An attack on dissent in NYC
NEW YORK--Some 40 people gathered in the lobby of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center on June 8 in response to its latest policy banning groups supporting Palestinian rights from renting spaces. Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, Siege Busters, the International Socialist Organization and other groups and individuals participated.
There has been a battle over the use of the Center for months. Under pressure from pro-Israel funders, administrators earlier this year told the group Siege Busters that it couldn't use a room at the Center for a meeting during Israeli Apartheid Week. The Center later did allow a Palestinian rights group with an LGBT orientation to get space, but at the start of June, the Center's Executive Director Glennda Testone issued a letter declaring "a time out on Middle East organizing at the Center."
Unfortunately, Israel has not declared a time out on systematic violence and repression against Palestinians living inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories.
Testone's moratorium on groups organizing around the Israeli-Palestine conflict is in contradiction to the Center's 28-year policy of welcoming dissent that has made it a hub for LGBT and other organizing in New York City. Its mission statement declares the Center to be:
a home for the birth, nurture and celebration of our organizations, institutions and culture; cares for our individuals and groups in need; educates the public and our community; and empowers our individuals and groups to achieve their fullest potential.
Palestinian activists quickly realized that the Center was coming under pressure from pro-Israel figures such as Michael Lucas.
In March, more than 100 pro-Palestinian and LGBT activists gathered outside the Center to protest the decision to cancel Siege Buster's "Party to End Apartheid" and ban the Siege Busters Working Group from holding regular meetings. The party was intended to be part of the annual Israeli Apartheid Week, a series of events designed to educate people about Israel's war on the Palestinians and to build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns.
The earlier ban and now the "time out on Middle East organizing" reveal the differences between the grassroots activists who rely on the Center and its services, the well-off funders and the board of directors responsible for oversight of its operations.
While the board shapes its policies to keep its connections with wealthy backers, it marginalizes the have-nots--and in this case, as one activist pointed out, especially "Palestinian queers [who are prevented] from entering the Center as their full self" because of the moratorium.
During the June 8 sit-in, NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and Siege Busters read a statement opposing the Center's ban on their meetings. The group was able to conduct a meeting for approximately 60 minutes and make decisions about upcoming actions for Brooklyn Pride Parade (June 11), Manhattan Pride Parade (June 26) and the Dyke March (June 25).
Of course, participants feel that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid should be given meeting space like any other group in the LGBT community. As such, it was decided that the group would continue meeting in the lobby until the Center's policy was overturned. Participants also said they would continue to put pressure on the Center through phone calls, e-mails, petitions and othe rmeasures.
Those who want a safe space for all LGBT people should also be in opposition to the structural violence the Israeli occupation imposes on our Palestinian brothers, sisters, and gender non-confirming people.