Category Archives: LGBT

NYC LGBT Center’s Betrayals of its Values

I have many good memories about the NY Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center. When I was coming out of the closet, the Center opened its doors to me and showed me the value of building community and the celebration of diversity. Two decades later, the Center has shown me how it has sadly betrayed those values.

I’m deeply troubled by the NY Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center’s decision to cancel the Party to End Apartheid. There is no good way to spin this story, and the Center, frankly, is not even trying to do so.

I asked them what happened, and this is what I got:

“Thank you for contacting the Center regarding cancellation of the (IAW) event and future meetings of the group at the Center.

The core mission of the Center is to serve the LGBT community. We do offer space to hundreds of LGBT and non-LGBT specific groups without endorsing their mission or purpose. However, when one group’s meetings or activities, regardless of a specific affiliation, interfere with the Center’s focus on our core mission, we reserve the right to ask the group to move. We regret any inconvenience this causes a group and its participants.”

I further inquired about how renting space for an Israel Apartheid Week party “interferes with the Center’s focus on our core mission,” I got this non-answer:

“We won’t be making any further statements at this time.”

Well, if the Center won’t, I will.

By not being explicit about its policies, the Center leaves open the question about which groups may or may not rent space there. Jewish Voice for Peace rented space at the Center. Will we be allowed to do so in the future? Who knows. What about Palestinian Queers for BDS or Queers Against Israeli Apartheid? What will the Center decide? In or out?

If the Center does not answer, Michael Lucas does. He is the Advocate commentator who had threatened to “organize a boycott that would certainly involve some of the Center’s most generous donors,” and who later claimed victory when the Center folded, sending an email to event organizers gloating, “I canceled your event.” Michael Lucas is known for his Islamophobic rants (see for example here and here and here.) If you do not have time or patience to follow those links, I give you Michael Lucas in a few words: “I hate Islam with all my heart.”

Lucas argued that Israeli Apartheid Week is an anti-Semitic event. It is not.

Whether the Center acknowledges it or not, its decision to cancel the event was not a defense against anti-Semitism, but a tacit nod to Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.

Organizing boycotts, divestment, and sanctions are time-honored tactics used by minority groups to press for their rights. American Jews organized a boycott of Nazi German goods. African-Americans organized a boycott of segregated buses in Alabama. Farm-workers organized a boycott of California grapes, calling for decent wages and working conditions. Queers called for a boycott of Colorado after the passage of the blatantly discriminatory Proposition 2. It seems every one has the right to use this tool, except the Palestinians.

If you want to read the full statement from the organizers of the New York Israeli Apartheid Week, go here. Check out the calendar of events, and if you are in NYC, go and participate.

And whether you are in NYC or not, queer or not, I encourage you to join me in signing the petition calling on the Center not to let wealthy bigots shut down free speech.

–Sydney Levy

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NY’s famed LGBT Center folds under pressure – bans “Party to End Apartheid!,” Israeli Apartheid Week event and groups

Taking Pinkwashing to a whole new level, one of Israel’s very very good friends– gay male pornographer Michael Lucas– is boasting that he single-handedly got NY’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans Community Center to not only cancel a “Party to End Apartheid” fundraiser to cover costs for Israel Awareness Week, but to ban the group from ever renting there again. How? You know, the usual calls from supporters and threats to withhold major donations (according to Lucas). Stephen Thrasher in the Village Voice writes:

Lucas, one of gay porn’s most outspoken figures, is known equally for his “Men of Israel” films, hisrabidly right-wing political writing for theAdvocate, and his custom-made dildo in the shape of his own manhood.

We were surprised at how quickly he succeeded.

Just hours after writing, “It was an inexcusable decision on the Center’s part to associate itself with a hate group like Israeli Apartheid Week, but there’s still time for them to reverse course and begin restoring their reputation,” Lucas proclaimed victory, writing: “We prevailed! Congratulations to everyone who stood with me in support of Israel. With your help it took only eight hours to accomplish our mission.”

The LGBT Center released a two-sentence statement: “We have determined that this event is not appropriate to be held at our LGBT Community Center, which is a safe haven for LGBT groups and individuals. Therefore, the meeting at The Center has been cancelled and the host group will no longer meet at The Center.”

Safe haven? For whom exactly?

Perhaps it’s the use of the word ‘apartheid’ that got to Lucas. The event was part of Israel Apartheid Week- but that word, whether you agree with it or not, has long been used to describe conditions in Israel by many including former education minister Shulamit Aloni, and former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair. And how is Israel so utterly weak that it apparently cannot stand strong or at worst strident language? Isn’t this the core of democracy- protecting popular and unpopular speech?

Here’s a recently released open letter from Queer Palestinians that has something to say about safety, which should extend beyond safety for just Michael Lucas and his friends. It also makes a compelling case that many other groups have made for aligning LGBT freedom with other struggles (including the fight for free speech). A message likely long ago internalized by the LGBT Center except, it turns out, when it comes to Palestinians.

We believe that, as Queer communities, we must pay close attention to any grave human rights violations on our way to support the LGBTQ struggle, especially in a context where the country in question that oppresses, discriminates, and implements an apartheid system. We should question the ethics and the values of Queer organizations or groups that voice fervent support for and participate in an apartheid state’s institutions. Human rights should not be compartmentalized, and the human rights of a certain group should not be more important than others’. We, as Palestinian queers, cannot ignore the struggle and the rights of the Palestinian people.  To us, the two struggles go side by side.

All I can say is, the LGBT Center screwed. It’s appalling how easily they folded to threats from right-wing donors-apparently it took just 8 hours to make this unprincipled decision. I can’t imagine that NY area LGBT activists, who love and helped build the ground-breaking center, are going to like this anymore than the activist community in Toronto that staged a full-out Cairo-style rebellion when a small group of right wing friends of Israel similarly pressured Toronto Pride into banning the word ‘apartheid’ , when associated with Israel, in the parade. (Pride overturned the decision because, like this decision, it was indefensible.)

Thrasher says:

“Party to End Apartheid!” was a benefit for the Siege Busters Working Group, whose membership includes Emily Henochowicz, a Cooper Union art student who lost an eyeduring a peace protest in Israel, and the group Existence is Resistance. Both groups are raising money to send another aid ship to Gaza. The last such unsuccessful effort led to the death of nine people (and to the protest where Henochowicz lost an eye).

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LGBT leaders in open rebellion against Pride Toronto for censoring 2 words: “Israeli Apartheid”

Gay pride parades (now evolved into LGBTQ and straight ally parades) were originally created to give gays and lesbians a way to defy shame, embrace free speech, and fight an unjust status quo. And now in Toronto? No longer.

On June 7, over 20 high-level past and present awardees and grand marshals left their statuettes at the door of Pride Toronto following the resignation of the parade’s international grand marshals. They were protesting what will surely be remembered as one of the most shameful actions ever taken by a pride group: succumbing to pressure from Canada’s excessively right wing B’nai Brith to bar the group Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) by banning the use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid.”

Talk about backfiring. Performers and speakers continue to jump ship and the condemnations are coming fast and furious. One can only hope that if for no other reason than the principle of it, people wearing “Israeli Apartheid” stickers will show up at pride parades all over the world, including and especially in Toronto.

The Canadian gay and lesbian paper Xtra has really remarkable coverage of the sequence of events. We wrote extensively about the story here before it was announced that the words “Israeli Apartheid” would be banned not just from the pride parade but also from the trans and dykes marches. (Presumably QuAIA can come to the party if they change their names to “Queers United Against Israeli Mmmmmmm”)

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Jewish world to queer Jews: gay is great! Caring about Palestinians is forbidden!

Earlier this summer, Israel launched what can best be described as a queer-washing campaign to promote its more tolerant approach to gay rights over the anti-gay, mean, evil, Iranians and Palestinians. Israel’s right-wing supporters may hate Palestinians but this summer, they just LOVE THE GAYS! It’s one of the more cynical uses of liberal and progressive issues as both distraction and wedge.

Whether the organizers were aware of being used or not, it’s likely that the push for a strong Jewish LGBT presence at this year’s San Francisco Gay Pride parade was part of this initiative. Hence the multitude of Israeli flags in the contingent – the Israeli Consulate was all over it.

A group of queer Jews, most of whom work or worship inside the Jewish community, decided to join the contingent but with their own signs which read “Pride in Israel when Palestine is Free ” and “Feygele for Free Palestine.” They had a rude awakening after the parade, learning that while gay may be great in the mainstream Jewish world,  Jews-who-acknowledge-Palestinians-as-humans are expected to stay in the closet.

They write in JVoices:

We, Queer members of the Bay Area Jewish Community and our allies, are deeply saddened by events surrounding the “Jews March for Pride” contingent in this year’s San Francisco Pride Parade.

We wanted to march with “Jews March for Pride” because we are proud to be Queer Jews and allies. We felt excited and privileged to have a place in the San Francisco Pride Parade to celebrate our whole selves as Jews and Queers.

However, our sense of pride in the contingent was shattered when we learned that not only would the Israeli Consulate be marching with Israeli flags, but also that “inclusion monitors” would censor anything that deviated from the narrow message of “Jews support LGBT equality.” We see this as a contradiction. Support for the Israeli government is a political position that is not synonymous with support for LGBT equality, and is not synonymous with Judaism. Because these strong Israeli symbols would be dominating the contingent, we felt we could not in good conscious march without publically repudiating those messages. And although the planners reached out to include us, we felt excluded when any disagreement we voiced was declared “off message” and inappropriate.”

Not surprising. However, they were allowed to march in the parade (Yay!) Here’s the boo part:

“But the real consequences of our action have occurred in the days and weeks following the parade. Many of us have faced social sanctions in our personal and professional lives. Those of us who work in Jewish organizations have been harshly shamed in our workplaces and our political views have become a topic of discussion amongst our peers and supervisors. We feel vulnerable in the very community that had supposedly organized to support us as Queer Jews.”

I know at least one of these stories and it’s a real whopper. If and as soon as they decide to make it public, we’ll let you know. Suffice it to say, the battle within the Jewish institutional world over the ability to simply think for oneself in terms of Israel and Palestinians is at times medieval. Join their Facebook group here http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=115825379792 .

- Cecilie Surasky

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Parvez Sharma 2nd update. Parvez got played?

Parvez wrote about what happened yesterday in Huffington Post. Sharma continues to be my gay, Muslim hero.

Update: Thanks to Cole Krawitz of JVoices who just sent me this article from gay mag The Advocate with the headline, and I kid you not: Israel to Recruit Gay Community in Anti-Iran Campaign.

Israel plans outreach to groups including the international gay community as part of its ramped-up public-relations effort against Iran, reports the newspaper Haaretz.

“We have to lay the foundation in the world, and particularly in Europe, in order to be able to take harsher steps against Iran, especially in the economic sector,” said a senior political source in Jerusalem.

The strategy of the new campaign, which will be managed by the foreign ministry, is to reach people who are more concerned about Iran’s human rights abuses than its nuclear aspirations. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pictured) famously announced in 2007 that there were no homosexuals in Iran, and international human rights organizations have reported hundreds of executions of gay men and lesbians in the country.

As the first commenter wrote:

This is a classic guilty-conscience move: blame someone else when you get caught. Rather than address legitimate criticisms of its policies, Israel points in the other direction and says, Look over there! They’re worse than we are! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Don’t be fooled. Gays can criticize Iran, Israel and Palestinians all at the same time. We can also work towards peace and security for all of them, and equal rights for ourselves, while doing so.

I’d add that in this case, a lot of people are authentically fearful about Iran and Israel’s existence. And they have some good reason to be. But the way to respond is not to whip up the rhetoric of demonization, make Ahmedinejad appear to be much bigger and more powerful than he is, and try to bring the US into a war. Obama says, talk to our enemies. The US and Israel could try a little something called diplomacy for once.

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