Wednesday, 16 March 2011

East End Gay Pride cancelled amid concerns over EDL link

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One of the anti-gay leaflets that appeared
recently in London's east end
A gay pride march scheduled to take place in London's East End on 2 April has been cancelled today amid concerns over an organiser's links to the English Defence League. Yesterday, Imaam, a group which represents gay Muslims, revealed that Raymond Berry, one of the organisers of East End Gay Pride, was last year involved in a dispute with the Rail and Maritime Trades Union, of which he is a member, over his involvement with the EDL, as well as the Stop the Islamification of Europe and No Sharia in Britain groups. With concern having been expressed elsewhere over other organisers' links to the EDL, the conclusion reached by Imaan was that the gay pride event was being framed in specifically anti-Muslim terms:
"In light of all the evidence of Mr. Berry’s political involvements, the apparent associations of some of the other organisers and their collective contempt for our communities we can do nothing but conclude that their calling for “East End Gay Pride” is motivated primarily by their political desires to build groups and alliances founded on their anti-Muslim and anti-Islam bigotry and that East End Gay Pride is – in his terms – just a furtherance of Mr. Berry’s stated aims to create anti-Muslim political movements."
This was a view shared by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who this morning called for East End Gay Pride to be postponed, and revealed that his group Outrage! was opposing the event:
"OutRage! is not supporting East London Gay Pride, following the revelation of links between some of the organisers and the right-wing English Defence League (EDL). I have also withdrawn my personal support. We fear the march will be exploited and hijacked by the far right to create divisions and stir up intolerance against Muslim people.
OutRage! opposes both homophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. All forms of intolerance are wrong. The gay, Muslim, Jewish, Asian and black communities know the pain of prejudice and discrimination. We should stand together, united against hate. Let's celebrate East London's multicultural diversity. Don't let bigotry divide us. Together, we can defeat the hate-mongers."
The row over East End Gay Pride comes against a backdrop of homophobic activity linked to Islamic extremists in the East End, with the appearance of a series of Muslim anti-gay stickers in the area having prompted the organisation of the march. The East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre, meanwhile, was criticised recently for hosting a homophobic speaker, Abdul Karim Hattin, who delivered a talk entitled "Spot the fag". However, while Tatchell says the mosque "must bear some responsibility for previously stoking homophobia", he warns against associating the campaign against homophobia with the campaign against Islam:
"The vast majority of British Muslims are not fundamentalist fanatics. They don't support hate preachers. Although most of them do not approve of homosexuality, they do not discriminate or harm LGBTI people. We must be very careful to distinguish between Muslim people in general and the extremist minority who oppose democracy and human rights and who want to establish a clerical dictatorship."
Raymond Berry resigned from East End Gay Pride yesterday, and this was followed this afternoon with the announcement of its cancellation by the remaining organisers, who blamed the opposition from other gay rights groups:
“In a day and age where the LGBT community of East London should be working together to combat hatred of any nature, we have found it shocking that OutEast and Rainbow Hamlets have continuously set out to divide the community. Internet forums have proved this to no end.”
I'm interested to hear your views on this. Were gay rights groups such as Imaan and Outrage! right to oppose the march over links to the EDL, or do you agree with the organisers that the cancellation of the march is a victory for anti-gay prejudice in East London? How blurred is the line between criticism of extremist views within Islam and prejudice and discrimination towards Muslims? This is an issue I tackled in a short column in the current issue of the magazine, which I've just put online as it seemed relevant to this post. My conclusion in that piece is that, in speaking out against extremism and defending the right to criticise religion, we must choose our allies carefully. It would seem to me that is the principle applied by Peter Tatchell and others who have spoken out against East London Gay Pride.

What do you think?
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