Smearing the LGB Alliance
Two years of constant attacks
As I write today it is October 20th 2021.
Tomorrow, it will be the first annual LGB Alliance conference, on the eve of their second anniversary.
And October 23rd will mark the second anniversary of the LGB Alliance being smeared as a “hate group”.
Where are we now?
On October 20th, SNP MP Kirsty Blackman described the LGB Alliance conference as a “hate conference”.
On October 13th, Labour shadow equalities minister Taiwo Owatemi not only refused to express solidarity with Professor Kathleen Stock in the abuse and bullying she was receiving at Sussex University, but went on to lambast the LGB Alliance, the charity of which Dr Stock is a trustee. Owatemi’s response contained several misrepresentations or outright falsehoods, and prompted a vigorous response by LGB Alliance founder, Bev Jackson.
On October 13th, Russell T. Davies went on an unhinged rant against the LGB Alliance, saying that to cut out the T is to kill.
On September 30th, comedian Matt Lucas described the LGB Alliance as an “anti-trans group”.
And on and on and on. Every day, with impunity, for two years.
How did we get to the point that so many people are so utterly convinced that the LGB Alliance is a “hate group” that they will use considerable platforms to attack them, will credulously repeat smears, half-truths and misrepresentation, and will reject any and all information to the contrary? How come so many people who think of themselves as rational, progressive, kind and inclusive, have no hesitation whatsoever in publicly attacking a Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual charity in the strongest possible terms, revelling in the abuse they heap on the tireless gay rights campaigners who founded it?
When did this start?
LGB Alliance held a pre-launch meeting on October 22nd 2019, which was announced by Allison Bailey on Twitter at 11:12pm that night.
From what I can tell, accusations of hate, transphobia, being exclusionary, anti-trans etc started almost immediately, but the first accusation of being a “hate group” that gained significant traction came at 11:18am the following morning:
Over the course of the next 24 hours, some variation on this was directly tweeted and retweeted many thousands of times, by accounts with a combined following of over half a million. Twitter being what it is, there is absolutely no way to track the visibility of this sort of thing. You cannot tell who has seen what, you can’t tell how large an audience these assertions reached. However, given the way trending topics and likes and retweets explode outwards, it is certainly in the millions.
Probably the most significant early accusation however, came around 6:39pm:
Christine Burns is a hugely influential figure, and as part of Press For Change had a significant impact on the passage of the Gender Recognition Act, and the wider implementation of policy on transgender issues.
This is not just anonymous trolling - if Christine says the LGB Alliance are a hate group, politicians will listen.
But none of this answers: why were they being called a “hate group”?
Why did it start?
At this point the newly formed group had made no public statements - they were little more than a name, and an intent to advocate for same-sex attraction, not “gender extremism”. They were being called hateful for their position, not for their actions.
To understand this, it is worth reading Gendered Intelligence’s October 24th response to the LGB Alliance’s formation:
Language and activism on LGB issues has shifted in the last decade, and to illustrate here is Stonewall’s description of sexual orientation from their website as it was in mid-2015, which refers to same-sex and opposite-sex attraction.
And here is the description of homosexuality as it is on their site today:
After 2015, as part of its move from LGB to LGBT, Stonewall began using gender in place of sex for its understanding of sexuality. Because of the extent of Stonewall’s influence - and indeed the uniformity of thought on this across a range of similar lobbying and charitable organisations - this shift in language has made its way all the way into the BBC News Style Guide, without wider visibility or consultation.
If sex and gender are two different things, then these definitions cannot coexist. Either a gay person is exclusively attracted to members of the same sex, or they are attracted to members of the opposite sex. Sexuality cannot be both inclusive and exclusive of the opposite sex.
By the former definition a male person can never be a lesbian, and to say that they can is to render the word meaningless. By the latter, not only can a male person be a lesbian, but to deny this, or even to question that a change has taken place, is considered hateful.
Stonewall’s position not only erases the language for those who are same-sex attracted to talk about themselves, but makes it impossible to object.
This is why the LGB Alliance have been called a “hate group” from the moment they first met: for objecting. Because the objection itself is regarded as hateful.
Motivated reasoning is the cognitive process whereby we seek out and fit information that matches what we already believe. We are all prone to it, and it is very hard to counteract because, once we start down one particular path, we become more and more likely to reject information that does not match our biases.
In the words of Simon and Garfunkle’s song The Boxer, ‘A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest’. That people selectively attend to and ‘cherry-pick’ information from memory, archival sources, and their current environment to support previously arrived at emotionally held convictions while maintaining the illusion that they are being objective is very familiar to social and clinical psychologists.
If someone believes that a male can - either by physical change or by expressing a specific gender identity - be a lesbian, despite being male, then they will regard disagreement as a denial of that person’s very identity. To say that such a person is not a lesbian is by extension to say that they are male - when they may insist that they are not, or should not be treated as such in any way, that their sex is not male, or unknowable, or should not be named, or irrelevant compared to their “gender identity”.
Whatever the justification, they will treat this disagreement as an act of hatred, of erasure of this individual’s true self, of their right to be who they are. Why would you do such needless harm to someone, unless you hated them? So from that position it is obvious that a group which advocates solely for same-sex attracted people can only be a hate group.
It fits their world view, and there is no other explanation necessary.
The idea that the opposing position might be in any way legitimate simply doesn’t enter the picture.
This is compounded by social media, which creates what is called an availability cascade, as beliefs are shared and reinforced by in-group dynamics, until they become universally accepted. These beliefs are reinforced by the social rewards (likes, retweets) of publicly sharing an accepted view, and the punishment (cancellation) of dissent. This effect is then compounded by the social rewards of policing dissent and being seen to punish the dissenters.
Look at the phrasing of the Christine Burns tweet: “#LGBAlliance is a hate group, pass it on”.
It is a standard and recognisable meme formation. Anyone who has spent time on Twitter will have seen a “pass it on” chain before, and will understand that they are likely to explode in number and create interactions, therefore interacting with it will bring social reward
Christine Burns is a large account, and recognition from this account or its followers or wider network brings social reward
The high number of retweets and likes are a visual indicator of how many other people agree with this, and thus act to direct the reader to also agree, and show that agreement by interacting
It has a hashtag, which will get more notice, and bring social reward
The hashtag was trending, which would have been a visible indicator by the platform itself that this was an important shared moment and thus encourage interaction
It contains a command “pass it on”, which is a clear direction of what this in group is supposed to think.
And so on. All of this is unconscious, but it is deeply powerful.
None of these accusations spring from a dispassionate assessment of facts or behaviour, but still, we don’t tend to easily sustain a belief on faith alone. So, once an ideological conclusion has been reached, we will often fall into the trap of looking for evidence that supports it, cherry-picking what fits and disregarding what doesn’t.
For example, at 6:28pm on October 23rd, 2019 - in the midst of the “hate group” availability cascade, the co-leader of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, tweeted this:
Harvie believes there cannot be any legitimacy to the LGB Alliance position, and starts down the path of groundless conspiracy theory to prove himself right, ultimately insinuating a connection to the US Christian Right that categorically does not exist. Again - it fits the picture he already has. The link is so obvious it needs no further questioning. To Harvie, any attempt to form an LGB-specific organisation would be suspect.
From that point on this groundless smear became absorbed as fact - the LGB Alliance was definitely part of a conspiracy to “split the LGB from the T”. If you were in the in-group, you saw it, absorbed it, repeated it. It had to be true. This has been repeated hundreds of times and that sort of credulous repetition of misinformation is how we end up in the absurd, extreme position of Russell T. Davies decrying the LGB Alliance as tantamount to killers. That is how, during the 2020 Labour Leadership election, virtually all candidates signed a pledge that referred to LGB Alliance as a “hate group”.
People who believe that same-sex attraction should be recast as same-gender attraction cannot co-exist with a group who assert same-sex attraction, and regard that assertion itself as hateful. On that basis and that basis alone, they call them as a hate group, and tell each other the LGB Alliance is a hate group, and find scraps of tenuous information that doesn’t actually add up to anything. There are numerous myths that are recycled and repeated, statements taken out of context, bad-faith interpretations of tweets, or genuine mistakes that have been held up as damning proof of evil intent. Rebutting each of them is pointless - I have done it, time and again - because this is not a position based on evidence.
It is evidence selected to support a pre-existing belief.
If one piece of evidence is weak, well there must be another, because it must be true. No smoke without fire. Look at the big picture. Why would anyone defend such an obvious hate group.
The echo chamber
Prominent figures with large followings now regularly pronounce them to be a hate group, and spread this belief, constantly.
Tweeted and liked and retweeted thousands upon thousands of times.
To many millions of people.
We see Jolyon Maugham QC spreading these accusations, whipping up financial support for his ideologically motivated campaign to strip the LGB Alliance of its charitable status.
Jolyon Maugham QC, who cites Christine Burns as a particular influence:
Christine Burns, who welcomed the latest update to Maugham’s action against the LGB Alliance as follows:
“Run them ragged”. Tie them up, keep them busy, exhaust them, demoralise them, make their lives a misery.
If you have convinced yourself they are a “hate group”, it is a moral crusade.
If you understand that they are just some long-time lesbian and gay campaigners who don’t want same-sex orientation to be undermined by gender-identity focused activism, then it is out and out bullying.
This week marks the second anniversary of the start of a campaign of harassment, abuse and intimidation against a group trying to advocate for their own sexual orientation.
Two years of MPs repeating smears and misinformation unquestioningly, of refusal to engage, of threats of expulsion from the Labour Party, of a QC using his position to drag them through the courts on behalf of purely ideological opponents, and more.
All because a group that advocates for same-sex orientation is incompatible with their worldview, and must be bullied out of existence.