Palestine is a queer issue

(Anna Lekas Miller)

You wouldn’t expect a gay porn director to be the one that calls off the party.

Nevertheless, Michael Lucas (you may remember him as the budding genius behind Shameless Hole or Piss Gods) decided to flex his political muscle for a change of pace. After hearing that the New York City LGBT Center was planning to host Israeli Apartheid Week’s final celebratory fundraiser, “Party to End Apartheid,” he made some phone calls, sent some emails and spent upwards of $1,000 to pressure the center to close their “open doors policy” and cancel the event.

Israeli Apartheid Week is a program hosted independently by dozens of cities around the world through the month of March to create awareness around the Palestinian struggle. It has emerged as a focal point for activism and education as part of the larger boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

However, when Lucas put his fist down, the NYC LGBT Center immediately complied. Along with canceling the Party to End Apartheid a week before it was supposed to take place, executive director Glennda Testone decided to prohibit the Palestinian peace activist group SiegeBusters from using the center to hold their meetings and any group from showing queer-related Israeli-Palestinian films because they “violate the safe haven of the center.”

Located in Greenwich Village, in the brownstone-lined gay haven of 7th Avenue and West 13th Street, the NYC LGBT Center has a long history of an open-doors policy as a meeting place for many different groups and events. They recently hosted an eyewitness testimony from an activist in Egypt. Three years ago, they hosted an Israeli Apartheid Week event without complaint. However, by bowing to Lucas’ pressure and shutting down the event and closing its doors to SiegeBusters in less than eight hours, the center demonstrated that its principles are not based on solidarity, but on checkbook activism.

Sherri Wolf, president of SiegeBusters and a long-time Palestinian rights activist and socialist organizer who identifies as a lesbian and a Jewish anti-Zionist, told The Village Voice that the center closed their doors to her group without so much as a phone call. Michael Lucas, an Israeli national, shrugged, commenting that as a lesbian, Wolf should focus on how Israel is a democratic haven for all queers in a sea of Islamic homophobia (Michael Lucas: The Zionist Porn Impresario Waves His Political Muscle in the Left’s Face,” 25 February 2011).

Lucas presents an interesting tension between conflicting interests and forming solidarity. Many queer activists hesitate to criticize Israel because it is promoted as a gay-friendly democracy, while pro-Israeli and Islamophobic propaganda portrays Arab and Muslim countries as being unusually hostile to those who engage in same-sex relations or choose to identify as “gay.”

Though like in most other countries in the world there is an undeniable presence of cultural, and sometimes political hostility towards those who identify as gay, the critiques of Arab countries usually exaggerate the extent of such hostility, demonizing Arabs and minimizing manifestations of anti-gay and anti-homosexual violence or political and religious sentiment in Israel and elsewhere.

Though Israel promotes itself as democratic and gay-friendly, and actively attempts to maintain a politically progressive image, it is also infamous for legislating and legitimizing a Jim Crow-like segregation between Israelis and Palestinians. While Palestinians are forced to wait for hours to pass through checkpoints during trips that should take 15 minutes, Israelis travel freely on Jewish-only roads. Palestinians frequently face curfews and other forms of movement restrictions as a part of daily life under occupation, while Israelis enjoy all of the benefits of a modernized country at Palestinians’ expense.

While Israel is presented as progressive in many ways, it engages in undeniable, heart-wrenching racism that alienates and demonizes Arabs and Palestinians.

A surprising number of individuals base their opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to stereotypical perceptions of LGBT rights in the Middle East. Though some people who identify as gay or queer feel a need to ally with “gay-friendly” Israel, others see parallels between forms of oppression they have experienced and those experienced by Palestinians. Ultimately it is a personal choice as to whether one is exclusively centered in their queer identity, or the much more complex and overwhelming fight against all oppression.

The night that New York City’s Israeli Apartheid Week organizers were supposed to hold their final party, it seemed fairly evident where many New York City queers (and of course, Palestine solidarity activists) stood. Though we were still not allowed to party, more than 130 queer, allied and Palestine activists brought music, friends, energy and solidarity with signs reading that “All Oppression Issues are Queer Issues” and “Peace and Justice for Everyone is Just Fabulous,” loudly reminding Michael Lucas, Glennda Testone and anyone else who threatens the sanctity of the center that it is not for sale.

Anna Lekas Miller is a student, freelance writer, blogger and activist living in New York City. Her writing on Palestine, politics, technology and feminism can be tracked either through twitter @agoodcuppa or her blog