“What’s the point of supporting gay rights but nobody else’s rights. You know? Or – workers’ rights but not women’s rights – it’s – I don’t know – illogical.”
Previously an academic term, intersectionality has become almost a buzzword in the last decade. Rather than a sole or overriding social identity (gay, black, cis, trans, Jewish, working class, etc. etc. ), our identities intersect and interact – and so do systems of societal discrimination and oppression.
That our identities are intersectional is not a prescriptive idea, but a descriptive one. Necessarily and rightly, much of the focus on intersectionality is on systems of oppression and their effects, and the insufficiency of campaigning, protests and rights movements that wilfully sacrifice any focus on discrimination as to not harm a supposedly overriding cause.
Often when the fact of intersectionality is raised, it is as a description of division or even a cause of it. And it’s not an argument limited to intra-left squabbles. A willingness to sideline others and fling them under the bus is dressed up by liberal columnists as an attack on so-called “identity politics”. Brexit? Trump? Time and again it’s argued that any focus on discrimination has pushed working class people into the arms of an increasingly-far right.
Screenwriter Stephen Beresford’s modern British classic Pride highlights the flipside – intersectionality as unity, and that unity as strength. It tells the (mainly) true story of a group London-based activists led by Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson who formed the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group to raise money to help striking miners in the Dulais Valley in Wales.
“Listen, we raised this money because we want to help you. That’s it. And we’ll keep on trying to help you for as long as you want us to. Because we’ve been through some of the same things you’ve been through, and – Listen – if one in five people is gay, then one in five miners must be too, right? So that’s at least a fifth of you who’s pleased to see us?”
At a panel discussion following a screening of Pride at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room this week, LGSM’s Mike Jackson dismissed the suggestion that “identity politics” undermines solidarity in the pursuit of justice.
“I look back to what we did and that cancels that argument – it blows it out the water,” he said. “35 years ago homosexuals were seen as bourgeois deviants and gay men were seen as the products of a middle class environment. People said it was ‘a white man’s disease’. Every aspect of homophobia, blind ignorance and hatred that people have thrown at us, they were all built on sand.”
In Pride, gay activists took it upon themselves to support another oppressed community, out of solidarity. And so many historical successes in overcoming oppression and hate are founded on that type of unity.
“There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a union”
“As a young gay man, I’d only just come out in 1973 and the very first demo I ever went on was a pro-abortion demo,” Mike said. “I was encouraged by two feminist friends of mind and it was a really fast learning curve.
“The genesis of my politics around my sexuality was borne from the women’s movement and the women that we knew and in practice, in reality, that was always the case. Wherever there were gay men striking out for equality in the ’70s and ’80s, generally they were supported by women – either overtly politically or just in self-awareness.
“In terms of unity and solidarity, that’s what we should be looking at. Saying this isn’t just about gay politics, this is about women’s equality and everyone’s equality.”
He added: “Your generation has taught me so much. The group is called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. We had a nod towards bisexuality, but trans people just weren’t on the horizon. What’s happened in the last 30 odd years has just been amazing – the progress that we’ve made.
“I get a young, gay man coming up to me and saying, ‘Mike, just to keep you safe, you don’t say ‘tranny’ any more, you say trans’. And I genuinely appreciated that. This stuff has been going and I’ve been getting older and older, and the world’s changing. I am absolutely loving the younger generation’s dialogue and how they’re teaching me in so many different ways.”
But with our complex identities and intersecting causes, it’s impossible to ignore the risk of separatism, discord and divisiveness. In Pride, that’s addressed in part by the splintering off of women’s-only protest group Lesbians Against Pit Closures. Again though, both Pride and the real-life events the film depicts show that this inevitable fracturing need not come at the expense of an overall unity.
“I’m sorry, but when are you going to address my question about a Women’s group?”
“What do you need a Women’s group for anyway?”
“To address the women’s issues. Singly. And in a safe environment.”
“A group of women who would regularly come to LGSM meetings wanted to separate off and have women’s only meetings,” Mike said.
“There was discussion about that. There were a small number of people who dissented – both male and female – but off they went and they formed that group. They then wrote LGSM a formal letter offering their solidarity and support to us and vice-versa. LGSM helped organise at least one of the Lesbians Against Pit Closures events.
“I didn’t have a problem with women wanting to go off and autonomously do their own thing. On one level LGSM was us autonomously going off and doing our own thing to support the miners. There were other people who saw it as being a form of separatism and therefore not about solidarity and shared support. I understood that but people have got different views on it.”
Stephen added: “I deal with Lesbians Against Pit Closures quite harshly in the film, certainly on reflection when I look back on it. Though something about the politics of the 1980s troubled me – the slightly-humourless separatism.
“The question about whether identity politics can become self-indulgent and whether it can be dangerous is a very popular trope for columnists. In the end I don’t really think that, and I agree with Mike.
“Though if the central question is, ‘How can we stand together?’, then perhaps I don’t feel that answered the question adequately. It was a very complex relationship, but in the end, with a couple of years’ distance from the film, the way that I give them a bashing is perhaps a little unsophisticated.”
“There’s a lodge banner down in the welfare. We bring it out for special occasions. It’s a hundred years old. I’ll show it to you one day. It’s a symbol like this – Two hands. That’s what the labour movement means. Should mean. You support me and I support you. Whoever you are. Wherever you come from. Shoulder to shoulder. Hand to hand.”
The miners’ strike ended on March 3, 1985. Three months later, miners led the Pride march in London. In October 1985, the Composite 26 resolution committing the Labour Party to LGBT rights finally passed, in part due to a block vote in support from the NUM. Miners also played a key part in the battle against the horrific Section 28 – the 1998 Local Government Act that ruled local councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” in schools.
Against the might of the government and establishment, the unlikely alliance of gay rights activists and miners was unable to stave off the pit closures and ultimately the death of Britain’s mining industry and communities. But through unity across intersections, over division, LGSM helped give those communities hope. It helped give them pride.
Pride screened at the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on Monday, February 6, followed by a panel discussion with scriptwriter Stephen Beresford and LGSM founding members Reggie Blennerhassett and Mike Jackson as a celebration of LGBT History Month 2017
Todd Haynes’ Carol will be screened at the same venue on February 28 followed by a panel discussion led by producer Mia Bays.