Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2292

Teachers and students challenge homophobia

It is sad that Michael Gove appears to be giving the green light to homophobia in schools.

By arguing that schools are exempt from the Equality Act, he is trying to turn back the clock while schools around the country are celebrating diversity for February’s LGBT History Month.

Teachers have been using lessons, assemblies and activities to help LGBT staff and students feel safe and welcome.

Students in some schools are feeling confident about coming out and are supported by their classmates—something unthinkable a few years ago.

Craig Parr, South London

Schools are important places to challenge homophobia.

Stonewall, the LGBT campaign group, reports that at least 65 percent of LGBT students suffer some form of abuse. But teachers can support students who might identify as LGBT and question negative attitudes towards students’ sexualities.

Students and teachers at my school changed the atmosphere around homophobia in February. Some students took assemblies themselves.

In one assembly a student came out as gay.

At the end several Muslim girls wearing the hijab ran up and hugged her—defying the views of gay writers such as Johann Hari that “exactly zero percent of Muslims” are pro gay rights.

To anyone watching it was clear that the Muslim girls saw the LGBT students in the context of their own experience of oppression and supported them.

LGBT History Month culminated in a concert organised by and for students which featured over a dozen acts, black and white, gay and straight. They brought the house down.

What better way is there to trash prejudiced assumptions about what different groups of young people might think? It created an atmosphere of acceptance, respect and pride, and it affected everybody present.

Not every person’s prejudice might have disappeared, but the idea of being free to express yourself regardless of your sexuality became part of the mainstream of school life.

There is a long way to go in the struggle for LGBT rights. But last month showed the potential to challenge homophobia. It’s time to put the fallout from Section 28 in the dustbin of history once and for all.

Name withheld, North London

‘Primitive’ life was no paradise

After reading Jo Cardwell’s excellent article (How class society led to oppression, Socialist Worker, 25 February), I just want to warn comrades that we shouldn’t idealise “primitive communism”.

Frederick Engels used this term to denote the way early hunter‑gatherer societies were organised, instead of just how they produced food. That’s important.

But the term can tempt socialists to imagine that early humans lived a peaceful, egalitarian existence.

It is a fact that prehistoric hunter-gatherers had a higher standard of living than the early agriculturalists who followed them. Studies have shown that they were taller, less iron-deficient and had stronger bones and fewer cavities in their teeth.

They had more leisure time to paint deer and bison on cave walls, carve ivory goddess figurines or sit around the campfire telling stories. And although there was a sexual division of labour, women’s work was not undervalued.

The trouble with these pre‑class societies was that life was “nasty, brutish and short”.

Even a temporary scarcity of food could kill off a whole tribe.

And anthropologists believe early tribes frequently fought over territorial rights and resources—which sometimes even resulted in cannibalism, rape and human sacrifice.

The development of agriculture enabled population growth and “civilisation”—which meant warfare on a larger and more organised scale.

Some societies actively resisted the transition to agriculture for centuries.

But it’s no wonder that so many of our ancestors chose to trade in communal evenings by the campfire for hard labour toiling in the fields—under a lord whose warriors and grain silos could protect them from invasion and famine.

There is no need to idealise the past. And a future socialist society will only be a paradise if we make it so.

Susie Helme, North east London

This is a dreadful time to be leaving the union

Patricia Rowe says that she has had enough of Unison and has left for Unite (Letters, 25 February).

I can understand her frustration with the leadership of our union, most recently with regards to the pensions dispute.

But it’s a dreadful mistake for activists to leave.

Over the past year Unison has recruited 125,000 members.

There was a massive turnout of Unison members on the TUC demonstration last March.

Unison members went on strike, set up picket lines and demonstrated around the country on 30 November, as well as in a number of local strikes.

The Unison leadership, however cowardly, are not immune to pressure from below.

Dave Prentis himself said the demand to ballot for a strike had come from Unison members.

And I would question whether Unite is fundamentally different. While Len McCluskey gives militant speeches, he hasn’t led a fight over the pensions sell-out.

In all unions we need to build the organisation of rank and file activists to coordinate pressure on the leadership.

As someone in Patricia’s former Unison region, I think it’s a real shame she has left.

We need as many good activists as possible—and it’s only Prentis and co who will smile at her leaving.

Huw Williams, South Gloucester Unison (pc)

Don’t be spooked by attack on GPs

The right wing press has delighted in accusing greedy GPs of getting paid millions for “ghosts”—patients on their lists who have died or moved away.

But many patients find themselves wrongly classified as ghosts and have to re‑register with their GPs.

As a GP I get patients who come along and don’t understand why they are without a doctor just because they moved house.

The drive to cleanse ghosts from GPs’ lists is part of a move to make it harder for people to have automatic access to healthcare.

Doctors certainly aren’t trying to inflate their lists. It can cost them money by making it harder for them to reach targets.

But it’s not surprising that some of the right wing media are going for GPs.

The Tories keep pretending that GPs support their health bill—but David Cameron barred the Royal College of GPs from his summit.

GPs already have to try and minimise the impact of imposed changes.

As a profession, GPs are completely opposed to Andrew Lansley’s “smash the NHS” bill.

Gerard Reissmann, Newcastle upon Tyne

Sparks’ win is electrifying

The brilliant success by the electricians is living proof of the beast that Margaret Thatcher supposedly killed.

Militant trade unionism, unofficial action and flying pickets were driven and organised from below by the rank and file.

No wonder there was an effective press blackout of the action.

What strikes me is the working class pride that shines from these guys. After years of “Little Britain” filth being poured on workers, it’s fabulous to see them being proud of being working class.

Duncan Brown, Glasgow

Strauss-Kahn invite insults women

The Union Society at Cambridge University has invited the alleged rapist Dominique Strauss-Khan to speak on 9 March, showing a callous disregard for women.

Strauss-Khan was forced to resign as IMF chief after allegedly assaulting hotel worker Nafissatou Diallo. Other women have also made allegations against him.

Sign the petition for the Union Society to withdraw the invitation at

If they don’t, we need to follow the example of New York hotel workers—and meet Strauss-Kahn with a large and vocal protest.

Amy Gilligan, Cambridge

Stuff the Jubillee!

For the queen’s Silver Jubilee, we all wore “stuff the Jubilee” badges. Could we get them anywhere now?

Jo, South east London

Make the rich pay in Greece

Thanks for the article about the eurozone (What is the real cause of the crisis?, Socialist Worker, 25 February).

There are plenty of rich people in Greece.

Why can’t the government tax them to pay off the debt, instead of making cuts?

Steve, by email

Will Somalia be next?

You might think that our rulers would learn from the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But no. Now they are talking about action in Somalia and Iran.

Colin Crilly, South London

Sickened by Lansley’s bill

I saw your interview with June Hautot (Socialist Worker, 25 February), who confronted Andrew Lansley outside Downing Street last week.

What a legend! She hit on everything wrong with his health bill.

I am sick to death of Tories talking about choice and competition.

Choice is fine if you’re buying a sofa. But if I’m ill, it’s the last thing on my mind.

You only have to look at our rail network to see what competition means—extortionate prices for poor service.

Everyone please do all that you can to stop this disgusting bill.

Marie, Birmingham

Queer misses the point

Ruth makes some interesting arguments about using the word “queer” (Letters, 25 February), but I disagree that we have missed the point.

When queer theory and activism came about in the 1990s, it was in part a reaction against the identity politics that divided the gay rights movement in the 1980s.

The problem is that queer has itself become yet another label within the realms of identity politics.

When activists say they have “reclaimed” a word, they haven’t. It doesn’t confuse our enemies. Nazis aren’t going to stop attacking us because we’ve changed our identities.

In the long run I would argue that the term does not help us organise along class lines or reach out to LGBT people who don’t initially see themselves as political.

But we still stand in solidarity with those who define as queer.

Josh Hollands, Hull

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Article information

Tue 28 Feb 2012, 18:49 GMT
Issue No. 2292
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