New York Gay & Lesbian Community Center Caves In To Zionist Pressure

by Wendy Elisheva Somerson
February 27, 2011

Watching NYC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Center succumb to pressure to cancel a kick-off party for Israeli Apartheid Week, I feel compelled to write an epilogue to my recent post on Pinkwashing.

I am reminded once again that we must be vigilant in refusing to allow queer liberation to be pitted against Palestinian liberation because as we know from our queer Palestinian colleagues, the two struggles are intertwined.

On February 22nd, Michael Lucas, a right wing Advocate columnist and gay porn entrepreneur, issued a press release calling on the LGBT center to cancel the scheduled “Party to End Apartheid,” which he called anti-Semitic. He threatened to “organize a boycott that would certainly involve some of the Center’s most generous donors.” Infamous for his attacks against Islam, Lucas argued that “Israel is the only country in the Middle East that supports gay rights while its enemies round up, torture, and condemn gay people to death…” Relying on traditional Pinkwashing tactics, Lucas positioned Israel as a liberal democracy in opposition to its backwards and homophobic “enemies.”

Just a few hours later, the LGBT center announced it would cancel the event and bar its sponsors from meeting at the Center in the future. The Center’s executive director Glennda Testone issued a brief statement claiming, “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.”

The community response has been fast and furious, and includes an online petition to demand that the center reverse its decision and “return to its mission as a space for the oppressed and marginalized” instead of becoming “another occupied, homogenized venue where wealthy and powerful voices can squelch all the rest.” In a Village Voice interview Sherry Wolf, a queer Jewish member of Siegebusters, the group that organized the party, insists that they are fighting for their right to meet at the center because “If radical people can’t meet there, then it just becomes another occupied space for wealthy bigots.” In separate but equally hard hitting letters, queer academics Judith Butler and Lisa Duggan reprimand the center for censorship and ask it to remain open to all of its communities.

On the Muzzlewatch blog, Cecilie Surasky questions for whom the center is supposed to be safe and why a democracy needs to be protected from the word “apartheid,” while Sydney Levy argues that the “decision to cancel the event was not a defense against anti-Semitism, but a tacit nod to Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.”

Indeed, Testone’s justification about protecting a “safe haven” makes me wonder just how safe queer Palestinians and all queer Muslims are going to feel in a Center that canceled a Palestine solidarity event based on intimidation from a columnist who has said “I hate Muslims, absolutely. It’s a horrible, horrible religion. It’s a plague.”

This decision to forbid a group from meeting at a queer center because it used the words “Israeli apartheid” is eerily reminiscent of Pride Toronto’s attempt to censor the words “Israeli Apartheid” from its Pride Parade last summer. Pride Toronto also claimed that these words made participants “feel unsafe” and caved into lobbying in order to preserve its funding. But in the end, Pride Toronto was forced to back down in the face of a strong community revolt. I am hopeful that as queer activists in the US continue to respond with publicized outrage, the LGBT center will be forced to reverse its appallingly un-democratic decision.

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