I think it’s important to dismantle the dichotomy between ‘welfare’ and ‘politics’. Liberation groups often maintain that the personal is the political, but this sometimes does not manifest in practice. I know this has alienated me from its spaces: as working class person, no matter how many socials or discussions I attend among other LGBTQ people, my grants are still being cut, my future prospects within a labour market bludgeoned by austerity and precarity are bleak to say the least, and many young LGBTQ people like me are enduring drastic cuts to benefits and informed by the Tories that we do not deserve the living wage because we are not ‘productive enough’. The forces that are damaging our personal welfare are inherently political, pursuing particular ideologies, motivated by certain vested interests, exercised through the framework of state and corporate power. These forces necessarily enmesh all of our lives, mould our socio-economic conditions, and entrench the polarization of resources and wealth towards the already rich. There are concentrations of power with ultimate influence and authority over our lives, which operate structurally and beyond the control of any one individual – bosses and landlords, the Government, the police. The power dynamics that are manifested in our personal relationships and interactions are microcosms of these hegemonic forms of power.
The institution of marriage is a good example of the convergence between the political and the personal, which LGBT campaigners have long struggled for inclusion within. The traditional domination of men over women within this context is still rampant, but not in the abstract: marriage was engineered to secure, naturalise and maintain this power relation, to position women as meek and deferential, their economic independence and social autonomy surrendered to their husbands as sanctioned by the state. In that sense it has always served as a primary reproductive unit within capitalism, resituating and privatising reproductive labour to the home such that the daily restoration of the husband’s capacity to return to work each day, manifested in cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, even having sex, could remain invisibilised and thus unwaged. This dynamic has not changed with the inclusion of mostly cis, gay white men into the structure of marriage, but rather has redefined queer identities to adhere to these classical gender roles. We know that these gender roles are not in any way essential to who we are: they must be imposed and forced upon us, policed and maintained by socio-economic structures. These gender roles are intended to model and discipline our desires and affections, thus being the primary source from which LGBTQ-phobia emerges if we deviate from the rigid and binary personalities they expect of us.
This enforcement means not only the branding of products along binary gender lines, our conditioning by social institutions to affirm and emphasise particular characteristics in alignment with the gender we were assigned at birth, but also patterns of economic exploitation and exclusion which devalue ‘feminized’ forms of labour and, in doing so, bind those who are not cis heterosexual men who traditionally perform this labour to the margins, and to disproportionate reliance upon state support (or, perhaps more aptly, state control). In this context, austerity measures have distinctly racialized, gendered and minority-sexuality implications – precisely because they are an attack on the working class. If we consider austerity a reinvigorated assault upon our common resources – i.e. a dismantling of state support and public services, the slashing of benefits, privatisation of public assets in every sector from healthcare to housing – it is always those who have been most dispossessed from the traditional reproductive stabilities of the nuclear family and waged work that will be adversely and disproportionately affected.
We see austerity manifested in cuts to community centres and social spaces for LGBTQ people, deepening the isolation to which we are often subject and denying us a space for collective association. This has further fragmented our lives in a context where everything is individualized, where the logic of capitalism informs us that any trial can and must be overcome by personal striving and aspiration, and that disadvantage and poverty is therefore simply an inevitable consequence of idleness and fecklessness. We see it manifested in cuts to housing benefits, the dismantling and literal demolition of social housing, and spiralling rents in the private rented sector – all of which is located in the context of a mass housing crisis, rising homelessness, and innumerable and ruthless evictions of vulnerable people. This, again, has disproportionately affected LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ youth, and especially youth of colour.
LGBTQ people are often estranged from families that are averse to our identities and expression, and thus are forced to rely upon social housing or endure constant insecurity in the private rented sector, where stagnating wages are barely sufficient to make rent from month to month, let alone bills, and where our lives are constantly at the whim of exploitative landlords who seek to profit from our housing needs. Similarly, the cuts to and imposed caps on benefits have disproportionately impacted us: especially when we are forced from our homes by hostile parents or abusive relationships, we are often left with no other option but to depend on state support to avoid destitution. Because of such displacement, hardship and interpersonal flux, routine instances of LGBTQ-phobic attacks, and institutional oppression – among other reasons – we are more likely to suffer mental health problems. We are also more reliant on sexual health services, and domestic and sexual violence services. All of these services are being systematically dismantled, underfunded or privatised by the Government. Not only have many of them been lost entirely, some have also been consolidated and streamlined to optimise the use of minimal resources – entailing job losses, overstretched services, overburdened workers (many of them with similar identities to those they support), and a kind of provision which does not have the capacity to address the specificity of our circumstances and adversities. Specialist services for queer BME women in particular have suffered, for example. PACE, a mental health service for LGBTQ people, has also recently shut down due to cuts to local Government budgets, yet another casualty of a brutal austerity regime. The continuing fragmentation and gradual privatisation of the NHS is too adversely impacting healthcare services which LGBTQ people disproportionately rely upon, diminishing access, lengthening waiting times, and straining provision.
And, within the educational context: cuts to maintenance grants, which over half a million of the poorest students rely upon. Many of those estranged from their families rely upon support like this, and due to enduring employment discrimination of LGBTQ people, when we are charged with the most debt we are impacted by that debt hardest and constrained by it for longer. This, of course, reflects a broader recomposition of higher and further education, towards a marketplace in which students are customers and Universities businesses. In this context, Universities are pressured to expand and compete with other institutions, with obscene expenditure on advertising, glitzy buildings and extortionate Vice Chancellor salaries whilst student services are cut, bursaries are attacked, and jobs are casualized, outsourced and lost.
All the antagonisms inherent within the market, capitalism and austerity are more pronounced for our community. Capitalism relies upon difference, otherness and hierarchy to profit at the expense of the most marginalized; to denigrate the victims of its structural injustices – as scroungers, liars, even ‘threats to our security’ – and thus legitimize those injustices; and to maintain work relations and divisions. Maintenance grant cuts are an LGBTQ issue, as is the broader onslaught of austerity – and the economic system which underpins these policies does not and cannot operate in the interests of our communities. We must confront it, and challenge it politically – not simply on the basis of it disproportionately impacting LGBTQ people, but rather because an injury to one is an injury to all. As long as many live in deprivation and poverty, as long as the majority are exploited for the prosperity of the few, as long as injustice thrives, we must collectively fight for liberation – not for more minorities in positions of power, but for an economic and social system over which we have communal control, in which resources are equitably distributed, and where none are elevated to positions which entitle and reward them for exploiting others.
Join us tomorrow to demand #GrantsNotDebt – and to demand liberation.