When councils postpone LGBTQ+ events as soon as Neo-Nazis target them, it sends a message to queer people that they should hide from an increasingly visible far-Right, writes Tom Tanuki.
The Melbourne queer community, anti-fascists and various other factions announced a peaceful gathering outside the event with the aim of protecting it from far-Right interference. As that gathering began to gain traction, however, Stonnington City Council announced it would be postponing the event.
That’s the news as it was published in most online and print media, and most are probably already aware of that. It was frustrating to see the story end there for the activists and community members who’d announced their intent to protect the event.
As far as they were concerned, it did not end there. 'Everybody’s still going', came the announcement that afternoon, encouraging attendance outside the cancelled event, regardless.
Why rally anyway if the event was shuttered? Some didn’t understand this and so I think it warrants explaining.
Firstly, take the neo-Nazi threat to the event in context. There has been a years-long far-Right campaign to reinvigorate anti-queer hatred in the guise of contrived fears over the "sexualisation of children". These campaigners do that by targeting trans, queer and drag family-friendly events and performers.
The National Socialist Network – the neo-Nazi group in question – hoped to use this trend to appeal to a larger far-Right audience with its stunt.
In the same spirit, the group targeted a similar event in Moonee Ponds in October and afterward I wrote about that event in this column space, concluding:
'If we want to help out drag performers who are in danger from child-grooming Nazis, we need to talk with friends and allies about being prepared to show up in a group next time this kind of thing happens. Just our presence is enough. That’s community care. It’s the public who needs to peacefully protect public events from these people.'
Fortunate enough to have 48 hours’ lead notice this time round, when the neo-Nazis announced their intention to crash the event on Telegram, this time we were prepared.
Stonnington City Council postponed anyway.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen a bureaucratic or government body cave in the face of far-Right anti-LGBTQ+ agitation. Recently, a plan to cast rainbow lights over the Shrine of Remembrance (part of a planned exhibit commemorating LGBTQ+ military service) was cancelled when far-Right figureheads called for a rally outside the Shrine.
If risk-averse government bodies won’t even endeavour to protect a set of rainbow lights in the name of solidarity, it’s little surprise they would do no more than that in the name of protecting actual queer kids.
I’m speaking like a Leftist. I’d be either naïve or an idiot to expect "solidarity" from controlling bureaucratic bodies. They don’t speak that language, of course, not fundamentally — they speak the language of blame, risk and indemnity.
Pinkwashing, or queerwashing is the utilisation/commodification of LGBTQ+ rights for aesthetic, strategic or financial purposes by corporations — or, in this case, bureaucratic bodies.
If an organisation agrees to platform queer events when it seems safe to do so but backflips as soon as a threat arises, it's hard to see how that body was ever interested in genuine support of that community. Perhaps, one might wonder if all they ever sought was a palatable queerwashing of the events calendar.
You must not cancel when threatened by these parasites.You must persist.
The risk to queer people here is obvious: cancelling these events tells the world that neo-Nazi agitation works. Postponing is almost worse still. It again tells neo-Nazis that they can cause an event to be delayed with threats; however, it also gives them more time and confidence to organise a larger contingent ahead of the later date. Either way, councils are quite specifically sending a message to queer youth that they should hide from an increasingly visible far-Right.
Stonnington City Council can cancel a queer event when neo-Nazis appear; queer kids, real living people, don’t get to stop existing for safety’s sake.
We all know that we live in a world where LGBTQ+ rights are under attack by a globally coordinated far-Right hate campaign. Understanding that reality, the message to government bodies looking to partner with the queer community must be: you must not cancel when threatened by these parasites. You must persist. And when the community comes offering peaceful gestures of assistance, you MUST NOT turn them down.
Over 200 people showed up in support of the event — at very short notice. Those numbers were absolutely enough to have peacefully protected the community event from any interference were it to have gone ahead. The rally went ahead because attendees knew they would need to be ready to mobilise not just on that day but again and again, wherever needed.
They proved they could do that.
What informed the decision to protect the event is community-mindedness. This was not a patronising or paternalistic gesture of Left or anti-fascist solidarity on behalf of an impotent queer community.
The coalition was indistinguishable from Melbourne’s queer community precisely because it was comprised of them (just as it was, those who wanted to express solidarity with them). It possessed a sense of the need to defend free expression, in civil society, of LGBTQ+ people — who have a right to embrace culture, feel safe and publicly participate in family-friendly entertainment.
Their rights are being targeted.
I want to live in a world where hate campaigns are combatted not by criminalisation, appeals to authority and calls for more legislation but simply by the community banding together to say: No.
We don’t need to illegalise bigotry if enough of us can get together to send it back to the absolute sewer it comes from. In that spirit, organisers only needed to get enough together to enact that will. That’s what they did.
Going forward, councils need to be aware. I understand that Stonnington is organising Glitter Nova to go ahead in January. It will again be targeted.
We will be organising a peaceful support crew to stand outside it. Supporters will not interfere with the event and they will not conduct themselves in a way that jeopardises a family-friendly event.
Stonnington should accept the inevitability of that support and work to coordinate its event planning alongside. Indeed, it has to. Because this coalition – including the public – is the only way a far-Right campaign against queer people can effectively be stopped.
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