoric of homophobia mirrors the tropes of classical Jew hatred, a shady crew behind the global forces of modernism and cosmopolitanism.

Such conspiracy theories are given voice by amongst others, Scott Lively, a key figure in the global anti-gay movement whose Poisoned Stream pointed to “a dark and powerful homosexual presence”.

In addition, like antisemitism, homophobia is a global phenomenon sometimes spurred on by religious zealots. Terrible abuses of gays and lesbians continue to take place in many parts of the world including Russia, the Middle East and Africa including the murder of David Kato in Uganda.

In Lithuania in November 2010, an amendment was submitted for parliamentary discussion that envisaged penalties for ‘public propagation of homosexual relations’ – perhaps unsurprising in a country which is at the centre of the movement to re-cast the Holocaust as the work of soviet Jews. Whilst in the UK, we too are not immune from homophobic bullying and attacks. And the US Right continues to mobilise against LGBT equality.

In history too we find frightening examples of hatred. At the turn of the 20th century antisemites were already casting antisemitism and homophobia in the same mould, as diseases trying to corrupt a moral and upright society. In fact the gay and Jewish communities were linked in a more positive way, for it was the Jewish doctor Magnus Hirschfeld who was a leading homosexual rights campaigner. Dr Hirschfeld suffered verbal and physical abuse to champion equality and today Jews still play a proud part in the LGBT community. Perhaps that is why many far-right white nationalists still hold the laughable view that the gay rights movement is simply a tool of the Jews to effect the downfall of society.

Thankfully much progress has been made. In the UK,civil partnerships have been legalised and Section 28 has been removed. In the USA in March 2009, President Obama signed the UN declaration for the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide. Across Europe and Latin America there has been fantastic progress. And South Africa’s constitution enshrines anti-discrimination.

And so to the benefits of working together. I am told that the key lessons for other MPs who work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism are rooted in the need for education against antisemitism. In bringing together those of different faiths, academics across the Middle East and UK, or survivors of the Holocaust with children the APPG members have found talking and listening tends to lead to shared understanding of the desire for respect and acceptance. So too is education key to tackling homophobia and transphobia. In combating hate on the internet, at universities and in election campaigns the APPG is facing up to threats that target the LGB and T community too. In sharing and celebrating our successes whilst learning from one another, perhaps we can build a more understanding, proud and diverse society together.

Stephen Twigg is the Labour MP for Liverpool Derby West and the shadow minister for foreign affairs.