Comment: Let me tell you all about ‘pinkwashing’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Writing for university student and LGBT campaigner Gary Spedding warns of the dangers of separating LGBT rights from human rights when profiling individual countries. He feels it can lead to inaccurate generalisations and also creates a pecking order for equality.

In today’s world a great emphasis is rightly placed on minority rights as we review a country or area by how it scores in terms of human rights. Politically speaking this is how we identify countries that are espousing considerably desired values such as liberal or progressive democratic ideals such as feminism, gay rights and multiculturalism.

A resulting phenomenon of this methodical approach is that we separate or compartmentalise areas of human rights and basic equality away from the overall scope. If we begin segregating rights in this manner it can become highly problematic as the public do start ignoring the basic rights that a country is lacking in while blissfully favouring it for the rights it does promote.

For instance I’ve watched many friends and colleagues care little for the underlying problems in countries such as Morocco simply because they take a seemingly more progressive approach with women’s rights than surrounding countries in the area.

Pinkwashing is another example of separating specific rights from the main conglomerate of universal human rights. Admittedly the focus upon LGBT rights is warranted give the generational struggle that still exists for the gay community; it has taken huge sacrifice and mass organisation just to achieve basic equality and protection from discrimination in only some parts of the world.

Holding this in mind we should take a moment as a community to read and understand Sarah Schulman’s exposé of the deliberate misuse of LGBT rights that masks other human rights abuses behind a cloak of apparent tolerance and liberalism.

As a community our first priority has mainly been inwardly focussed on our own rights. This has seriously effected how LGBT people and our allies go about our daily lives; we prefer to holiday in gay friendly countries, we are more likely to drink in gay or gay friendly bars and we typically show unwavering support to countries that are good on LGBT rights issues. By this token, as long as the LGBT community struggles only for the rights of the LGBT community, showing near total disregard for other groups that are oppressed—arguably more oppressed than we—our struggle loses a great deal of its legitimacy.

Identifying the link between liberal democratic values and LGBT rights the state of Israel has continually engaged in a concentrated public relations campaign that grossly exaggerates its record on LGBT rights in the hope that we will choose to blindly support the small middle eastern state in its non-LGBT related engagements because, well let’s face it, those surrounding Muslim countries are horrifying to us LGBT people and the evil Palestinians persecute and hang us right so why should we care about them?

This strategy known as ‘Pinkwashing’ is designed in order to distract from or discount Israel’s systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians. Propaganda such as this plays upon a rebranding enterprise that is symbolic, yet powerful as conflicting elements that I outlined earlier, cause us to only see the parts relevant to our own community.

Israel has an LGBT rights record that should be commended and celebrated but this should be recognised with the knowledge that such rights are a fundamental part of any equal and diverse society which means they are inseparable from other basic rights, if the society is truly representative of a democracy.

Just because a country has a commendable LGBT rights record it doesn’t mean we can just ignore areas of human rights and international law that they continually violate with impunity – that goes for any country.

My working definition of ‘Pinkwashing’ is not focussed upon a single country like others and hopefully sets some clarity as it reads:

“A calculated flaunting of LGBT rights in an area, region or state which misuses the LGBT community image in a framework designed to cover up or ‘wash’ human rights abuses from public focus, criticism and knowledge”

As an LGBT rights campaigner I feel violated knowing that some countries misuse our global community in the context of political gain in highly divisive conflicts.

I hope others feel the same way and I’m looking for your thoughts.

Gary Spedding is a freelance Journalist covering the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

Views expressed in this article are his own and not that of

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