Peter Tatchell on Malcolm X

There was a bizarre article in the Guardian yesterday in which Peter Tatchell (a London-based gay activist) attempts to make a homosexual and a gay icon out of a great Muslim hero, Malcolm X. Tatchell is known for his involvement in the “outing” campaigns in the 1980s (publicly naming supposed homosexuals they accused of being involved in persecuting gays) and was also recently involved in the anti-Qaradawi campaign. This piece of his betrays incredible ignorance of the life of its subject.

There are some incredible inaccuracies. At the beginning of the second paragraph, Tatchell claims that “Malcolm X, real name Malcolm Little, joined the militant Muslim NoI in 1949”. The NoI were not a Muslim organisation, but rather, a racist sect which used some Islamic terminology. The beliefs Elijah Poole, commonly called Elijah Muhammad, propagated are at clear variance with Islam - that Allah appeared in person in Detroit, for example, and that whites were cooked up in a lab by an evil scientist with two brains.

Tatchell then goes on to detail a number of homosexual encounters Malcolm had before he joined the NoI, and uses this to build a case for him as a gay icon for blacks. I’m not going to repeat all the dirt, but the obvious conclusion is that Tatchell has missed the point. Malcolm X had renounced all of his sleazy, corrupt, criminal activities and chosen to become a role model for his people. This certainly did not involve male (or female) prostitution and masturbating other men.

After this, Tatchell informs us of his lack of macho-ness and his supposedly troubled relationships with women - he was scared of them, it seems, after living with his domineering mama after his father was murdered by white racists (he didn’t just die, Peter):

He feared women and his early sexual experiences with girls were mostly unsatisfactory. Far from macho, Malcolm hated fighting and got beaten by other men. His passionate assertion that the need to feel masculine is a man’s “greatest urge” indicates someone doubtful of his own manliness.

Well, it’s a long way from being weak and having an aversion to fighting to being a pansy! It’s very strange to see Peter Tatchell coming out with this age-old stereotype. This is the sort of nonsense I last heard when I was at boarding school.

Tatchell explains that Malcolm X’s long history of sexual dalliances with men before he was imprisoned and joined the Nation of Racism must mean that he had some sort of sexual desire for other men:

Sexuality is not like a newspaper - read today and discarded tomorrow. Established desires can be sublimated or repressed, but never eliminated. If people have a homosexual capacity, it stays with them for life - even if they never act on it.

But even if this were the case, it certainly does not make a case for Malcolm X as a “gay icon”, since the gay campaign has been about gaining acceptance for gay relationships. Malcolm X, in the years of his life that matter to the wider community (both the Muslim and the black communities), was not a practising homosexual and would not have supported anything like the gay campaign which was emerging then and which exists now. Tatchell then speculates that had he not “been assassinated in 1965, almost certainly at the hands of NoI rivals”, he would have followed in the footsteps of Huey Newton of the Black Panthers and embraced gay lib. “Instead, to serve its homophobic political agenda, for 50 years the NoI has suppressed knowledge of Malcolm’s gay past,” he continues.

Malcolm X, as anyone who has read his biography will know, had left the NoI by then and embraced mainstream Islam. His assassins, if they were NoI which is considered most likely, were not internal rivals but people angered at his departure from the militantly anti-white attitudes of their organisation. Malcolm X would most likely have become an advocate for Islam while continuing with his civil rights campaign. It’s inconceivable that gay rights would have become part of his agenda.

Besides which, his story is all about his journey from a sleazy past to being a great political and religious leader, and besides his alleged homosexual acts and relationships he had also been a criminal. An important part of his (and the NoI’s) mission was to lead black people, and especially men, out of this sort of lifestyle. He would as likely have become an advocate for homosexuality as he would an advocate for drugs or prostitution. I’m not entirely convinced Tatchell intended this as an insult, but it certainly betrays an ignorance of Malcolm X’s story and his significance.

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