Gay rights and "cultural relativism"

A response to Peter Tatchell

"[A] big error by some multiculturalists has been to bow to demands for cultural sensitivity by tacitly accepting that some peoples and communities can be exempt from the norms of universal human rights," argues the veteran lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) campaigner Peter Tatchell in the Independent today.

Tatchell's piece is an excerpt from his talk "Multiculturalism: the Subversion of Human Rights?", given as part of the Glasgay! festival. Citing the conspicuous lack of protections for LGBT people in equality legislation, Tatchell made the case that multiculturalism is leading to the rights of some minorities being prized over those of others. He also alleged complicity from those whose wariness of accusations of racism and Islamophobia could readily be exploited by the religious right, and argues that human rights activists have a moral duty to intervene in one another's cultures to establish universal human rights.

Tatchell's central contention -- that multiculturalism should not equal cultural relativism -- is shared by the activist and campaigner Linda Bellos. "Cultural relativism is destructive," she agrees. "It sets up a hierarchy of oppression, a kind of competition in which one minority group seeks to claim that it is more oppressed than another. In actual fact, most people have a set of identities that are multiple -- so, for example, there are many black people who are also lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and I'm one of those people. For us, setting up a hierarchy of oppression means there's always conflict."

Bellos does take some issue with Tatchell's interventionism, however. "He shouldn't be working on our behalf -- he should be working with us," she argues. "I continue to take issue with the lack of respect he seems to have for the work already being done."

Bellos may have a point. During his talk, Tatchell discussed the importance of his engagement with organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, but mentioned none of the UK's black and Muslim LGBT organisations. No mention was made of Black Pride, of UK Black Out, or the Black Gay Men's Advisory Group, with which Tatchell has previously worked very successfully on the Stop Murder Music! campaign and the Reggae Compassionate Act.

The tensions Tatchell explores in his talk are manifest, but there is still room for dialogue. This will naturally involve sometimes painful criticisms of others; but perhaps the work is best done in co-operation with, not on behalf of, LGBT people from different communities.

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Harry Styles: What can three blank Instagram posts tell us about music promotion?

Do the One Direction star’s latest posts tell us about the future of music promotion in the social media age - or take us back to a bygone era?

Yesterday, Harry Styles posted three identical, captionless blank images to Instagram. He offered no explanation on any other social network, and left no clue via location serves or tagged accounts as to what the pictures might mean. There was nothing about any of the individual images that suggested they might have significance beyond their surface existence.

And, predictably, they brought in over a million likes – and thousands of Styles fans decoding them with the forensic dedication of the cast of Silent Witness.

Of course, the Instagrams are deliberately provocative in their vagueness. They reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s three-panelled White Painting (1951), or Robert Ryman’s Untitled, three square blank canvases that hang in the Pompidou Centre. The composer John Cage claimed that the significance of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings lay in their status as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them. The significance of Styles’s Instagrams arguably, too, only gain cultural relevance as his audience engages with them.

So what did fans make of the cryptic posts? Some posited a modelling career announcement would follow, others theorised that it was a nod to a Taylor Swift song “Blank Space”, and that the former couple would soon confirm they were back together. Still more thought this suggested an oncoming solo album launch.

You can understand why a solo album launch would be on the tip of most fans’ tongues. Instagram has become a popular platform for the cryptic musical announcement — In April, Beyoncé teased Lemonade’s world premiere with a short Instagram video – keeping her face, and the significance behind the title Lemonade, hidden.

Creating a void is often seen as the ultimate way to tease fans and whet appetites. In June last year, The 1975 temporarily deleted their Instagram, a key platform in building the band’s grungy, black and white brand, in the lead up to the announcement of their second album, which involved a shift in aesthetic to pastel pinks and bright neons.

The Weekend wiped his, too, just last week – ahead of the release of his new single “Starboy”. Blank Instagrams are popular across the network. Jaden Smith has posted hundreds of them, seemingly with no wider philosophical point behind them, though he did tweet in April last year, “Instagram Is A BlackHole Of Time And Energy.”

The motive behind Harry’s blank posts perhaps seems somewhat anticlimactic – an interview with magazine Another Man, and three covers, with three different hairstyles, to go along with it. But presumably the interview coincides with the promotion of something new – hopefully, something other than his new film Dunkirk and the latest update on his beloved tresses. In fact, those blank Instagrams could lead to a surprisingly traditional form of celebrity announcement – one that surfaces to the world via the print press.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.