Pride season means many different things to many different people within the LGBT community, but one theme - that of unification and temporarily putting aside the various disagreements that fuel community infighting - is an undeniable Pride pillar oh which many queer people lean.
But Pride season can also exacerbate existing tensions within the community, particularly in response to major world events. The May 31 Israeli attack of a Turkish humanitarian aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip - an attack that resulted in the deaths of nine, the injuries of dozens and the detainment of hundreds - has proven to be one of those events.
As media, governments and protesters worldwide largely condemned Israel’s attack on seemingly innocent civilians, tension boiled over into Pride celebrations worldwide. Pride organizers’ actions raise serious questions over the role of censorship in queer-centric spaces.
LGBT outcry over attack
In Madrid, an Israeli singer’s concert was canceled and an Israel delegation was banned from participating in that city’s Pride Parade, scheduled for late June, due to reported security concerns over their presence. In an interview with the Guardian, Antonio Poveda, president of Spain’s Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transexuals and Bisexuals, said: "After what has happened, and as human rights campaigners, it seemed barbaric to us to have them taking part."
And in Toronto, tempers flared palpably as a pro-Palestinian group called Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid was originally barred from marching in their city’s parade, set for July 4, after the city threatened to pull its funding of the event. Over 20 honored by the Toronto Pride organization returned their honors in protest and the decision has since been reversed, as reported by EDGE: Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid will march in the parade, despite criticism from some pro-Israel LGBT advocates.
Avi Benlolo, president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, is among those angered by Pride Toronto’s reversal. "We feel that Pride Toronto is no longer a representative of gay rights, but has now been unfortunately hijacked and has become a vehicle for anti-Israel bashing and agitation," Benlolo told the Toronto Star.
The controversy understandably has American LGBT advocates on both side of the contentious and centuries-old Israel-Palestine issue seeing red during our rainbow-intensive season.
Can the Palestinian struggle be separated from gay rights?
LGBT activists who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian population paint a different picture of Israel. For them, the many pro-Israel advocates in the gay community see on the state’s progressiveness on LGBT issues as "pinkwashing." San Francisco-based Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, an organization similar to the group originally banned in Toronto, considers themselves part of "an international movement for human rights that encompasses the movement for Palestinian liberation, and all other liberation movements."
Andy Thayer, the Chicago-based founder of the Gay Liberation Network, who’s recently traveled to Russia to protest government oppression of Pride celebrations there, is among those activists who aligns himself in solidarity with the pro-Palestinian movement.
"We’ve heard the repeated chant over and over that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and yet there’s a whole section of the population who are segregated from the rest of society," Thayer told EDGE. "It’s completely outrageous that Gazans are living as virtual prisoners on their own land, 80 percent of them living off less than two dollars a day."
Thayer considers many present-day American LGBT organizers as remiss in what he describes as a failure to speak out against governments that actively oppress any given class of people, including our own. He describes many organizers’ single-issue, U.S.-only focuses as ahistorical, ignoring lessons from earlier organizers like Harvey Milk who reached out to labor and immigrant communities for mutual support.
"If we as LGBT people are going to ask for solidarity for our struggles, whether it be here in the U.S. or abroad, we cannot remain oblivious to the struggles of others," Thayer continued. "If we are going to maintain any sort of internal cohesion to our movement, we will need to take up these ’other’ struggles."