Gay groups divided over East End Pride march

gay-free zone

Gay-Free Zone stickers have appeared in Shoreditch and Stoke Newington

A row has erupted between gay rights groups over a march planned in protest against homophobic stickers that have appeared in Hackney and elsewhere.

Out East, which organises the annual Hackney Pride March, is boycotting East End Gay Pride – a march planned for Saturday 2 April in protest at stickers plastered in Shoreditch and Stoke Newington declaring a “gay-free zone”.

It is not known who is responsible for the stickers, which bear the message: “Arise and Warn. Gay free zone. Verily Allah is severe in punishment”.

Some have claimed the stickers were the work of far right group, the English Defence League (EDL).

An open letter signed by Out East chair Thierry Schaffauser expresses concern about playing into the hands of extremists wishing to stir up hatred against Muslims.

The letter, which is also signed by Terry Stewart of the Hackney Community Engagement Board, states: ” It is not clear who is behind the stickers and the police are still investigating that … However, what is clear is that the message of the stickers identifies Islam as the cause for this hate.

“There have been allegations that it is an attempt from far right groups to stigmatise Muslim people. Whether this is true or not, what will remain in people’s minds is that Muslim people as a whole group are the cause for homophobia.”

The letter, which has been posted on Out East’s website, warns the EDL might seize on the march and calls for a dialogue with Muslim group and concludes: “We believe that the most appropriate response to the stickers is to liaise with Muslim communities and others to create bridges and communicate with each other.

“We want both homophobia and Islamophobia addressed as a collective problem and not feed one against the other, we do not recognise these as distinct categories.

“We will refuse any attempt to divide our communities or take the risk that an LGBTQ event is used to oppress other marginalised groups, in particular LGBTQ Muslims who will be the most affected by this rising antagonism.”

In a response posted on Facebook, the organisers of East End Gay Pride state: “We can 100% confirm that the EDL or the SWP [Socialist Workers Party] have absolutely nothing to do with this event in any way, shape or form.”

The message states: “This is wholly a non-political demonstration and purely a high visibility demonstration of the East End gay community. This is not an anti-Muslim march. This is not an anti-anything march. We have stated this over and over again, here and on our website. We simply want to say: “Hang on. You’re wrong. The East End is NOT a Gay-Free zone”.

The Association of British Muslims has condemned the stickers, stating: “There is nothing in the Qur’an against LGBT people. Allah has honoured every son [and] daughter of Adam, so such a hateful message is not only morally and ethically wrong but actually unislamic.”

At a Unite Against Fascism rally in defence of multiculturalism on Wednesday, representatives of both the East End-based Islamic Forum Europe and the East London Mosque expressed support for gay equality and their organisations’ opposition to homophobia.

Related: Stickers declare ‘gay-free zone’ in Hackney