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Back Clinton if you think it’s the only way to defeat Trump, but don’t pretend she’s an LGBT champion

Why do so many gays, and so many British Labour types (particularly so many gay Labourites), enthusiastically support the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton?

Why do so many gays, and so many British Labour types (particularly so many gay Labourites), enthusiastically support the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton? Let me add a strong caveat. I understand – though I don’t accept – a hard-headed, pragmatic argument for endorsing the former secretary of state. Donald Trump is, after all, a threat to the American republic, and (turn away now if you have a sensitive disposition), if he becomes president, a menace to global security.

I could present polls which consistently show Bernie Sanders does better than Clinton when matched up against Republican candidates: you could wearily retort that the figures will change after an inevitable Republican onslaught against a self-described socialist. Clearly, it would be an inspiring and overdue historical landmark for the US to elect its first female president. There is also an understandable revulsion at the sexism and misogyny – and not just from the right – that has been directed at Clinton.

But it’s the enthusiasm, sometimes bordering on the sort of devotion Justin Bieber receives, that I’ve never understood. The Blairite wing of the Labour Party has always attracted a large contingent of gay men, specifically, some of whom idolise Tony Blair like besotted teenagers. Yet that’s more understandable: say what you will about Blair (and I have), but from the equalisation of the age of consent to civil partnerships, there is no denying New Labour’s commendable record on LGBT rights. Clinton is the mystery. She receives endorsements from leading LGBT organisations and activists; here in Britain, LGBT Labour members garnish their Twitter feeds with declarations of being #readyforhillary. But where is the record to justify such zealous cheerleading?

Hillary Clinton’s almost farcically offensive intervention on HIV last week is a case in point. Lauding both Ronald and Nancy Reagan for beginning a “national conversation” about HIV/Aids, claiming that before the Reagans “nobody would talk about it” and “nobody wanted to do anything about it” was a very public insult to the memories of the tens of thousands of Americans who died from the illness, partly because of President Reagan’s inaction. LGBT Americans and their allies struggled to start a “national conversation” about HIV/Aids that Reagan did not want to have. Not only did Nancy Reagan callously fail to help her friend Rock Hudson as he died from the effects of the virus, but the president’s press secretary even joked repeatedly, in public, about an illness killing thousands of American citizens.

The uproar over Clinton’s comments forced her to backtrack and claim that she “misspoke”, a bizarre formulation she also employed in 2008 when she dishonestly claimed to have been forced to run for cover in Bosnia after coming under sniper fire. But really: how on Earth could she have “misspoken” such an obviously absurd claim? You don’t even need to know that much about American politics – let alone be a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, with decades of political experience touting yourself as an LGBT champion – to know about the Reagans’ contemptible role in the HIV/Aids epidemic.

Clinton was a high-profile opponent of equal marriage, only embracing the cause in 2013. Am I claiming Bernie Sanders was way ahead of his time? No: although he backed civil unions for many years, he didn’t come round to equal marriage until 2009. And there is a big difference between 2009 and 2013. By 2013, public opinion had swung decisively in favour of equal marriage. In 2009 a poll found that 57 per cent of Americans opposed equal marriage; by 2013, a poll showed 53 per cent now backed it. Sanders was in a minority of politicians who were ahead of public opinion; Clinton merely caught up with popular opinion and adjusted her position accordingly.

Indeed, Clinton defended her husband’s signing of the Defence of Marriage Act 1996, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman – and “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military as a defensive measure, rightly leading others to accuse her of historical revisionism. Perhaps she just misspoke again. When in 2002 she was booed after responding negatively on whether New York State should recognise equal marriage, she grinned like a Cheshire cat.

Then there’s Hillary’s hawkish foreign policy. The aftermath of the Iraq War, which she backed, has been calamitous for LGBT Iraqis. Similarly, after the 2009 military coup in Honduras (backed by Clinton) LGBT activists in that country were targeted by right-wing militias.

And yet it was Clinton who won the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, the biggest LGBT organisation in the US. Of course, the LGBT rights movement is not homogeneous and never has been. There are those who, for instance, will argue for equality before the law but back economic policies that lead to slashing of support for LGBT services. And then there are those of us who believe that the battles for LGBT rights and economic justice are inseparable.

It is galling to see Clinton transformed, undeservedly, into some sort of LGBT icon. When I asked LGBT Labourites whom they would choose, if they could magically ensure either Sanders or Clinton becomes president, some made a passionate case for Clinton, despite a worse record on LGBT rights and although she’s to the right of not only Sanders, but even the British Conservatives on some issues. If people sincerely believe Clinton is their only chance of keeping Trump out the White House, I respect that view, even if I disagree with it. But let’s not pretend her record on LGBT rights is anything other than a mixture of opportunism, belatedness and outright dishonesty. 

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

This article first appeared in the 17 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Spring double issue

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A year in my life as a Brexit bargaining chip

After Brexit, like many other EU citizens in Britain, I spent a year not knowing what my future held. Here's what that was like.

I moved back to the UK in January 2016. I like to say “move back”, because that’s how it feels – I loved living in London so much during my Erasmus year that I always intended to come work here after graduation. 

I am French, and a journalist, and live in north London. I refer to the UK as “home”. By all appearances, in January 2016 I am part of what budding Brexiteers call the “liberal elite”, even though I rent a single room and my most expensive possession after my laptop is a teapot.

But by June, I have been given a new label. I am now one of the 3 million “EU citizens in the UK”. As Britain heads toward turbulent negotiations to leave the European Union, following a referendum in which I did not have a vote, I have become a “bargaining chip”. 

This is my account of that year.

April 2016

Moving back includes chores such as getting a UK phone number, a National Insurance number and opening a bank account – three tasks that go even smoother that I thought they would. For the bank account, I have been advised to go to Lloyds Bank, which makes it “easy for Europeans”. (A thread on Twitter recently proved it also is more inclined to help refugees than other banks.)

I also eagerly register to vote – another right of mine in the UK under EU rules, for local and European elections. And I am excited: I will have a vote in the London mayoral election.

I closely follow the referendum campaign. “Vote Remain” signs and stickers are omnipresent in my  neighbourhood.  I feel reassured. So do the other EU nationals quietly passing me in the street. “I don't recall seeing any Leave Campaign. It made me think it would be an easy win,” echoes Tiago Gomes, 27, a Portuguese musician.

In the pub, I get into a testy exchange with an acquaintance who holds French and British passports and is proudly campaigning for Leave. I struggle to understand why. Maybe, just like Ukip leader Nigel Farage, he knows he has a way out, if it all goes to shit.

Worried that people could wrongly see me as a Brexiteer because of my Union Jack Converses, I put a “I’m IN” sticker on each roundel.

May 2016

I vote in the London mayoral election. I have voted many times in France, but this is different – I am almost a Brit! I even take a happy selfie with my polling card, like a proud 18 year-old.

This turns out to be the only UK election I will ever have a vote in, as a friend will note a few months later.

June 2016

Jo Cox MP is murdered on the streets of her constituency. I report on the murder all afternoon and when I get the tube home, I feel shaken. A Leave supporter enters the tube carriage with an England flag. I want to ask him: "Do you even know what happened?" But I say nothing.

The violent turn taken by the campaign is felt in London, too. Samir Dwesar, a 27-year-old parliamentary assistant, remembers the abuse he suffered while campaigning for Remain: “I was called a p**i, and told to go back to ‘your f’ing country'.” Samir is British and has lived all his life in Croydon, South London.

Yet I am hopeful on 23 June 2016. I blow up “I’m IN” balloons, taste EU referendum cupcakes from my local bakery. I’m living history.

And it is history. I doubt anyone in Britain, and especially the country’s EU citizens, will forget the nightmarish morning of 24 June 2016. My heart sinks as I read the BBC news alert informing me I am no longer home – not really. On my wall, a poster of the Private Eye cover “What Britain will look like after Brexit”, which I found hilarious in April, looks like a doomed omen.

The mood is low among all Europeans. For Nassia Matsa, 27, a Greek woman from Athens who has lived in London for 9 years, it is even worse: 24 June marks her birthday. “Nigel and Boris ruined my birthday,” she says.

At least in London we are not alone. I discover many Brits identify as European. When I finally leave my house, my neighbourhood is still plastered IN signs and EU flags. “I found myself offering support to my British friends,” says Matsa. “Were talking about Brexit with an Italian, Swiss, Croatian, French and me, and all of us Europeans were comforting a Londoner who was ready to cry.”

July-August 2016

I go to France for a summer holiday. Everyone keeps asking what my situation will be in the UK after Brexit. My answer is always the same, and still hasn’t changed: I have no idea. My dad spends months repeating that Brexit will not happen: “They’ll realise it’s a mistake.” (They don’t.)

Bad adverts with Brexit puns bloom on the Tube. "We're Out," proclaims one for a city lifestyle app. I don’t laugh. But at least I don't have any Facebook friend boasting about Brexit. Mikael David Levin, a 24-year-old Italian who has lived in London for 16 years, does. "Their statuses frustrate and irritate me," he says. "They do not know how 'lucky' they are to be born in the UK."

After David Cameron’s resignation, the Tory leadership election and Theresa May’s premiership, the discussion focuses on when to pull the trigger, and what to do with people like us in the meantime. We are now, officially, bargaining chips.

September 2016

I start flying with my passport when I visit my family in France, even though I know my French ID is still valid until Britain officially leaves. At Stansted airport, the limited life expectancy of the “EU only” line makes me gloomy. Alex Roszkowski, a 27-year-old Polish-American who has lived in London for a year and a half, tells me he may now carry both his passports on every trip, as well as “copies of [his] lease, numerous old envelopes with [his] name and address, [his] business card".

Those EU citizens arriving in the UK have surreal experiences too. Joseph Sotinel, 28, who moved to London from Paris in September, encounters a bank official, who tells him: “Thanks for coming to the UK, you are still welcome no matter what.”

“It was as if I had done something heroic,” he says. “It was absurd.”

October 2016

Registering all EU citizens in the UK could take 140 years, according to a cheery statistic.

We are seeking an early deal to secure the rights of EU citizens, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers must provide a list of their employees, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers won’t have to provide a list of their employees, says the British government. EU citizens will need a “form of ID” in post-Brexit UK, says the British government.  EU citizens must be prepared to leave, says the British government.

Literally no one knows what will happen to EU citizens.

November- December 2016

EU nationals who have decided to apply to permanent residency or British citizenship start receiving letters urging them to leave the country. I fear mine could follow and think about it every time I get post. I read an article advising EU citizens to collect proof of living in the UK. As I am a lodger currently working freelance, I start keeping every single one of my shopping receipts in a box, and consider asking British friends for reference letters.

Matt Bock [unrelated to this journalist], a German freelance renewable energy project manager, worries about how to provide documentation showing he was living in the UK before Brexit too: “I don’t have an employer, I am outside the UK for a large amount of time for work, I am a freelancer largely paid by my own German company, I don’t have private health insurance, I am not married and I haven’t even been here for the prerequisite 5 years.”" He has chosen not to apply to right to remain because his chances of success are "remote", and says he is "ready to leave if need be."

As I, like Matt and many EU citizens, start thinking about moving back home, others rush to move to the UK. Alexandra Ibrová, 26, a Czech PhD student, moves to London on 28 December, worried she could not get a National Insurance number after 15 March. “I was trying to get the appointment before that date because it is actually the only official document that proves that you have been living here before the cut off date,” she says.

January- February 2017

Gina Miller’s legal challenge forces the government’s Brexit bill to go to a vote in Parliament. I am hopeful, for about five minutes, that the Labour MP Harriet Harman’s amendment to secure my rights has got a chance. It doesn’t. I complain about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip to my local Labour councillors during their Sunday canvassing. “As a traditionally left-wing voter, I'm more angry with Corbyn's Labour than with the Tories,” echoes Marta Maria Casetti, 39, from Italy, in London since 2006.

March 2017

The day before the triggering or Article 50, the Haringey LibDems send me a letter in “support” of EU nationals. I am now a bargaining chip and a stat on a micro-targeting list.

On 29 March, Theresa May officially begins the Brexit negotiations, even though 2017 is the worst possible time to leave the EU. It has almost been a year that 3 million people living in the UK have been left in limbo.

I don’t own a house or have children at school in the UK. Many EU citizens do – they have built their family life in this country, and now fear they may lose it all overnight.

Adriana Bruni, 44, an Italian who married an Englishman and has lived in Chelmsford for six years, says her family would not exist without the European Union: “From today [29 March], a family like mine will never be formed in the same way again.” Bianca Ford Epskamp, a Dutch national and school governor who has lived Dorset since 2001, adds: “Both my children are born here, go to school here, have made friends. I've always been employed, contributed, paid taxes, do voluntary things. Morally, it’s draining.”

Elena Paolini, 51, an Italian translator married to Brit who has lived in London for 27 years, says she doesn’t believe EU nationals will be deported, but she is concerned about her access to the NHS, pensions or bank accounts. She asks out loud the question that has been floating in all our minds for months: “Will I be considered a second rate citizen?”

As for me, I used to say I wanted to be British. I don't say that any more.

Update on 23 June 2017

Last night, Theresa May told EU leaders in Brussels the UK government would offer the same rights as Britons to EU citizens who arrived "lawfully" before Brexit. I can't help but think that it took a year to guarantee rights me, and the other 3 million, already had and took for granted up until 23 June last year.

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