Lez Miserable: “Everyone's coming out, including Hillary Clinton and Snoop Lion”

While it’s great to have Hillary and Snoop on board the equal marriage bandwagon, Eleanor can’t help feeling they care a little bit too much about vote-chasing and record sales to be celebrated as true converts to the cause just yet.

 

Everyone’s coming out. From Hillary Clinton to Snoop Lion (the former Mr Snoop Dogg), some of America’s most influential people are “evolving” and embracing same-sex marriage. As the US Supreme Court examines the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, barring gays and lesbians from receiving federal spousal benefits – gay rights activists are picking up allies in the most unlikely of places. From rappers to Republicans like Ohio Senator Rob Portman, the voices demanding equality for same-sex couples are growing more diverse by the day.

Rainbow is the new black, and I mean that quite literally. In the 1960s, the campaign for desegregation shifted from being a minority issue to something demanded by the majority of the American public. The push for gay rights has now reached a similar tipping point. Of course, marriage is only the beginning. Just as post-Civil Rights America remains riddled with racism, there’s little chance of DOMA’s possible repeal erasing so many Americans’ deep-seated hatred of LGBT people.

It’s a start, at least. But you can’t help but wonder how many recent high-profile reversals on marriage equality were driven by political or commercial concerns. Take Mrs Clinton. In 1996, Hillary Clinton did a bad thing. She backed DOMA. Staunchly. When her husband put his big, fat, swirly (I imagine) signature on a piece of paper that said, “gays shall not marry”, she was right behind him. Now, seventeen years later, she claims to have “evolved”. This term, first used by President Obama to describe his U-turn on equal marriage, has become a buzzword in this latest fight for gay rights. It couldn’t be more perfect. (And by the by, it must go down like a bowl of cold grits in the creationist Bible Belt.) Because, absolutely, when you change your view on gay marriage from con to pro, you transform from grunting Neanderthal who chucks poo at mammoths for a laugh, to a homo sapiens who uses a toilet and sees nothing funny about turd-throwing whatsoever. No, really.

Now, we all know that the chances of the newly “evolved” Hill-meister running for President in 2016 are decent. So, funny isn’t it? Funny that the first potential Madam President should suddenly, as she gears up for a massive vote grabathon, start waving a rainbow flag along with all the cool kids. And her “evolution” is aimed at The Kids. According to the Pew research organisation, 70 per cent of Americans aged 18 to 32 approve of same-sex marriage – too big a demographic for any wannabe White House resident to ignore. See, we gays have fun. I can’t help feeling that Hillary Clinton is showing up to our big, sparkly hootenanny with a box of petrol station Ferrero Rocher, and a goofy grin.

And, hey, we’re a friendly bunch – so of course we’re going to vote her in. I’m not saying that anyone who’s prepared publicly to stand up for gays should be shunned even if their motive is arguably open to interpretation. We need all the help we can get, and if that means partying with fuddy-duddies, so be it. But why are we letting these people suggest that their, post-deep consideration, support for granting gays one of the most basic human rights is some grand gesture? I can only speculate on how Hillary Clinton would feel if Chelsea decided to shack up with, I don’t know, Belgravia. But, I’ll say it again, the woman backed DOMA. I can’t quite imagine her driving the removal van. Likewise, Snoop Lion/Dogg, a guy who’s never been opposed to throwing homophobic slurs into his lyrics, showing up at our big gay party seems just a little bit of a chutzpah.

As glad as we are to have him on board, an apology for the repeated use of the word “faggot” over a career spanning two decades would be nice. Same goes for 50 Cent, who’s also voiced support for the gay cause. Hey Fiddy, didn’t you tweet something about shooting up a gay wedding in a Twitter beef with Perez Hilton a few years ago?

So excuse us if we in the gay community don’t quite erect a statue in your honour and tell our grandchildren about the time you bravely “evolved” your stance on us marrying. As important as it is that the hip-hop world is starting to let go of some of its homophobia, I can’t help thinking that record sales, like Clinton’s ever-so-slightly brazen vote-mongering are playing some part in it.

Snoop Lion/Dog. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.