For the first time in its history, the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers debated a motion submitted by LGBT teachers from their own conference. The motion, entitled “International Homophobia and Transphobia” condemned the current levels of anti-LGBT bigotry in Britain and the rising tide of militant right-wing attacks on LGBT people and Pride demonstrations around the world. Poland, Russia, Israel and Iran were among the places singled out for mention.
Tim Lucas and Claire Jenkins from the NUT LGBT Working Party proposed and seconded the motion and a number of delegates submitted cards to speak in favour. At the last moment, Ray Sirotkin (Secretary of Lambeth NUT and an associate of Socialist Action) put in a card against.
Sirotkin is not the most coherent of speakers on a good day, so it was fairly difficult to follow his line of argument — unless you had some understanding of his political background. After “apologising” to conference for what he was about to do, Sirotkin accused those who drafted the motion of pandering to “neo-colonialist” ideas. He claimed that by passing the motion NUT conference would adopt a patronising “we know better than you” attitude to the rest of the world.
So if a state other than Britain decides to arrest, torture and murder LGBT people, then trade unionists — and self-proclaimed socialists like Ray — should keep quiet about it!
Sirotkin’s comments came just a week after George Galloway appeared on national radio and television to smear Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian asylum seeker facing deportation. Galloway first claimed that those campaigning for Mehdi to stay were “giving a pink tinge to the khaki war machine”, and later that Mehdi’s partner had been murdered by the Iranian government for sexually abusing young men.
The Iranian state has made no such claim, levelled no such charge — it is a figment of Galloway’s imagination. So why make the claim? Galloway may have bigoted attitudes towards LGBT people but he’s not usually in the business of launching homophobic press campaigns.
He chose to attack Mehdi and his murdered partner because for him, the threats of war against Iran far outweigh the persecution of LGBT people (and women, students and trade unionists for that matter). That Iran is threatened with attack propels its government into Galloway’s anti-imperialist camp. All other concerns are secondary — or no concern at all.
By abstaining on this motion Ray Sirotkin, the SWP and a large chunk of the STA shamed themselves once again. Of still greater shame is that two leading members of the STA demanded an apology from one conference delegate who defended the LGBT motion and attacked the reactionary thinking of Sirotkin and his supporters.
If internationalism is to mean anything at all there can be no qualifications, no ifs or maybes when it comes to solidarity with LGBT people.