Protesting apartheid at Pride

By Frankie Cook

NEW YORK--A contingent of 25 LGBTQ activists and allies lined up behind a Queers Against Israeli Apartheid banner as part of the Queens Pride Parade on June 5.

Bringing a message of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, marchers carried signs reading "Anti-Arab Racism is a Queer Issue," "Stop Pinkwashing Israel Apartheid," "Queer Rhymes with Tahrir," "Queers Love Drag Queens, Not F-16s" and "Bull Dykes, Not Missile Strikes."

Protesters chanted "We're here, we're queer, and we support Palestine" as well as "Gay, Straight, Arab, Jew, Israeli apartheid will never do!" as they marched past hundreds of onlookers, many who pumped their fists in solidarity or shouted support at the first-ever NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) contingent.

One queer Palestinian remarked that he never in his life thought he would see this happen. Later that week, NYC Queers Against Israel Apartheid marched in the Brooklyn Pride Parade, receiving a similar welcome and interest.

While QAIA received a surprising amount of support and interest at the first two New York City-wide Pride parades, the same cannot be said of NYC LGBT Center, which has kicked pro-Palestine queers to the curb.

The banning of free speech at the LGBT Center began when Siege Busters, an organization supporting an end to the U.S.-Israeli blockade of Gaza, was kicked out from meeting at the center due to pressure from right-wing Zionists, including racist gay pornographer Michael Lucas.

At a rally of hundreds in March to demand the reinstatement of Siege Busters and for free speech at the center, activists proposed the idea of marching in the Pride parades. Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto has also been organizing pro-Palestine contingents in Toronto's Pride parade.

A few weeks after the protest, the LGBT Center's board of directors hosted a community forum on the issue and, in the end, declared that Siege Busters wouldn't be allowed to meet because it is too "controversial" and "not LGBT-specific," and that the labeling of Israel as apartheid is "offensive and intimidating," and makes the community afraid of "violence."

With this, the center essentially took the same position as the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs by saying that it's illegitimate and illegal to call Israel an apartheid state. Until now, the LGBT Center has been a place where activists of all sorts have come to organize--from antiwar, to abortion rights, workers' struggles and many others.

Activists, however, have continued to organize in groups such as the newly formed Queers for an Open LGBT Center and QAIA to demand that the center remain a safe haven of free speech and open to all types of queer organizing.

When QAIA attempted to organize a meeting at the LGBT Center as a specifically queer group, the center's board of directors eventually gave in and allowed them to have one meeting. However, before their second meeting, QAIA members was told that the board of directors had decided that the center had put a ban in organizing around Israeli/Palestinian issues due to the conflict it was creating in the community.

Yet again, the center has allowed a vocal group of racists to determine whose human rights can be discussed. However, QAIA and Queers for an Open LGBT Center are still putting on the pressure and have called for a protest on June 20 at the Center's Garden Party Fundraiser.

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ACROSS THE world, LGBTQ social justice activists have long stood for Palestinian human rights, but their voices have become even more vital with the development of Israel's latest propaganda of "pinkwashing."

In order to cover over their numerous human rights abuses and apartheid policies, Israel has begun to market itself to the LGBTQ community as a liberal safe haven for gays amid a supposedly violent and homophobic ocean of Arab and Islamic countries.

Israel would like to justify its war crimes by pointing to the oppression of LGBT people in other Middle Eastern countries--as if the Middle East was the only region to deny LGBT safety and equality.

Recently in New York City, a propaganda/fundraising party was organized by the gay division of the racist Jewish National Fund--a large landowner in Israel that refuses to sell land to non-Jews--as way to build "ties" between Israel and the gay community of New York.

To the frustration of the Israeli government, queers across the world have rejected this pinkwash within the Middle East and in Europe, Canada and the U.S. From Beirut to Jerusalem and now in New York City, LGBTQ activists have demanded human rights for all--whether they are gay, straight, Arab or Jew.

In the Middle East, gay rights groups such as HELEM in Lebanon and ASWAT and Al-QAWS in Jerusalem have spearheaded campaigns against Israel's pinkwashing, highlighting the fact that there is no "pink door" for Palestinian queers in Israel's apartheid wall.

LGBTQ Palestinian and Arab groups have called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it ends its apartheid policies and complies with international law. In June 2010, gay pride organizers in Madrid, Spain, banned a float sponsored by the city of Tel Aviv after the Israeli military murdered peaceful activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

Organizers stated, "After this attack and taking into account that there has been no condemnation on the part of the mayor of Tel Aviv, we decided not to allow the float to participate. We see nothing wrong with Israeli organizations which are clearly in defense of human rights, taking part privately in gay pride."

In Toronto, Canada Pro-Palestinian Queers have faced a battle to march under the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid banner, with the Toronto's mayor threatening to suspend funding from the parade if the organization is allowed to march. Now here in New York City, LGBTQ social justice activists haven taken up the QAIA banner, demanding their right to free speech and freedom for Palestinians whether they're gay or straight.

QAIA activists and supporters are gearing up to march in the million-strong New York City Pride Parade on June 26 in Manhattan to show the world that there is no pride in occupation and apartheid.