‘Gays Against Shariah’ Confounds UK Media Narratives

One year has passed since the horrific attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, claimed the lives of 49 people, yet the response of the LGBT community to what was essentially a homophobic hate crime has been far from united. Last Sunday, just the first anniversary of the attack, a British organization called “Gays Against Shariah – UK” held a march in Manchester, England, a city healing after a bombing at an Ariana Grande concert killed 22 people last month.

The event, led by a man going by the name “Tommy English,” drew thousands of protesters and counter-protesters, and led to a number of arrests. Making up a large portion—perhaps even a majority—of the crowd were members of the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right movement which opposes what it perceives to be the threat of radical Islam. However, what was particularly interesting about this protest was its media coverage, and the manner in which news outlets reported on an event organized by an LGBT group and attended by those many believe to be neo-Nazis and fascists.

Last week, crowds coordinated by the conservative group ACT for America—described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) of being a hate group which spews “wild hate speech demonizing Muslims”—gathered across dozens of cities throughout the US to protest against “sharia law.” The media response was predictable: progressive, liberal outlets such as Slate labeled the protests “anti-Muslim” and focused on what it saw as Islamophobia among attendees; conservative sites such as Breitbart chose to discuss the perceived evils of “sharia” and alleged violence of anti-fascist counter-protesters. Media outlets on both sides of the political spectrum were able to spin the story to fit into their narratives.

However, the case of the “Gays Against Shariah” march held in Manchester has been handled far differently. Very little coverage was given in the lead-up to the event— less than 70 people had confirmed their attendance on Facebook—but media outlets began weighing-in as the day progressed.

The Build-Up

It started on January 29 of this year, when the “Gays Against Shariah – UK” Facebook page shared an event called “Unite Against Hate.” The featured photo included a homophobic quote by US cleric Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick.

(Quick has since apologised for the statement, saying that it had been made many years ago and did not represent his current views.)

Between January and the protest itself, there was little related media coverage. However, on June 7th, LGBT website PinkNews published an article accusing Gays Against Shariah of being “an organisation of far-right and anti-Islam activists” who were hijacking the anniversary of the Orlando attack. The article noted that other LGBT groups were planning on holding a counter-protest.

The counter-protest was being organized by groups “Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants” and “Action for Trans Health”; it was posted to Facebook and attracted far more interest than the anti-sharia protest itself, with hundreds expressing an interest in attending.

The groups described “Gays Against Shariah – UK” as a “faction” of the EDL; they emphasised that they did not represent the LGBT community and were exploiting “LGBT grief and struggle to violate other marginalized communities.”

Various right-wing sites, including Breitbart and RightWingNews, were then quick to pick-up on the story, with the latter accusing “LGBT crusaders for attention” of reacting with “self-righteous hysteria.”

Other than the article in PinkNews, there appears to have been no coverage of the counter-protest; however, an article opposing the “Gays Against Shariah” march appeared on the extremist far-right Knights Templar International website, which accused the LGBT community (even those opposed to “sharia” law) of ruining their health and condemning their souls “to eternal torment.”

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