March 25, 2011

LGBT Center cancels "Israeli Apartheid Week" fundraiser, expels Siegebusters

Below is the press release from March 1, 2011, describing the LGBT Center's act to cancel Siegebusters' fundraiser party, and ban Siegebusters from meeting at the Center. (From

The release includes statements from queer groups, queer anti-Occupation groups and anti-Occupation groups that are heavily queer even if not directly queer-identified.

Many Demand that NYC LGBT Center Reverse Cancellation of Israeli Apartheid Week Event

March 1, New York, NY – Individuals and groups from diverse communities have reacted with dismay to and called for a reversal of the New York LGBT Center's decision to cancel the scheduled March 5 “Party to End Apartheid” at the center, and to ban the organizers of this event, the Siegebusters Working Group, from holding regular meeting at the center. Siegebusters was co-planning the party with Existence is Resistance (EIR).The party is part of the annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), Israeli Apartheid Week, now entering its seventh year internationally and its fifth year in New York City, and the Siegebusters are a member of New York’s IAW Coordinating Committee.

On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, gay adult film producer and right-wing columnist Michael Lucas issued a press release threatening to boycott the LGBT Center for allowing local IAW organizers to meet and plan an event there. Lucas denounced IAW as a “hate group” and “anti-Semitic,” charges categorically rejected by Siegebusters, EIR, and IAW organizers. Hours after Lucas issued his press release, the LGBT Center released a two-sentence statement cancelling the event, banning Siegebusters, and saying "We have determined that this event is not appropriate to be held at our LGBT Community Center, which is a safe haven for LGBT groups and individuals."

A petition criticizing the decision has to date been signed by around 1330 individuals and groups to date. Below are examples of some of the reactions from people - queer, straight, Palestinian, Jewish, and much more – who are critical of the LBGT Center’s decision. They include statements from the Siegebusters Working Group and Existence is Resistance; the Coordinating Committee for Israeli Apartheid Week in NYC; the Palestinian groups alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, Aswat – Palestinian Gay Women and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions; CUNY Professor Sarah Schulman; UC Berkeley Professor Judith Butler; NYU Professor Lisa Duggan; Jews Against the Occupation-NYC; peace and justice activist Leslie Cagan; and Reverend Pat Bumgardner, pastor, NYC Metropolitan Community Church.

The Siegebusters Working Group and Existence is Resistance: The Siegebusters Working Group and Existence is Resistance express our outrage at the cancelling of our "Party to End Apartheid" and the barring of Siegebusters from meeting at the LGBT Center. The LGBT Center is effectively pushing away Middle Eastern LGBT people and their allies who support equal rights for all. Half of Siegebusters are LGBT folks and the rest are allies; several are long-time queer activists who have been using the Center for years to educate, agitate and organize around a myriad of social justice issues. As long-standing members of the LGBT community, we declare that the Center belongs to us. It is not for sale. Management of access at the Center cannot include pandering to the petty name-calling of bigots. The Center was founded as a “safe haven” from that.

The Coordinating Committee for Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) in NYC (full IAW statement): “Let us not allow one individual to drown out the voices of millions of Palestinian people. Let us not allow one individual to change the nature of the LGBT Center from one of democracy and safe space to one of censorship and exclusion. We demand that the LGBT Center reverse its decision and guarantee the right of organizers to continue to meet and hold events there.”

Palestinian groups alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, and Aswat – Palestinian Gay Women (full statement here): We have recently concluded a first of a kind tour to the US, where we shared our personal, social and political struggle as Palestinian Queers living in Israel and Palestine … Your decision to ban an activist organization focused on Israel/Palestine limits 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! … 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 strongly urge you to reconsider your decision and allow the event "Party to End Apartheid" to take place as scheduled.

Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: The Palestinian Queer Movement does not want to be used by Michael Lucas and his friends to justify the Israeli Occupation. Now that we are firmly emerged as an organic and integrated part of the global Queer Movement, Palestinian LGBT people are here to tell you that we need an end to the Occupation. Israeli fantasies about being "Democratic" while violating our Human Rights are absurd. And Israeli fantasies that they are rescuing us, are pathetic. The Occupation is keeping us from moving forward. Thus an anti Apartheid Party in the LGBT Centre should not be canceled on the basis of being irrelevant, or not related to LGBT issues. It is totally relevant and in the heart of LGBT struggle in Palestine, in NY and all around the world.

Sarah Schulman, novelist and Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at The City University of New York: “The Palestinian Queer Movement is thriving, and Occupation is its greatest obstacle. For the NY LGBT Center to choose this moment to turn its back on Queer people in Gaza, and to use that betrayal as grounds to introduce censorship to our beloved Center is the opposite of everything we should be doing. American Queers need to acknowledge and support opening of oppressed societies, democracy and human rights. We need to oppose Occupation and Dictatorship. Only with open, equal societies can women and queers thrive. We need to respect the dreams, visions and desires of the Palestinian Queer Movements and do everything we can to end the Occupation.”

Judith Butler, Professor at University of California, Berkeley and author of “Gender Trouble” (Letter to the LGBT Center): “We look to you now to show that the LGBTQ movement remains committed to discussing social justice issues and will not be intimidated by those who seek to expand the powers of censorship precisely when so much of the rest of the world is trying to bring them down. There is still time for you to act with courage and wisdom.”

Lisa Duggan, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University and author (Open letter to the LGBT Center): “This breach of the open policy of the Center is an ominous sign that LGBT community institutions are subject to unilateral control by wealthy donors–the Center in this case did not even open a dialogue with your other constituencies.”

Jews Against the Occupation-NYC: "Jews Against the Occupation is appalled that the LGBT Center has submitted -- and so easily! -- to the pinkwashing of Israeli violence against Palestinians, queer and otherwise. It's no coincidence that JATO's membership has always been disproportionately queer - or that queers have been at the heart of Palestine solidarity groups for decades, from Women In Black and the Jewish Women's Committee to End the Occupation to New Profile and Tayyush (not to mention specifically queer projects from Kvisa Shchora to QUIT). The demonization and dehumanization of Palestinians under occupation resonates loudly for queers, as do other forms of racism and militarism. In the past and now, queers are deeply engaged in fighting back. For those of us who do not identify as LGBT, queer perspectives and strategies have deeply informed our political analysis of Palestine.

The Center is dead wrong to submit to claims that anti-occupation organizing is somehow "not queer," and outrageous to claim that it somehow makes our community spaces "unsafe." What is unsafe for queers is the Center's decision to collaborate with right-wing queers who seek to silence the rest of us."

Leslie Cagan, peace and justice activist: “It is not too late for the LGBT Community Center to reverse your disastrous decision to cancel the March 5th event organized as part of the Israeli Apartheid Week! If the Center's decisions about what events can take place there are subject to pressure from large donors then we are in serious trouble. The Center has always been one of the few places in New York City where all parts of the queer community have been welcome, and were our allies and friends have also found a safe space. Our community, indeed the nation as a whole, needs to know we can have open and fear-free discussions about so many important issues. Now is not the time to slam the door shut. This decision must be turned around, and now is the time to do it!”

Reverend Pat Bumgardner, pastor, NYC Metropolitan Community Church: “Queer people have a long history of being targeted for our differences and denied the freedom to assemble and speak freely. It is my sincere hope that the Center will not add to that repressive past, but rescind its recent decision to cancel the IAW event and to ban Siegebusters from the premises. The issue is not political persuasion, and certainly not popularity with a particular donor base. The issue is freedom of speech and the need for safe space for all LGBT people and our allies to assemble. “

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