Against capitalism’s anti-LGBTQ+ offensive — Build a militant movement for liberation

The choice is between socialist change or the intensifying repression and inequality offered by capitalism.

International Socialist Alternative Pride Statement

(This article was first published on 25 June 2023)

This Pride month LGBTQ+ people are facing an avalanche of attacks on our basic rights. From the brutal murder of transgender teenager Brianna Ghey in Britain to the hundreds of anti-trans bills introduced across the US, it feels like we’re facing an attack on our very existence.

This wave of attacks comes on top of the day to day crisis facing working class queer people around the world. LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately affected by cuts to basic social services and face high rates of poverty, homelessness, and gender-based violence. And even where trans healthcare is legal, attempting to access care often means years long waiting lists or obscenely expensive medical bills.

But while these attacks are particularly acute right now, they are not inevitable and can be beaten. Now more than ever, we need to get organized to build a militant LGBTQ+ movement capable of pushing back the right and fighting for a world free from all forms of oppression.

Anti-LGBTQ+ attacks escalate globally

In the US alone, over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced this year across 49 states. Florida governor Ron DeSantis has doubled down on the “culture war” rhetoric as part of his run for Republican presidential nominee, signing a string of laws that ban gender-affirming care for minors, make it a crime for trans people to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, and target drag shows. While right-wing offensive against LGBTQ+ people in the US has been a reference point internationally, it has by no means been contained to the US.

Laws and political rhetoric targeting queer and trans people have ballooned across Europe as well. In Hungary, the far-right Orban government has passed a number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws including a law that bans trans people from legally changing their gender and another prohibiting the discussion of homosexuality in sex education in schools. For the first time ever, the UK Parliament invoked Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill which would have allowed trans people to legally change their gender on their birth certificate without requiring a medical diagnosis. Meanwhile, 90% of people on the waitlist for an appointment at an NHS gender dysphoria clinic have been waiting more than 18 weeks.

In Russia, the authoritarian regime is strengthening its attacks on trans people and LGBTQ+ people. A new law is being pushed through which will bar gender affirming health services while at the same time allowing operations on intersex children without their agreement. People will be barred from changing their name or gender in documents — and those that have already done so will be forced to undo the changes.

At the start of Pride month an anti-gay law in Uganda made headlines globally. This law carries a life sentence or even the death penalty for homosexuality making it one of the most brutal anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the world. From full scale anti-LGBTQ+ bans to the dangerous scapegoating rhetoric used by right-wing politicians, these attacks have become a global phenomenon which demand a coordinated response. To win basic rights to healthcare, mental health services, and affordable housing, and to push back the recent wave of attacks on our bodies and our lives we need to get organized!

Rainbow capitalism exposed

Over recent decades we have seen a sea change in social attitudes towards queer and trans people along with victories in many countries for marriage equality and basic legal protections. Though politicians and big corporations pretend otherwise, these wins were not handed down from above, but were won as the result of militant struggle led by queer people, with support from the broader working class. Pride month is correctly seen by many working people as a yearly celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and the gains our movement has won.

During Pride month, especially so in the last decade when same-sex marriage has been legalized in many countries, corporations have jumped into the fray every June with rainbow logos and merchandising. Since the backlash has entered full swing, many of these same corporations are avoiding or even pulling Pride-related iconography. To the capitalist profiteers and their representatives in corporate political parties, whether to support LGBTQ+ people is a cold calculus of profit — this year, they feel they have more to gain by standing aside.

Where do these attacks come from?

Divide and rule is a central tool of the capitalist class and the current right-wing backlash is evidence that under this system anything we win can be clawed back. The right whips up their base around “culture wars” in an attempt to distract from the multitude of crises facing working people. From the climate disaster to war to skyrocketing cost of living, the capitalist system delivers one crisis after another and we’re the ones who pay the price.

It’s no accident that anti-LGBTQ+ laws have had a particular focus on trans youth. The right exploits the confusion of working class people by cloaking their attacks in rhetoric about protecting women and children using talking points about “groomers” and defending fairness in women’s sports. As well as drawing on the prejudices that undoubtedly still exist against LGBTQ+ people, they also use the social dislocation and mistrust of institutions among working people to try to create hostility against the small minority of trans people.

While the right-wing is particularly focused on using trans people as their latest scapegoat, these attacks can be linked back to a broader backlash. From the increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric to the attempts to prevent discussions on gender, sexuality, or racism in the classroom, to fresh attacks on abortion rights in the US and elsewhere the right-wing is on the offensive. In addition, the anti-LGBTQ+ bills themselves are not only an attack on queer people, but also target public education, healthcare workers, and open up the space for further attacks on other working people as well. While the right takes advantage of a lack of education among the general population about queer and trans people, education or exposure to LGBTQ+ people won’t be enough to push back the right. These attacks are part of a conscious political strategy which require an organized political response.

Organize to fight the right-wing backlash!

At the same time, the weaknesses of left movements globally has opened up space for right-wing ideas to gain traction. From the enormous protests around Black Lives Matter in 2020 to the movement in Poland to fight back against the near total ban on abortion, the 2020s have already been filled with huge openings for left-wing ideas. These movements, where LGBTQ+ people played a key role in many instances, provide a glimpse into the massive power that workers and youth have when we’re united. However, the movements have not brought about the type of breakthrough in mass, democratic, working-class organisation which is necessary if we are to fundamentally push back the right-wing.

On the whole however, this has not resulted in decisive victory for the right. Though movements have been pushed back, the underlying issues are simmering under the surface and will eventually explode again. We don’t have to accept our bodies and our lives being used as political cannon fodder for the right. While the situation appears daunting, it is essential to point out that this right-wing cynical fearmongering does not ultimately come from a real base of anti-trans bigotry among working-class people generally. This should be a source of inspiration for young queer people attempting to find a way to organize and fight back — with a program that can unite working-class people against these attacks and for demands that benefit the majority of society alongside trans people, these right wing attacks can be fought and defeated.

What type of movement is needed?

The right wing backlash poses the need for a new movement of resistance. Despite the confusion they can create, the right has not been successful in reversing the positive change in social attitudes to LGBTQ+ people which has taken place over the last years. The backlash we are seeing is not coming organically from ordinary people but is being pushed from above by right wing forces, sections of the media, political and business establishments.

To match up to the current situation, the movement needs to break with the limited and apolitical approach which has characterized the main LGBTQ+ organisations to date. This approach has focused on lobbying and building connections with capitalist politicians and big business as a means of achieving ‘steady progress’. But in an era of sharp polarisation and a resurgent right, we will quickly see the shallowness of the commitment of the ‘liberal’ capitalist establishment to LGBTQ+ rights.

What is needed instead is a new mass movement from below, of LGBTQ+ people, young people, women and workers to resist the attacks from the right wing and demand the right to self-identify, free trans healthcare paid for by taxing the rich, and increased funding for gender-affirming and mental health care to reduce wait times. This should include mass protests on the streets, walkouts from schools and colleges like the ones which have taken place in the US to protest anti-trans bills and action by workers, including strike action. Workers in sectors like education and healthcare are at the frontline of many new homophobic and transphobic measures and are particularly well placed to use their power as workers in the fight against them. An important starting point to build the type of resistance needed would be if Pride events this years were to be turned into occasions for defiant mass protest rather than the depoliticized and corporate occasions they have become in many places.

Build a fighting Pride Month

The LGBTQ+ movement needs to be linked to the struggles of all the oppressed and the working class as a whole. The forces that are targeting our rights are also targeting women, migrants, refugees and people of color. They attack the global feminist movement, the climate movement and the left. They are attacking the living standards of working and oppressed people internationally. They seek to impose a reactionary and authoritarian program on the entire working class. This means we need a movement based on solidarity and a united resistance to all the attacks of the right. A militant working-class movement could unite anti-oppression struggles with the re-emerging global labor movement around demands for free healthcare, housing, good union jobs to counter the cost of living crisis, and an end to discrimination and anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

This means reviving the radical traditions which are at the root of Pride. In the wake of the Stonewall riots in 1969, the movement which emerged was closely linked with other key social struggles including the anti-war movement, Civil Rights and women’s movements. Anti-capitalist and socialist ideas had significant influence and the oppression of queer people was widely understood as linked to a broader status quo of oppression and inequality. There were inspiring examples where the struggles of queer people linked up with those of workers, including in the 1984–5 Miners’ Strike in Britain where ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ built real connections with miners and their communities. In 1985, a contingent of miners joined the London Pride Parade and the miners’ union backed the changing of Labour Party policy to support LGBTQ+ rights.

We need a movement which rejects the false promises of “rainbow capitalism”. While capitalism will use the LGBTQ+ community both as a market to sell to and a way to present a liberal and progressive face for the system when it’s convenient for them, the truth is that this will not deliver real liberation. Capitalism has inequality at its core. The joint operation of homophobia, transphobia and the capitalist market means that LGBTQ+ youth are more than twice as likely to be homeless in the United States and trans people are twice as likely to live in poverty.

Fight divide and rule capitalism: Join International Socialist Alternative!

Capitalism has rigid gender norms, homophobia and transphobia in its DNA. Capitalism brought with it the nuclear family structure as the sphere where the unpaid domestic labor necessary for the reproduction of the system — including childcare, cooking and cleaning and care work — would be carried out, overwhelmingly by women. This setup was justified by an ideology which stressed idealized conceptions of masculinity and femininity as well as rigid expectations around gender and sexuality. LGBTQ+ people were targeted by criminalisation, pathologization and other forms of social control, which continue in much of the world today. Capitalism still relies on the unpaid labor of women, which is worth $11 trillion annually.

Despite the huge progress won in many countries by the struggles of LGBTQ+ people, capitalism has not fundamentally changed. Now this system is in crisis and dredging up every prejudice and division possible and threatening the rights we have won in the past.

More and more young people and especially queer young people understand that fighting for real liberation means being anti-capitalist. But we also need to develop a clear alternative to this system. That alternative is a democratic socialist society where the abundant resources and wealth are used to enable the free development of all instead of the profit of a few. It means taking the wealth out of the hands of the capitalist elite and bringing it under the democratic control of workers and communities. In this new society, no longer dependent on inequality and division but on solidarity, the need for rigid gender norms, for social control of gender and sexuality and for the oppression of LGBTQ+ people will be ended.

The choice is between socialist change or the intensifying repression and inequality offered by capitalism. To win the change we need, we need to get organized now. ISA is an international socialist organisation based in over 30 countries. We uncompromisingly fight for the liberation of queer people and all the oppressed, linked to our overall struggle to build a working class alternative and a socialist world.