Brexit, racial and religious hate crimes and homo-, bi- and trans*phobia – why they are all linked

It’s time to get over our surprise and get on with this difficult work.

Cynthia Weber
1 November 2016

Put Sexism, Racism an Homophobia in the trash. Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center International Team from Germany. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.Last month, the UK Home Office released a disturbing report on hate crimes in the wake of Brexit. The Home Office reported, ‘The number of racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by the police in July 2016 was 41% higher than in July 2015’. 

Days earlier, the LGBT anti-violence charity Galop released its own post-Brexit hate crime figures. Compared to the support Galop gave to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people experiencing hate crimes in July, August and September last year, the charity reported a 147% increase in the same period this year. 

If the first set of figures was expected by many, the second set was not. As the Guardian reported, ‘few analysts predicted a rise in hate crime based on victims’ sexual orientation’ and/or gender identity, especially a rise that ‘is proportionately higher than other hate crime rises in the wake of Brexit’. So what explains this rise?

The explanation that has gained the most traction is rooted in the idea of a spillover of hate. It suggests that hate crimes against LGBT people post-Brexit is the result of how toxic pro-leave prejudices about race and religion spread beyond racially and religiously marked targets, making LGBT people additional post-Brexit targets. 

There are grounds to support this explanation.  For example, the actor Colin Appleby reported that days after the Brexit vote in Convent Garden in central London, he heard a group of people singing a version of Rule Britannia, with eerie echoes of 1930s German Nazism:

“Rule Britannia

Britannia rules the waves

First we’ll get the Poles out, then the gays”

The unprovoked killing of Polish national Arkadiusz Jóźwik in Harlow in August and the Galop statistics on rising homophobic, biphobic and trans*phobic hate crimes seem to suggest this specific spillover from ‘getting the Poles’ to ‘getting the gays’ is indeed taking place in post-Brexit Britain.

Missing links

Yet this explanation misses two crucial issues.  It misses how racial and religious toxicities are built into understandings about sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). And it misses how these intertwined toxicities have historically been and continue to be linked to nationalist and sovereign claims made on behalf of a state and its people. Taken together, then, the spillover explanation overlooks how mostly pejorative – though sometimes positive – understandings of things like race, religion, class, gender, and ability are intertwined with both SOGI issues and with understandings of ‘the British nation’ and ‘British sovereignty’.

Here are three reasons why the spillover explanation misses this.

First, the spillover explanation assumes race and religion are separate or separable from SOGI issues. First, the spillover explanation assumes race and religion are separate or separable from sexual orientation and gender identity issues. This is why racial and religious prejudices can ‘spread beyond’ racial and religious targets and can ‘spill over’ to target minoritized SOGI victims. What comes with this assumption is a conflation of ‘the British LGBT’ with being white, Anglo and Christian – a British person is imagined as either sexually minoritized or racially/religiously minoritized, but not both at the same time. This not only erases the existence of ‘British LGBT’ people who are racialized and/or who share the spirituality of post-Brexit religious hate crime victims. It also erases those ‘British LGBT’ people who combine these categories differently.

Second, this separation circulates the idea that to be understood as ‘a normal LGBT’, a person must tick only presumptively normal categories – like white, Anglo and Christian. So if you are this kind of ‘British LGBT’, that now makes you ‘normal’ in most UK law. But if you are read as non-white and/or British Pakistani and/or Muslim, that still makes you culturally ‘deviant’ in the UK. So the ‘non-white, British Pakistani, Muslim LGBT’ ends up being someone who is legally normal and culturally deviant at the same time in the same place. 

Finally, the separation of race and religion from SOGI issues demonstrates no understanding about how the sexuality of ‘Ls’ and ‘Gs’ and ‘Bs’ and ‘Ts’ is rooted in modern western discourses that connect particularly homosexuality to pejorative understandings of race, religion, class, ability and civilization. 

For example, it does not grasp how ‘the homosexual’ in particular has been marked by medical, psychological and religious discourses as not only sexually but also morally and civilizationally underdeveloped or un-developable. It does not grasp how ‘the colonial savage’ and ‘the racially degenerate’ were cast in British colonial imaginaries as ‘perverse homosexuals’, whose presumed homosexuality was outlawed by colonial governments. And it does not grasp how these understandings did not just disappear when ‘the British LGBT’ became a new normal figure. They persist to this day in national and international understandings and policies around development, immigration, security, human rights and national, regional and international integration.

What that means, then, is that even the white, Anglo, Christian ‘British LGBT’ is inseparable from the hated ‘deviant immigrant’ and/or ‘monstrous Muslim’ found in pro-Brexit discourse, even when British discourses of tolerance of ‘the British LGBT’ at the same time connect it to an expanded understanding of ‘the normal British citizen’ through civil partnership, same-sex marriage, and military service laws. It does not grasp how ‘the homosexual’ in particular has been marked by medical, psychological and religious discourses as not only sexually but also morally and civilizationally underdeveloped or un-developable.

By failing to recognize how race and religion are integral to and inseparable from understandings of ‘the post-Brexit British LGBT’, proponents of (just) spillover explanations of hate crimes misread the post-Brexit landscape. 

They misread this landscape in part because they fail to see how homo-, bi-, and trans*-phobias are not distinct from racial and religious prejudices. Rather, some phobias around SOGI issues exist because of how racial and religious prejudices make them possible. Had they understood this, they would not have been surprised by the rise in attacks against ‘L’ and ‘G’ and ‘B’ and ‘T’ people post-Brexit.

Grasping how prejudices around things like race, religion and sexual orientation and gender identity are inextricably entwined/ intersectionally connected and persistently activated in the name of nationalism and sovereignty is crucial to combating all sorts of hate crimes. It’s time to get over our surprise and get on with this difficult work.

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