Friday, May 27, 2011
Rightwinger now calls NYC Gay Center "an anti-Israeli nest"
Back in February I wrote on the successful efforts of a pro-Israel rightwinger to prevent a pro-Palestinian activist group from holding meetings or events at New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Porn magnate Michael Lucas applied pressure to the Center's board who subsequently cancelled all meetings of the group "Siegebusters." Since I wrote about these events there has been a flurry of activity on the issue. First, members of the excluded group, largely themselves gay or lesbian activists, organized a counter-campaign to keep the Lesbian & Gay Center open to all members of the community. As the Center's policy of openness came to be in doubt, there was a lot of discussion in the activist community, especially among anti-racist activists, about whether the Center could continue to be seen as any kind of welcoming home base. There was talk of a boycott.
A related group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, requested space in the Community Center to plan activities around this year's New York Lesbian & Gay Pride celebrations. The group applied for its meeting on May 10; nearly two weeks later the request had not been answered. A third group called Queers for an Open LGBT Center — which keeps a website called "Open The Center" — called for a protest in support of the right of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.
Just in the nick of time the Lesbian & Gay Center issued a statement that must be seen as at least a partial victory: "The Center recently received a request for space rental by a group called “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” for the purposes of holding recurring meetings to plan for local Pride events. This afternoon we informed the group that the Center would allow access for these meetings." The statement goes on to say that since QAIA is an "LGBT group" unlike Siegebusters, they would be granted space, provided that they sign a new "Space Use Pledge of Non Discrimination." That statement has what's no doubt meant to be a "gotcha" clause in it ("We recognize that respecting individual dignity, achieving equality and promoting intergroup harmony are the responsibilities of all people, including our group. We reject hatred and will not engage in acts or expressions of hatred directed to any person(s) or group(s). Our group will work in good faith to affirm and abide by these principles in all our activities and affairs.), which I find a little creepily naive or thought-controlly, but not a deal-breaker. The Center states it will be engaging a consulting company to review its policies; who news how that will turn out. So the new good news is that supporters of the Israeli Apartheid state have not, for now at least, succeeded in completely silencing pro-Palestinian activists at the Center. Queers for an Open LGBT Center says pressure must be kept on the Center's board.
But now here's where it gets interesting. The pro-Palestine activists were open in their suggestion that the Center needed to be pressured, and possibly boycotted. But the right-wing porn magnate (a dual US/Israeli citizen) behind the expulsion of Siegebusters issued a remarkable statement on these later developments:
"I have a very unfortunate update. The group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was just granted the ability to have their meetings in the LGBT Center. As I always believed, the LGBT Center of NY is an anti-Israeli nest and we did not put enough pressure on them to stop their efforts to harm the Jewish state. But we have the power to stop them. The LGBT Center receives city, federal, foundation, and private funding. We have to work on reaching the government officials and ask them to cut that funding unless the Center changes its decision. We should also reach out to different organizations and individuals and collect money to take a full page ad in the New York Times Magazine. I know this is not cheap and I myself will generously contribute. I also believe that their support of political activity may jeopardize their ability to maintain tax-free status. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts, input, and suggestions. I do need your help. Best regards, Michael Lucas."
The statement shows Lucas's priorities. He's not advocating discussions with the Center or the community, or even a boycott, he's talking about getting it shut down or put in legal or financial jeopardy unless it does what he tells it to do. Lucas's actions are a transparent threat to the entire lesbian and gay community to either enforce a pro-Israel-only policy or face destruction. Lucas is no friend of gay people.
I remember how exciting it was when the Lesbian & Gay Community Center first opened its doors in the 1980s. Finally there was a place to call home. You could find meetings, events, celebrations, forums, religious services, from an incredible variety of groups there. It set up policies meant to be welcoming to everybody in the community, especially those whose commununity needs were not met by the gay bar scene. While various criticisms have surfaced over the years, by and large it really is a valuable service institution to the community. In the 1990s I co-led two groups who met there all the time, New Moon New York, an open group of Pagans who held a brief weekly circle in its small cement garden, and Queer Pagans, a group of queer Pagans that held seasonal holiday rituals on a grander scale including Halloween/Samhain circles that drew hundreds of participants. We were excited to be at such a welcoming space, and proud that queer youth and transgendered people were a part of it all. Having a place where Pagans could come wasn't a threat to gay people of other forms of spirituality or to completely secular or even atheist gay people. We were all there together. While I wouldn't go to its meetings, I think a pro-Israel group should have the same right to meet at the Center as the pro-Palestine activists. What's clear is that Lucas and his ilk have no such principles: it's their way or the highway.
It's a reflection on a small scale of Israeli logic itself.
(Graphic from Desertpeace blog. "Pinkwashing" is the attempt by apologists for Israel to use its allegedly progressive attitude toward gay people to buy support for Israeli policies in the world Lesbian and Gay community).
UPDATE: For an unfortunate update, read here.