Communists from Britain and internationally came together on Saturday 27th February in a special webinar paying tribute to the life of Mark Ashton former general secretary of the Young Communist League and founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.
Organised as part of our centenary celebrations the YCL LGBT+ Commission had arranged the webinar to look at the current issues affecting LGBT+ working people and Socialism’s answer to LGBT + liberation. The YCL had also raised over £625 for the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund that goes towards supporting the work of the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Throughout the webinar there was an emphasis on the need for the struggle for LGBT+ liberation to be linked to the struggle to end class exploitation. Belen Barros of the Communist Youth Federation of Argentina spoke about the situation in her country with high rates of violence against women and trans people but with a growing feminist and LGBT + movement in which Communists are active.
Jem Knight Chair of Lincolnshire YCL branch spoke about his experiences as a trans man to get acceptance at work in the care industry and Glen Wigham YCL + Commission Chair spoke about how the encouragement of non-class-based identity politics leads to divisive tensions in the LGBT+ community with the official Pride march becoming a celebration of corporate capitalism in contrast to the approach of Mark Ashton during the Miners’ Strike.
Not all speakers at the event were Communists but Richard Angell representing the Terrence Higgins Trust was able to pay tribute to the role of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners depicted in the film “Pride” and drawing a link between our current COVID time and the previous pandemic depicted in current TV series “It’s a Sin” where the community was devastated by people dying of HIV related illnesses but where massive strides in treatment have taken place since.
The need to link working-class queer liberation with the struggle for Socialism was emphasised by Bryan Simpson a Unite activist from Scotland. Mark Ashton from a Communist perspective recognised the need for tangible solidarity with the NUM later reciprocated in the fight against Section 28. Bryan also made reference to the New York based Street Trans Action Revolutionaries an organisation of homeless gay, trans and gender non-conforming youth founded in 1998 who fought against the domination of white male activists and challenged the commercialisation and de-politicisation of the official gay movement. It is this activist tradition that we need to remember in a situation where in the name of promoting the “pink pound” workers in gay bars are exploited and denied union recognition.
This theme was also explored by Yvonne Washbourne of Birmingham CPB representing an earlier generation of Communist LGBT+ activists. She recalled how in the early days of the gay scene there was so much male domination that women could only enter certain clubs if they were signed in by a male member. She also spoke about the key role of trade unions and the need to combat division and disunity in the movement and recalled the challenges in her early days in the Communist Party when some members still regarded gay liberation as a diversion from class struggle. We have moved forward since then but there is still work to be done in challenging assumptions and attitudes in respect of homophobia and transphobia.
The theme of how the Communist movement relates to the LGBT+ struggle was developed by the final speaker Luiz Sergio of the Union of Communist Youth of Brazil and LGBT Communist Collective. Paying tribute to Mark Ashton he spoke of how the LGBT Communist Collective was founded in 2015 and how Brazil under the Bolsonaro government has seen the most violent attacks against the LGBT community with Brazil having one of the worse rates of violence against trans people in the world. He referred to the history of the LGBT movement in Brazil with tensions in the 1970s and 1980s between one wing which favoured a Marxist orientation and one based solely on identity and excluding links with the working-class. LGBT Communists are currently working to bridge the gap between the LGBT struggle and the Communist struggle due to mistakes historically in both movements. He ended by stating that for human emancipation to be possible unity of the working-class is essential to end all form of oppression and exploitation.
With the webinar ending by the reading out of a letter from veteran Communist and regular Morning Star contributor Chris Birch who knew Mark from the days of LGSM this inspirational event was a fitting tribute to Mark Ashton and the tradition of working-class LGBT + struggle he did so much to develop in his tragically short life.