When I was growing up in Philly, my mother always complained that if we had to live in the heart of a city, it should be New York. New York lived in our dreams as the land of the intellectual vanguard, the world’s playground of creative expression and at times, principled leadership.
But no more—the actions of the leadership of New York’s famed LGBT community center are an inexplicable embarrassment, a medieval-era violation of virtually every principle of free thought and queer social understanding: Gay City News just reported that the center has refused to allow the renowned writer Sarah Schulman to speak about her new book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International because of its topic. (I suppose if she actually just showed up with the books, they’d have to burn them.)
What’s worse, they seem to have folded entirely under the pressure of a hate-monger with deep pockets, right-wing funder and outspoken pornographer Michael “I hate Islam with all my heart” Lucas— instituting a seemingly lifetime ban on Israel/Palestine related anything.
The ban was announced 2 years ago by center director Glennda Testone after Lucas, who thinks of himself as Israel’s best friend, boasted that in just 8 hours he got the Center to give the boot to a “Party to End Apartheid” fundraiser. That would be Israeli apartheid, to be clear. (It’s fine to have a difference of opinion, but there’s nothing criminal or discriminatory about the word apartheid, a word BTW frequently used in Israel and Palestine.)
But let’s be clear— the ban isn’t on just any person or group that cares about Palestinian liberation-and presumably an Israeli dating group could meet there without a problem. It’s in effect a ban on the precise people the center is meant to serve, like Palestinian queers who can not separate their dating lives from their occupation or refugee or inequality-filled lives, and Jews and others like Schulman who have absolutely no problem understanding how queer liberation and Palestinian liberation are linked.
As Sarah Schulman told us, “The Occupation is so indefensible and depraved that its supporters censor rather than risk arguments they cannot justify.”
Amazing, Brooklyn College could stand up to a whole swath of NY elected officials threatening to take away their funding if they didn’t didn’t stamp down on free speech for Palestinian rights, but the LGBT center folded in just 8 hours to the threats of a bigot and presumably his equally deep-pocketed friends.
No standing on principle. No attempt to resolve the situation. Just shameful folding to hate.
Worse, looking at Lucas’ (pictured below) track record, openly hating one religious group, if they are Muslim, does notdisqualify one from renting space or dictating policy at the Center. On the other hand, being a hugely influential queer thinker with an anti-racist analysis makes one worthy of an apparently lifetime ban if one dares speaks the P word.
What on earth does this say about New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center and how deeply has the LGBTQ establishment has lost its compass if this goes unchallenged?
On April 11, the LGBT Center is having its big fundraising dinner. Would be great to see attendees boycott until the ban is overturned, or at least be reminded of the shameful embarrassment of the ban. If the issue were money, the irony is that many of us would gladly donate to make up for the loss, and the LGBT center would be a hero.
Meanwhile, do like Judith Butler did and write executive director Glennda Testone (Glennda@gaycenter.org) a smart and principled note about why she has to overturn the ban.