On Sunday, December 10, 1989, the direct-action group ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) mobilized several thousand people outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to protest the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to AIDS education and the distribution of condoms. Of these thousands of protesters, a few dozen entered the church during Mass, and one of them crumbled a consecrated communion wafer.
ACT-UP’s incursion into St. Patrick’s became legendary, and in the minds of many Americans that one protestor’s act of desecration remained an indelible image, forever defining both gay and AIDS activism. Every gay person I knew was appalled by those protestors who’d entered the church and disrupted the service, not just because they were morally wrong, but also because their action could hardly have been more counterproductive. The Religious Right depicted gay people as enemies of religion; the disruptive actions by those members of ACT-UP only seemed to confirm that image. (In fact many of the people who acted most outrageously that day later turned out to have been devout gay Catholics motivated not by hatred of religion but — quite the opposite — by a frustration with Church officials’ views that was intense precisely because their love for the Church was so intense.)
In the wake of the assault on St. Patrick’s, gay people sat together shaking their heads in disbelief, calling the organizers of this idiotic stunt every name in the book — even some ACT-UP leaders were appalled. But I don’t remember hearing any gay person call the invaders of the cathedral anti-Catholic or anti-Christian. Indeed, if you went through the annals of the modern gay-rights movement dating back to the Stonewall riots in 1969, I suspect you’d be hard put to find any account of a movement leader accusing another movement leader of being anti-Christian. I certainly know that when I and other gay writers came along in the 1990s and called similar actions against religious targets ill-advised, the whole organized gay-rights movement came down on us like a ton of bricks, calling us self-hating gays, traitors, and worse. When I gave talks in churches about homosexuality in an effort to build bridges, icons of the gay community such as the late Paul Monette savaged me for “rub[bing] shoulders with … the church supper crowd of the Christian Reich,” which, in his view, amounted to “pandering to creeps … accommodation with the enemy.”
Okay, cut from New York in 1989 to London in 2011. The stakes are higher — much higher. The mosques in Britain’s capital aren’t just refusing to hand out condoms or instruct gay believers in how to have safe sex. (Imagine!) No; they’re preaching to their ever-growing congregations in that increasingly Muslim city what Islam’s holy books teach about homosexuality — namely, that gays deserve to be executed. This has been going on for years, of course. The latest twist — and it will certainly not be the last — is that in February the East End, a neighborhood where many gays live but that is fast becoming a Muslim enclave, began being papered with stickers. They depicted a rainbow flag placed within a black circle and crossed out by a diagonal black line on which were printed the words “Gay free zone.” And they featured two quotations from the Koran. One of them read: “Arise and warn.” The other: “And fear Allah; verily Allah is severe in punishment.”
Now, this could be dismissed as a nasty prank by some isolated, harmless jerk with too much time on his hands. But to do that would be dangerous. For the sentiments expressed on those stickers are widespread among Muslims in the East End, and indeed among Muslims throughout London, Britain, and Europe generally. It’s no coincidence that as the East End has become more Muslim, the number of gay-bashings has risen sharply and steadily. Not to respond in some way to this latest provocation, then, would be a show of weakness and of fear, and an invitation to push harder. Here’s one way to look at it. Let’s say a heavily gay neighborhood in the U.S., like West Hollywood or the Castro in San Francisco or Washington’s Dupont Circle, had experienced a major influx of fundamentalist Christians in recent years. Let’s say the preachers at these churches were known to give rousing sermons about the hellfire awaiting sodomites. (While countless imams in the West openly remind their congregations that their religion calls for the execution of gays, not even the most extreme fundamentalist Christian — not even Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps — preaches such a message.) And let’s say that stickers declaring the neighborhood gay-free and citing anti-gay Bible quotes suddenly began appearing on lampposts and mailboxes. What would happen?
My guess is this: at the very least, some local gay group would plan a rally outside the biggest local fundamentalist church. The participants might not raid the church, as happened at St. Patrick’s in 1989, but there would certainly be a big, loud, boisterous display of strength and of defiance. There would be gay guys dressed as Jesus Christ and as the pope; there would be signs aplenty saying things like “Keep your Bible off my body.” Some of it might go too far. But no self-respecting gay person would call a peaceful demonstration under such circumstances anti-Christian. They’d recognize it as a warning: This is our neighborhood, too. We won’t let you push us out.
So is that what happened in London in response to the Koran stickers? Not exactly. First, the major gay-rights groups in the area chose not to do anything. So an ad hoc gay group, apparently put together by a few friends and calling itself East End Gay Pride, proposed a gay-pride event for April 2nd. They invited the major gay groups to join them in organizing it. They were rebuffed, so they went ahead on their own. The event they planned, it should be said, was decidedly tame in conception. It wouldn’t be a protest rally outside a mosque, but a march through public streets. There would be no signs criticizing Islam or answering back the Koran, and certainly nobody would dress up as Muhammed. The organizers weren’t out to challenge Muslims — on the contrary, they wanted to put on a congenial display, as if to say, “Hey, we’re here. We’re harmless. We believe in coexistence. We respect you and your religion. We’re your neighbors. Let up on us, OK?”
Nonetheless, their plans were immediately attacked by other local gay organizations, principally two groups called OutEast and Rainbow Hamlets, plus the gay Muslim group Imaan. These groups complained that such a march threatened to exacerbate tensions between gays and Muslims. They also suggested that the march was a front for the English Defense League (EDL), an organization established in 2009 after British troops were publicly harassed by Muslims in Luton, and routinely labeled “far-right” because it opposes sharia law and the Islamization of England. The attacks were relentless and vicious. On March 15, Imaan revealed that one of the march’s organizers, Raymond Berry, was indeed an EDL member — whereupon the organizers called off the march.
We have found it extremely difficult to deal with the copious amount of personal attacks that are coming mostly from Terry Stewart of OutEast and Jack Gilbert and Rebecca Shaw of Rainbow Hamlets. These individuals have been attacking EEGP from the very beginning, even though OutEast and Rainbow Hamlets, along with Imaan and several other “community groups,” were invited to help create the event from day one….The entire EEGP team had nothing but good intentions for this event from the off set. We planned to make it a fun march with no hatred being shown. We even planned on a bigger event next year, dropping the word “gay” from the name and making it a festival for the entire community to show how diverse and tolerant we all are. With the help of Terry Stewart of OutEast and Jack Gilbert and Rebecca Shaw of Rainbow Hamlets, this now looks impossible.
On March 16, the British gay-news website Pink News reported the news. Several hundred readers posted comments. Most of those who chose to comment (and given that this was Pink News, one has to assume that most of them were gay) took the opportunity not to speak up about the virulent hatred for gays preached by Islam but to slam the march’s organizers as racists and Islamophobes.
Typical comments: one reader placed Imaan within the holy circle of “vigilant, progressive and inclusive LGBTQs [lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and questioning people] of London,” while branding gays associated with the EDL “right-wing zealots”; another expressed hope for “a more positive event that condemns both homophobia and Islamophobia”; a third also called for “something more positive and inclusive…at a future date”; a fourth fretted about the gay community being infected by “fascist elements” that spread “hatred of one group, i.e. Muslims”; a fifth condemned gay “racism”; a sixth lamented “how much ugliness there is within the queer community today”; a sixth, descending into sheer fantasy, insisted that many Muslims are among those “fighting Homophobia the hardest.”
To be sure, some readers bucked the tide — only to be censured by fellow gays. One reader, for example, raised questions about the gay Muslim group: “I’d like to know…where its loyalties lie…it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it itself could have associations with Islamist, Far-Left or homophobic groups.” These concerns are legitimate: in fact Imaan, like many gay Muslim groups in the U.S. and Europe, has repeatedly shown itself to be far more concerned with reviling gay critics of Islam (and, in doing so, whitewashing Islamic doctrine about homosexuality) than with standing up to Muslim critics of gay rights; it has also publicly supported the famous Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who supports the death penalty for gays. But this reader’s concerns about Imaan were shot down. One reader accused him (her?) of “prejudice,” another ordered: “Take your conspiracies elsewhere.”
So it goes. In 1989, thousands of gay activists, angry at the Vatican for preaching abstinence instead of safe sex, rallied outside a church in New York, some of them actually going inside and disrupting a worship service. In 2011, faced with far worse provocations by a faith that, unlike Roman Catholicism, poses a mortal threat to gays, gay-rights groups in London not only decided to remain silent lest they “offend” Muslims, but in addition chose to turn on their own, denouncing fellow gays as “racists” and “Islamophobes” for feeling obliged to stand up — even if in the meekest of ways — to people who would, without question, murder them if they had the power to do so. No, the officers of London’s gay-rights organizations, and the commenters at Pink News, aren’t the only people in West who have responded to Muslim bullying with cowardly toadying. But British gays should damn well understand, at this point, that there’s no place for them in the sharia-run Britain to which millions of British Muslims openly aspire and that the Archbishop of Canterbury has already accepted as inevitable. If they’re so desperate not to offend Muslims, they’d better kill themselves pronto — for, as they still somehow fail to grasp, their very existence is an offense to these people.