Structuring asexual groups and communities to be anti-bias and anti-bigotry

The Movement for Asexuality Awareness, Protection, Learning and Equality (MAAPLE) is a group recently founded in the UK (it was featured in an Asexual Agenda linkspam). The group aims to engage in political advocacy towards getting asexuality included in anti-discrimination law and policy. In pursuit of this aim, they are seeking support from various organizations in the UK, particularly from LGBTQ groups.

On July 9, 2015, MAAPLE announced on their Facebook page that they had received the support of a group called LGBT* in UKIP. LGBT* in UKIP was also featured on the Supporters page of MAAPLE’s website. (The Facebook post has since been deleted, but you can view a screenshot of the post as it appeared on the morning of July 10. The Supporters page has been updated to remove the LGBT* in UKIP logo, but you can view a screenshot of the page as it appeared on the morning of July 10.)

UKIP is the United Kingdom Independence Party, a minor political party that recently contested Parliamentary and local elections in the UK. UKIP has been widely criticized for promoting xenophobic policies and a number of their candidates in the election were criticized or suspended for Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic statements. You can read a large number of links to news stories about UKIP’s policies and candidates here.

I posted a comment to MAAPLE’s Facebook page expressing concern about their association with LGBT* in UKIP. I subsequently communicated via Twitter with George Norman, a member of MAAPLE’s organizing committee. (Norman is a member of the Labour party, the UK’s major left-of-center party, and unsuccessfully ran for a city council seat in the election. He has been featured in two Asexual Agenda linkspams.)

The manager of the Facebook page defended the association with LGBT* in UKIP on the grounds that they consider it important to engage in dialogue with groups from across the political spectrum. A representative of LGBT* in UKIP also posted a comment on the thread defending the party’s record.

In several series of tweets (1, 2, 3, 4), Norman said that MAAPLE had reached out to all of the political parties but only received a response from LGBT* in UKIP. He argued that they were not legally able to reject support from only certain political parties while accepting it from others. He also implied that MAAPLE was afraid of a backlash from UKIP or its supporters if they were excluded, citing UKIP’s recent exclusion from (and gatecrashing of) London Pride. He claimed that LGBT* in UKIP had committed to supporting all of MAAPLE’s aims (this would appear to be contrary to the party’s policies against anti-discrimination legislation).

It is not clear if MAAPLE would actually face legal jeopardy for rejecting support from LGBT* in UKIP. However, even if – or especially if – this is true, MAAPLE does not seem to have thought through their strategy very thoroughly.

They could have waited until hearing back from other political parties and then featured all of the parties together. They could have placed a disclaimer stating that they do not agree with UKIP’s positions, or included a link to an anti-bigotry pledge signed by LGBT* in UKIP. Instead, the Facebook post and the inclusion of the LGBT* in UKIP logo on MAAPLE’s website, without any additional information to contextualize it, gave the impression that they endorse or support UKIP’s policies and views. This is especially the case since they have not featured any of the other political parties.

Besides the failure to think through what it would look like for them to feature the support of LGBT* in UKIP like this, or to plan for the eventuality that they would only hear back from this political party, MAAPLE also does not seem to have communicated with or sought input from any of the groups who have been targeted by the bigotry of UKIP candidates or supporters. This would include Muslims, Jews, people of color, and people of immigrant origin, as well as members of other marginalized groups.

There are Muslim aces, Jewish aces, aces of color, immigrant-origin aces, and aces from other marginalized backgrounds. Does MAAPLE not have any officers or members who are from these backgrounds? Do they not have contacts with individuals or groups representing these backgrounds? Do they not have a formal process for seeking input and feedback from a diverse range of aces to ensure that they are effectively representing the entire asexual community?

At no time did either the manager of MAAPLE’s Facebook page nor George Norman express any consideration for how aces affected by UKIP might feel about their action. They do not even seem to have thought about this, much less considered it important. Norman expressed concern about a backlash from UKIP and its supporters, but he does not seem to be concerned about a backlash from other aces.

Neither MAAPLE as an organization nor Norman as an individual speaking in a personal capacity have made any apology to aces affected by UKIP, nor indicated any plans to do damage control in ace communities. Nor have they indicated any plans to reach out specifically to groups representing Muslims, Jews, people of color, or people of immigrant origin, whether these are ace groups, LGBTQ/queer groups, or broader umbrella groups. Has MAAPLE considered seeking support from these groups as part of their overall aims or are they only reaching out to political parties and mainstream LGBTQ groups?

It is this lack of awareness and inclusion by MAAPLE that concerns me more than their lack of foresight and planning.

As someone who is visibly Muslim, I would not feel completely safe near or with a group of UKIP members or supporters. Their history of Islamophobic bigotry is extensive enough that I have to assume there’s a good chance such views would be expressed to or around me. The same is likely true for other Muslims, and for many Jews, people of color, and people of immigrant origin, all of whom have been targeted by UKIP candidates and supporters in the past.

With MAAPLE having given such prominent space to LGBT* in UKIP on their Facebook page and website, I would have to assume that I might encounter UKIP members or supporters when attending MAAPLE meetings (I should note that I am not in the UK, but am speaking about the considerations I would face if I were) or when engaging in political advocacy work with MAAPLE.

With multiple representatives of MAAPLE having dismissed my concerns in direct online conversation with me, I also have to assume that they either do not understand why UKIP is problematic or they might even share those views. Would they act the same way at an in-person meeting? Who do they want to feel safe in their spaces, UKIP or me?

Perhaps the officers and members of MAAPLE are not themselves bigoted against Muslims, Jews, people of color, or people of immigrant origin. Yet it is still possible for them to act in a way that furthers Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia.

American and European societies have been structured by white supremacy, colonialism, and orientalism for centuries. Because of this, bias against Muslims, Jews, people of color, and people of immigrant origin is systemic. It operates and reproduces itself through the structure of the society without the need for any individual member of a dominant group to be individually prejudiced against marginalized groups.

Because this is inherent to and endemic in the larger society, any sub-group that forms will reproduce the same bias unless it is consciously structured against it.

If we want ace groups and communities that are anti-Islamophobic, anti-anti-Semitic, anti-racist, and anti-xenophobic, we need to take conscious action to counteract these forms of bias and bigotry.

Some things that we can do, and which I hope MAAPLE will do:

  • Be aware of ways in which we are privileged and vigilant about our own thoughts, words, and actions in these areas.
  • Listen to the experiences and perspectives of marginalized groups on an ongoing basis so that knowing their concerns becomes second nature to us.
  • Build our friendship circles, groups, and organizations to include people from diverse backgrounds as equal partners. Empower them to correct us when we screw up.
  • When taking a course of action, solicit the input of those whom the action might affect – by taking the first three steps, we are more likely to be aware of these effects.
  • When given feedback that our actions were harmful, listen, learn, and make changes to prevent it happening again.

I hope that MAAPLE will take this time to work on rebuliding trust among groups of aces affected by UKIP and towards making their organization more responsive and inclusive.

I also hope that other ace groups and organizations, and individual aces who are considering joining or founding such groups and organizations, will take this as a learning experience, a bad example they commit to ensuring will not be repeated.

About Laura (ace-muslim)

Laura is an aromantic asexual, queer-identified, and a Muslim. She lives in the U.S., works in online tech support, and volunteers for a Muslim anti-racism organization. She blogs about asexuality, queer Muslim issues, and other topics at http://ace-muslim.tumblr.com and has written on asexuality for a number of Muslim sites.
This entry was posted in Articles, Community, Intersectionality. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Structuring asexual groups and communities to be anti-bias and anti-bigotry

  1. Sennkestra says:

    It’s especially worth noting that UKIP is the only major UK party that still refuses to make LGBT+ equality and protection from discrimination a part of their official platforms. They also oppose sex and/or relationship education for primary school students because it “might encourage experimentation”.

    Kind of the opposite of the main stated goals of MAAPLE, which include furthering inclusion of asexuals in LGBT antidiscrimination legislation and promoting asexual awareness as part of a comprehensive sex education program.

    • Yeah, UKIP’s platform seems to reject and be the opposite of MAAPLE’s aims so I have a hard time believing that UKIP is going to do anything to further MAAPLE’s aims, even if individual UKIP members and supporters might agree with MAAPLE.

  2. Sennkestra says:

    I also left some suggestions on how to avoid these kinds of problems moving forward here: https://nextstepcake.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/advice-for-maaple-and-other-ace-political-orgs/

    Would love to hear suggestions from anyone else!

  3. Siggy says:

    LGBTQ* in UKIP appears to have made a post in support of asexuality on their Facebook page (which afaict is their main website). I am not sure of the timing, but it was also some time on July 9th. The author implies that he is himself asexual. Googling suggests that he’s the treasurer of the UKIP Association in the University of York.

  4. The idea that you have to seek and accept endorsements from all political parties if you’re intending to be a lobbyist organization is absolutely ludicrous. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not British, but a quick check of the number of political parties in the UK shows that it would require a full time position just to track down the addresses to write to them all. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_the_United_Kingdom) Did they also seek the endorsement from the “Church of the Militant Elvis” party? (Seriously, that’s a registered UK political party: http://registers.electoralcommission.org.uk/English/Registrations/PP843) That sort of thing would be prohibitive for an organization of any size, and it would be exploited up the wazoo by every fringe party around.

    • Sennkestra says:

      There’s information on UK charity political restrictions here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/speaking-out-guidance-on-campaigning-and-political-activity-by-charities-cc9

      It’s true that charities cannot endorse specific candidates or political parties. But if they do reach out, they don’t have to contact all of them – just most of the major ones. If a charity only contacted one or two parties repeatedly, that would be bad. If they contact many or most of the major parties, that could be ok. And there’s no requirement that they have to work with or accept support from all comers. The main guideline is that they should be careful when working with political parties and candidates not to compromise their independence, and to only show support for policies, not politicians or parties. (thus, “this press release about asexuality is great!” is better than “this party is great!” ) Charities are also encouraged to be as transparent as possible in their dealings with political organizations. No where does it say that you have to put the logos of anyone who says something nice on your front page.

      A possibly relevant passage from this document: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/346058/elect.pdf
      “However, inviting candidates from a wide spectrum can be difficult to achieve in practice. It does not mean that all parties have to be represented every time a charity does any work which engages with political parties. The trustees should make a decision based on whether such engagement would further or hinder the interests of the charity. For example, an event may be more manageable and more focused if all minority parties are excluded. If the charity is advised (for example by the police) that the presence of a particular candidate at an event will create a risk of disorder, that would be a good reason for not inviting them. It is also open to charities to decide not to invite a representative from a political party which advocates policies which are in contravention of the charity’s objects, or whose presence or views are likely to alienate the charity’s supporters.

      In this particular case, working with UKIP is clearly alienating the charity’s supporters, so they would be justified in not wanting to work with them

      To be honest, I’d consider the centralizations of the equality act revision in the materials as much more of a potential liability on the charity front, since charities aren’t supposed to make changes to the law one of their primary reason for existence.

      Of course, that all assumes that you registered as a charity in the first place. Non-charity nonprofits have only the regular campaign and financing restrictions. And I have no idea what MAAPLE’s organizational status is since their website has so little information. I couldn’t find them in the UK charity directory, but they could be seeking registration still.

  5. I just want to say that your mode of writing is both eloquent and thought-provoking. This is a beautifully written piece, definitely gets to the heart of a matter that is increasingly an issue in LGBTQA+ communities. Do we, in promoting equality, then have to embrace the supposed support of organizations that don’t actually support us, just because they are influential (or just noisy)? It’s sad that in order to garner support from an already problematic entity, MAAPLE would choose to throw aces of ethnic/religious/etc minorities under the bus. Thank you for bringing this to light.

    • Thanks to the kind words. I don’t think that it was at all necessary for MAAPLE to put themselves in this position, but they didn’t do enough preparatory work to know how to avoid it. There are surely many courses of action that are or were available to them that don’t involve this kind of compromising.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Interesting that this happened only a couple of months after I observed that the ace community hadn’t dealt with an issue like this before. I hope that we learn well enough from this that it doesn’t happen again!

    • In retrospect, that was a timely comment that you made! I’m not surprised that this happened eventually but will admit I didn’t expect it to happen in this way. I’m hoping that because most ace orgs and groups are at such a preliminary stage of development, we are able to incorporate these lessons as we grow, rather than having to change course later on.

  7. MAAPLE has issued a statement: http://maaple.org.uk/updates/a-statement-from-maaple/

    The main reason I wrote this post is that I believe there are deeper issues at play here, and I don’t yet feel that MAAPLE really understands or has started to work on addressing these issues.

    However, I appreciate that they are reconsidering their approach and hope that they will continue to listen and learn.

  8. Thomas Turton says:

    Hi , I’m the person that wrote the statement for LGBTQ in UKIP on their website and to confirm I am an ace myself. I am also the South Wales Central County Chair for YI and the Secretary of York Uni UKIP.
    I personally believe that any worries that you have about UKIP are misplaced , and I certainly am not anti-Muslim or any of the other words you have accused UKIP and UKIP members of being. I first found out about MAAPLE through George after talking to him after a debate that we both participated in. (We go to the same Uni).
    After hearing about an opportunity to raise awareness of LGBT+ issues it I decided to see if I could raise awareness of asexual issues in UKIP and saw the LGBTQ in UKIP pledging support of MAAPLE as a way of doing that. The pledge and my statement were both approved by UKIP . What happened next was not altogether unexpected , as many people have misconceptions about UKIP, but I hoped it wouldn’t happen. Indeed I believe MAAPLE was intending to use LGBTQ in UKIP’s pledge to help trigger other parties to do the same.
    I am still deeply saddened that MAAPLE has been inconvenienced by this affair , and will continue to raise awareness of Ace issues in a personal capacity , even if I’m left unable to do so as part of a wider group.

    • epochryphal says:

      Hm, did you read the part about “may not be personally bigoted, but can still perpetuate bigotry”? Cuz like.

      And I hear you say misconceptions, but I can *see* all of the citations in this post.

      • Thomas Turton says:

        Well I could point you to several examples of bigotry in other parties and have never ecountered any of the type of bigotry described within UKIP. If such views are expressed we either kick the people that voice them out or discipline them. I could point you to the fact we had more BME candidates than the Greens , which have to be selected by local branches. But you can easily find those lists and facts for yourself if you care enough. If Laura wishes to discuss the finer points with me then she is welcome to. The truth is UKIP doesn’t target immigrants or any other group, and while we advocate controlled immigration and interculturalism this hardly perpetuates bigotry. The points Laura makes have been used to promote intimidation of UKIP members and supporters as well as encouraging isolation of them (pride was an example) .
        It’s almost as if our political opponents are starting to believe their own propaganda and it does not compute when we choose to support equal rights. This is what I saw the reaction to our pledge as being. As I said before LGBT* in UKUP will continue to support ace rights , whether people acknowledge it or not. That was the purpose behind the pledge, as it helped raise awareness of these issues.

        • Sennkestra says:

          UKIP’s own manifesto literally advocates increasing discrimination against immigrants in employment and healthcare. How is that not targeting immigrants?

          I could see someone arguing that UKIP’s targeting of immigrants is an acceptable position (I disagree), but I don’t really see how you can claim that they don’t target immigrants at all.

        • Sennkestra says:

          I’d also love to know what exactly UKIP plans to do to support MAAPLE’s aims of ace anti-discrimination laws and inclusive sex and relationship education, because so far they don’t seem to have done very much.

          • Thomas Turton says:

            In terms of policy I can’t really say yet ,I don’t really know. I can say that Steven Crowther(the UKIP party Chairman) approved the pledge. Now I can completely derail your argument here , how is supporting a controlled immigration system , which would include making sure people had medical insurance before migrating into this country targetting immigrants? Consider that the majority of countries (including the USA) do this already on the area of health, it’s hardly discriminatory , it’s merely saying that you have to pay in before getting the benefits of the NHS. It’s not targetting immigrants , it’s merely addressing the issues surrounding immigration.
            Regardless , we’re accused of targetting “Jews , Muslims and people of Color” to quote the article, which is entirely slanderous and without basis. Farage has even gone on record protecting Jewish customs in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle. Our immigration (Steven Woolf) spokesman is mixed-race (and one of our MEPs and one of the most well respected in the party) , our housing spokesman (Andrew Charalambous) is from Greece , one of our key target seats (Thurrock) had Tim Aker (also an MEP_ stand (who is part Turkish) who was even smeared racially by the Tories! I could go on , but I think I’ve made my point.
            To be honest I think we’ve achieved some awareness already because of all this controversy, but I’m looking at silver linings. I think the fact that none of the other parties have responded to MAAPLE (they did email all of them) as far as I know, should tell you something. But all this attacking of MAAPLE has done is to distract from the issues they wanted to talk about . If you are anti-UKIP (which I am sure you are) then it has made us look like victims and the people that attacked MAAPLE look …misguided to put it diplomatically. If you seek to support Ace communities then the backing of political parties is very useful, I’m personally hoping that other LGBT wings from UK political parties will join us in our pledge to support Ace rights. Who knows , in Ace awareness week in October they might.

    • Siggy says:

      If you’re interested in citations, Laura provided many here.

      But we don’t even need to get into the inflammatory comments made by one UKIP politician or another. Just one citation is enough: I learned that Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, believes in abolishing anti-discrimination laws, and believes his party “colour-blind”. Presumably UKIP members believe that this is the correct and most fair way to address race, but I completely disagree and find that attitude to be a source of great harm. That doesn’t sound at all like anti-UKIP slander or propaganda. It sounds like UKIP is clearly stating their position, and I’m disagreeing with it.

      If MAAPLE associates with LGBT* in UKIP, that makes me wonder, are they trying to signal that they oppose anti-discrimination laws for asexuals? Are they trying to signal that they are blind to ace/race intersectionality?

      • Thomas Turton says:

        I wouldn’t want anyone to come up with assumptions about MAAPLE from LGBT in UKIP supporting them. MAAPLE have nothing to do with UKIP policy nor do UKIP direct MAAPLE policy. The truth is they emailed all the parties , and UKIP got back first. I get the feeling that if another party had declared support first there wouldn’t have been a backlash when we decided to support them.
        We were merely saying that we agreed with their goals and would aim towards those goals. George is a friend of mine and that’s why UKIP replied so quickly , as I kept the chair of LGBT in UKIP aware of when she was getting the email so we could support it. MAAPLE merely announced that we were supporting their goals , not that we were in any way otherwise affiliated with them or effecting their policy. Either way it doesn’t matter now , and they have been sadly inconvenienced by the resulting backlash.

  9. Pingback: What price visibility? | The Asexual Agenda

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