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.