alQaws and Aswat Statement to the LGBT Center in NY
Dear Glennda Testone,
We, Palestinian queer activists from alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society and Aswat Palestinian Gay Women, are writing to you to express our shock and dismay at your recent decision to cancel the "Party to End Apartheid" event and ban activists working for human rights in Israel/Palestine from the LGBT Center.
We have recently concluded a first of its kind tour to the US, where we shared our personal, social and political struggle as Palestinian Queers living in Israel and Palestine with diverse audiences and activists in 6 cities, including New York City. During those open discussions, we met with human rights activists, lawyers working at the forefront of LGBT rights campaigns, and LGBT people of color who organize on a grassroots level, and were greeted warmly and enthusiastically at every venue at which we spoke. The support and acknowledgment we encountered were both overwhelming and inspiring.
We wish that you could have attended one of our panels. Perhaps, instead of acquiescing to the demands of a neoconservative gay pornographer, you would have the courage and insight – like so many members of the LGBT community in the US – to conclude that the struggle for human rights in Israel/Palestine is a queer struggle.
Certainly, this connection is clear to us. As organizations that work with and for LGBTQ Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank, we are forced to deal with the severe consequences of the Israeli occupation and its apartheid system on a daily bases. Israel` apartheid wall, army checkpoints and frequently imposed curfews on entire populations oblige us to deal with legal issues and face many challenges, including mobility. In addition, some of our members live in the US and have been relying on the Center for vital services and activities. They draw much inspiration from the Center’s history and the LGBTQ struggle in the US.
Your decision to cancel the "Party to End Apartheid" event has sent a clear message that debate over Israel/Palestine will not be allowed at one of the most progressive institutions in the US. Your decision to ban an activist organization focused on Israel/Palestine limits the freedom of expression for everyone who relies on the Center as a safe haven. In addition, your decision also tells LGBTQ Palestinians in New York and our community in Israel/Palestine that their human rights as Palestinians are not welcome at the Center, and that while they visit the Center, a part of their identity must be left at the door! How can the Center be, as you claim, "a safe haven for LGBT groups and individuals," if Palestinians and pro-Palestinian groups are either unwelcome or outright banned?
After experiencing such overwhelming support from prominent LGBT organizations and LGBT leaders in the US, we never imagined that the LGBT Center of New York would not join us, and the larger community, in connecting the struggle for LGBT rights to the struggle for human rights. We are saddened that the LGBT Center has chosen to act in a way that betrays its mission of inclusion, openness, and progressive values.
Indeed, if debate on Israel/Palestine is forbidden at the Center, what can that mean for other LGBTQ communities also facing extraordinary challenges? Will they, too, be unwelcome at the Center?
Your decision damages the multicultural, inclusive nature of the Center’s community. We would like our expatriate and Palestinian American members, as well as LGBTQ individuals from diverse communities all over New York, to feel safe and welcome there.
We strongly urge you to reconsider your decision and allow the event "Party to End Apartheid" to take place as scheduled. Rest assure that this will mark a new era for your center; one of multicultural inclusiveness and genuine solidarity
alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society:
Aswat – Palestinian Gay Women: www.aswatgroup.org