In this instalment our LGBT History Month blog series, Korin Queen, a non-binary, bisexual worker and union rep discusses the impact of the pandemic on LGBT+ people in Scotland. They are a member of Unite, the IWW and the STUC LGBT+ Workers Committee.
If there’s one thing the LGBT+ community understands it’s solidarity in the face of adversity. The working class knows, deep down, that we’re being robbed and that only by organising in our unions can we stand a chance of surviving a system designed to keep us pliant and exploited. The LGBT+ community knows too that only by organising amongst ourselves can we stand a chance of surviving against a system designed to keep us othered and unsafe. Capitalism is at the root of these struggles, and there can be no liberation for all until the disproportionate oppression of marginalised groups is fought back.
Which brings me onto COVID. LGBT+ communities are often discussed as “chosen families” – sometimes they’re people we’ve never met but who will always answer your messages, sometimes they’re people we only see when we go out dancing, sometimes they’re a few blocks down the road and they’ll happily come out for a stroll in Queens Park with a coffee even if they’re down to their last few pennies. COVID’s shutting down of hospitality venues and public spaces has meant that for many LGBT+ people who live alone, or who come from backgrounds of estrangement or abuse, their lifelines have been severed and replaced with a pixelated imitation.
The excessive strain that COVID has caused on the health service has meant access to healthcare, when it’s not being attacked by groups using recycled anti-gay rhetoric from decades past, is even more precarious. LGBT+ people have distinct needs in sexual and reproductive health, including affirmative surgeries with waiting lists now up to five years on the NHS. Many also face discrimination from some within the health service itself. These environments can be difficult to navigate at the best of time for people who have been othered for much of their lives, adding the stress of underpaid and undervalued workers, the threat of COVID, and a lack of liveable sick pay to this means that many LGBT+ workers will be even less likely to be able to prioritise their health.
The overwhelming majority of LGBT+ people are working-class. Like other marginalised groups, we disproportionately face prejudice in a UK which seems only to value us as long as we’re profitable and above all else, not making too much of a fuss. The moment we fall outside of the parameters of what’s “acceptable”, we’re hit by social media abuse, astroturfed campaigns spouting lies and demanding repression, as well as threats to our jobs, our homes, and our safety. The rhetoric is clear – don’t come out unless it’s on our terms, and be grateful even for that.
How do we fight this? By empowering LGBT+ organisers to form solidarity networks unimpeded, by amplifying the voices and concerns of LGBT+ workers, and by recognising that an injury to one is an injury to all. Where we intersect into other marginalised groups – workers of colour, women workers, disabled workers, young workers, we make sure we hold one another up. Our community understands this, and knows what battles need to be fought and won at all levels – in parliaments, in workplaces, and in local areas – in order to build a new and liberated post-COVID world from the ashes of the old for all workers, LGBT+ or otherwise. We just need support and solidarity in getting there.