Forgive me for failing to wade into the arena of political commentary associated with the most recent elections. I’ve grown tired of the whole miserable and predictable affair. At least one consolation of the outcome is the relegation of Bob McCartney, Diane Dodds and Paul Berry to the skip of political history, although McCartney’s overwhelming vanity will doubtless prompt a reawakening, much in the mould of a returning Buffy villain.
And forgive me for not joining in with the mewling of appreciation directed by all and sundry at newly elected Alliance member, Anna Lo.
I recall Mrs Lo appearing on TV some years back, when loyalists were condemning the Chinese community for daring to consider Donegall Pass in Belfast as the location for their new community centre. Leaflets were circulated noting that the proposals for the new centre ‘undermines the community’s Britishness.’
At the time, Mrs Lo said nothing of the racism inherent in loyalism, failed to point her finger at the villains and ended up issuing only oblique comments on Chinese people not being accepted. Perhaps the beleaguered Chinese community feared that any criticism directed at the loyalist tormentors would result in attacks against them. Unfortunately, it’s not an untypical response from minority groups faced with such intolerance.
In Northern Ireland, there is a belief that minority communities tend to shy away from any identification with the orange and green landscape that surrounds them. A friend of mine pointed out that he felt many immigrants tended to subtly align themselves with political unionism, since it’s the dominant culture and to do otherwise would be to cast oneself as opposed to the state.
I’ve sometimes found that, within the gay community in Northern Ireland, many of the male-dominated groups tend to gravitate towards a unionist ethic, despite the unionist political parties having displayed a woeful and homophobic gay rights record. I think this alignment has something to do with a need for queer activists to engage with Westminster in an attempt to overturn homophobic legislation.
Lesbian groups, on the other hand, lacking any British legislation directed against them, haven’t needed to talk to Westminster to the same extent, which perhaps explains the existence of a more visible republican ethic in many lesbian groups here.
Limitations aside, the gay community (or should that be communities) in Northern Ireland has made many efforts to engage with ethnic minority groups. However, within the ethnic minority communities, there exists an inability – or refusal – to join with the queers in opposition to all kinds of intolerance, no matter where it comes from or what shape it takes. I’ve attended many meetings and rallies where the drive to combat racism is shouted from platforms by the usual faces, without homophobia ever being mentioned. It’s as if the many homophobic attacks never happened, skilfully airbrushed away to placate the apologists for religious dogma who prevail within some anti-racist circles.
I don't want to be too hard on Anna Lo. I'm sure she has achieved a great deal through her work for the Chinese community. However, when she demonstrates an ability to make the kind of minority community alliances that reach beyond those she's used to working with, then I’ll pay attention to what she has to say. Alas, I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.