March 28, 2011

How the Center's forum unfolded: liveblogging from Tom Leger

The Center's public forum on March 13th was liveblogged somewhat awesomely by Tom Leger.

Transcript of the liveblogging, plus some comments, is here and below:


See my explanation post here. I’ll try to answer questions during the event–just post a comment.

Please make any additions, corrections, etc in the comments section below. I know there were some important points I missed–all unintentional, I promise.

UPDATE: Apologies about misspelled names, etc–when I didn’t know the spelling, I had to guess, and in some cases I was able to use Google to correct myself. Elisa Solomon should have been Alisa Solomon, for instance. Special thanks to Alisa and Sarah Schulman for pointing out people and providing names where I didn’t know them, which was most of the time.

Also, at 17:15, the gentleman who I mentioned, who was talking about propaganda, was Michael Lucas, but at the time I didn’t know that. I correctly ID him in the rest of the blog.

UPDATE: Below is the text, posted by Lisa Duggan on Facebook. I refer to this several times as the text on “pink paper” that was finally read about 80 minutes into the discussion.

Letter to participants at the LGBT Community Center public forum – March 13, 2011

Greetings to All,

We don’t know how this meeting will go. We are (separately) members of Siegebusters, members of groups who wrote to the Center to object to the treatment of Siegebusters and queer political activists in general, organizers of the last week’s protest against the Center’s censorship, Palestinian and Jewish queers, and active participants in queer community. The Center hasn’t included any of us as “stakeholders” in planning this meeting. However, we’d like to offset some of the chaos by offering a few starting ideas.

Some bottom-line issues:

1. The Center dealt badly with Siegebusters. An apology is due, and the Center should immediately restore Siegebusters’ access to meeting space until it can provide a transparent process for deciding otherwise. The reasons given by Center staff for cancelling the March 5 event and Siegebusters ongoing meetings in scattered e-mails and announcements (that Siegebusters is somehow not queer enough, or that queer activism on Palestine makes queer space “unsafe”) have been broadly refuted in public comment from many corners of the queer community.

2. This controversy reveals a much bigger problem at the Center – lack of transparent decision-making. Center Executive Director Glennda Testone and the Center’s Board of Directors have made major decisions about our space and community with no real community engagement.

No one from Siegebusters was consulted before the cancellation.

No organizers of the ensuing protest against the Center were contacted before the Center decided to hire private goons to police our community center against us.

No public response has been made to the queers – particularly queers of color and Palestinian queers – who told the Center that this decision has marginalized them and made them unsafe.

The forum today has been organized without input from affected groups.

The Center must have a transparent process for making (and that allows for challenges of) decisions about who can use the Center. The Center also must open its board meetings to the public and take public comment. The board should be accountable, and it isn’t. Its operations aren’t public, its members don’t represent our communities, and it doesn’t provide the Center’s constituency with any lines of communication – although it’s clearly making decisions about us.

What this meeting shouldn’t be about:

The Center shouldn’t be blessing or disapproving queer political work, nor should this meeting.

The Center shouldn’t be making political calls about the Middle East, nor should this meeting.

It’s not a “neutral position” to shut down queer organizing or anti-occupation work because it’s “too controversial.” But having gotten itself into this mess, the Center now has the responsibility to transparently and neutrally bring folks back to the table. This meeting doesn’t satisfy that responsibility.

Here’s hoping for a productive discussion,

Bill Dobbs, Brad Taylor, Emmaia Gelman, Naomi Brussel, Sammer Aboelela, Sarena Melchert


AN thanks everyone for coming. “To be continued.”


One final contribution, a woman in the back. “It is an act of cowardice, refusing to deal with this controversy.” Wants to know if SB will be able to meet here.


Someone is speaking, “Diverse groups do meet here already!” Ok, thanks.


Someone named Jayla is speaking. Talking about the Center not always being inclusive of trans people. “Our community is always growing and changing.” This person is Glenda’s partner. WEIRD.


He has been a volunteer at the Center for 12 years, and was a past president of the board. He is “Gladder than ever” that GT is the CEO of the LGBT Center.


Bruce Anderson is speaking. “It thrills me that you all hold the center to such high expectations.”


A man is talking about the controversy of the ACT-UP Stop the Church action, which was offensive to some gay catholics. If the Center had come down on ACT-UP over this, it would have been terrible and destructive.


Wait, he just said that if the Center hosted a group that supported Palestinian Right of Return, he would not feel comfortable being here.

Who wants to start this group?


Another man is talking but he is too stupid to record. Please wait.


A gentleman who says he is a gay man who has been coming here for 2 decades. He wants the center to make decisions based ons sexuality and gender. He says he came to a gay adoption group, not other adoption groups. Because he is gay. Wow, genius time.


He asks why the group has been barred.


A gentleman who says he is not with Siegebusters responds to Lucas. “Absolutely it is your right to no fund the Center based on the activities here.” He would hope that the Center is not excluding groups based on their politics, particularly during the recession.

“You are tearing this community center apart” he says to the people who are trying to direct the Center’s activities in this way.


Sarah is articulating that the Center has taken a position on this issue, that groups of people of color are leaving the Center. Says that GT is presiding over the destruction of the Center. Lots of clapping.

MP says that apartheid is an offensive word, specifically.


Stuart Appelbaum is yelling at Sarah now! WTF.


Sarah Schulman volunteered to Tom to be on the working group regarding space use.


AN: Clearly the issue of SB meeting here is not settled. This is an issue that needs to be addressed–they have a pending request to meet here.


Tom from the board just said, “This exposed a failing in the center’s policies.”


Uproarious clapping.


LK asks GT to be clearer about timing–when are these guidelines going to be public. Also, in an act of good faith, should reinstate the SB group until the guidelines are public.


Leslie Kagen is speaking–”You can not bar groups from being here for being controversial.”

She says she understands anyone has the right to give money based on demands, but the Center can not make a decision based on that money.


AN presses GT to answer if she regrets the decision, and GT says no, definitively.


GT says she sees tonight as the “first step in a process” and going forward will come up with guidelines and be transparent.


Andy Humm wants GT to outline the steps in the future for the decision making process. Also, wants her to admit that they could have been wrong about SB. [blogger's note: Mr. Humm's name was previously spelled Hamm]


GT says they do hire private security for protests. She is asked when was the last time, and she doesn’t know.


A question from the audience about how it was decided to hire private security.


We have voted to continue talking for another 10 minutes. AN is good at this.


A gentleman is speaking, saying that the use of Apartheid is a manipulation of the community, e.g. pro-life, etc.


Jasbir Puar is speaking, as a board member of ALP. No one contacted ALP about the decision. They wrote a letter and then they were contacted. SRLP, FIERCE, QEJ, SALGA, etc hosted a tour of Palestinian queers, who articulated that it IS definitely a queer issue.

Finally, this decision has influenced many people to stop meeting here because this decision has made it unsafe to meet here.


MP says that if the group was queer, and if they didn’t use the word “apartheid” he would have voted to support the group. Loads and loads of bullshit flowing here.


BD wants to know if the Board will open its meetings. MP says he will ask the board, that he can’t speak for them. He is the President of the board.


Bill Dobbs says he doesn’t believe the excuses that the Board give about controversy, citing the David Wojnarovich protests, and that the Smithsonian’s excuses, which were the same.


Michael Lucas is speaking again. (How, why?)

He wants to say, What is wrong with giving money to the Center and then demanding that the Center behaves in accordance with our views? He keeps saying “This is our free speech.”


Lisa Duggan stands. “One of the big fissures in LGBTQ politics is over this question of what is LGBTQ.”


Asked again: If the group was called something else, would it be allowed to meet?

GT: There is a group of Queer Arabs. (What does that mean?)


Pauline Park is speaking about the effort to add transgender to the name of the center. The idea that the Center was all inclusive at all times is false.


UV: I would love a center that is a place where people like Michael Lucas can come and organize, and Siegebusters can come and organize.


Urvashi Vaid is speaking again. If this were the kind of forum that was happening the night of the event, it would be powerful. “I want to contest the frame of a ‘non-gay issue’”


Chris Farell speaks: The fact that the group was meeting here for months indicates that they did meet the standards, or that they was no actual policy in place.


A gentleman stands up and says that thousands of queer Palestinians are excluded from this conversation. Center is not a safe place for Palestinian queer people because their oppression is replicated here at the Center.


Alan Hertzberg “I don’t understand how the Center has come down on the side of anti-human rights and pro-censorship.”

He says he is a pro-Palestinian Jew.


Chelsea from ALP is speaking. “I wanted to dispel the myth that this is the first time that safety has been called into question at the Center…I want to draw attention to the long history of white supremacy in the Center.” Trans people of color for a TDOR meeting were kicked out, police called.

Sylvia Rivera was banned from the Center. Because she demanded that the Center takes care of poor and homeless youth.

Private security and police presence for the protest last Saturday makes the space unsafe. Michael Lucas interrupts her, but I didn’t hear him.


She says, further, “I am not split in my political identity. I don’t know who I can be in this space anymore.”


Woman standing up saying that seeing Israeli Apartheid Week on the list at the Center would make her feel pain, and this isn’t a place for pain. Another woman has just stood up and said that as a lesbian, a jew and a person who is working against the occupation, this event has made her feel pain.

Great, we all feel like shit. Welcome to being queer.


The gay rabbi gentleman who earlier talked about the gestapo yelled something at Sarah Schulman that sounded vaguely sexist, involving telling her to smile. He then got up and walked out. Extremely strange. Unfortunate. [edit: not a rabbi, don't know why I wrote that]


EG says it is not a neutral position to shut down an event for being controversial. Lots of clapping.


EG says she looked up the people on the board of the Center. She has been involved here for 20 years and have no idea who these people are.

GT is taking notes and making frowny faces. She isn’t real bright, let’s be honest here.


Emmaia Gelman is reading the pink letter now, explaining that it was written by the at large queer community. Palestinian and Jewish queers included.


Lisa Duggan is arguing that we should hear the proposal that she points out, we already vote to hear but haven’t yet. This is the letter that was on pink paper.


Stuart Appelbaum is going on and on, reading quotes from an article in the Washington Post, and a letter from the Jewish Open House.


Brad Taylor says that he wants to clarify that there was no dialogue. AN says we know that.


She continues, asking why events that are more “profitable” are allowed/funded better. Michael Lucas stands up and yells, “Where would you be without that money?” and the room erupts in yelling. One man yells at ML to sit down about 30 times, but in a kind of polite way.


A woman named Jessica asks again, “If the group had been called Queers against the Occupation, would it have been allowed?”


Mario J. Palumbo, Jr. is speaking now, as the president of the board. He has identified himself as half-Lebanese. Speaks a lot, says nothing.


A member of the SB group stands and states that SB was not consulted at all until after the decision had been made. Why was it made now, after SB had been meeting here since September [2010].

GT: because of the controversy. She says now that the person on the room reservation is the person who was contacted. Still, not named, but gendered male. GT says the person was “disappointed but said it was OK.”


Andy Humm asked that last question about AA.


A man asks why AA meets here, since it is not gay specific. GT says that it is because this was so controversial and also this was not LGBT focused.


GT says they spoke to a SB representatives. People are yelling, “Name”–GT refuses to name the person they spoke to. One wonders if GT’s statement is pure fantasy. She is ignoring the name question, and sits down.


A gentleman stands up and adds that this needs to be a discussion about whether or not the board of the center should be able to decide who can rent space here, as in if Exodus wanted to use this space, would this be allowed? He also brought up bareback porn.


A gentleman who identifies himself as the founder of the “gay synagogue”, a member of the Matachine Society, only opposes the meeting because of the use “apartheid” which he says is false. He states that Israel is the most open society in the middle east. Chuckles all around. He blathers on about his family being arrested by the Gestapo. (Why bring this up?) [update: Alex Weissman, Social Justice Coordinator of CBST contact OP to note that this person is not affiliated with CBST, did not found it, and that in fact, CBST isn't "gay" but LGBTQ]


Scott Kaplan says the Center has a history of unfair use of space, such as when they allowed Bloomberg to use the Center over other candidates.


A man says that this organization is LGBT only and other groups, non-LGBT, can’t expect space here. He says just having a gay member isn’t enough.


GT is asked if this decision was made because of donors threatening to withdraw. She says there was that threat, but this was a minor part of the feedback and not the cause for the decision.


Tom is asked, “If there was a queer group sponsoring this party, would it have been allowed. GT has interrupted and sidetracked the question. She insists that this meeting is about figuring that out in the future. “How do we have this safe for everyone in the future?”


SS: There were straight members of ACT-UP, excluding this group for not being queer is an excuse to exclude because we don’t agree with them.


Sarah Schulman stands and says, ‘There is no anti-semitism in this debate.”


Michael Lucas starts speaking ON BEHALF of all Jews and Israelis. Yelling, hollering at him. He corrects himself, “A lot of Jews feel connected to Israel.” and ergo, they are made unsafe by IA week. He repeats, “Yes, Jews do feel connected to Israel.”


She is asked by a member of the audience (accused?) of being a member of Siegebusters, which she denied.


Elisa Solomon is asking “What do you mean by protection?” She “seeks safe space and open conversation.” She experienced this as something that was agressive and threatening to her, not safe.


Tom: “It was about protecting the lives of the people who need this place.”


Tom says he has been sickened by the racism on one side of this issue, and the anti-semitism on the other. WTFx1000.


He says that they all asked themselves if they felt like they were being influenced by an outside force, and said no. Then they considered if the group was queer identified, and since that was No, then they decided to cancel it.


He says that when he was recovering from drug addiction, the Center was his safe space.


Someone named Tom from the board is speaking “from a deeply personal place.”

“The executive committee engaged in a good faith conversation about the best course of action.”


GT keeps saying that the group representative was contacted directly, which opposes what has been reported in the news media, and what Sherry Wolf says.


GT: Other groups that have not been allowed to meet here: NAMBLA, in 1989. New Alliance Party was also denied space. There have been other groups at other times, which went unnoticed.

AN requests more detail about this decision, but GT is just repeating herself from earlier, from press releases, etc.


GT says that right now everyone who requests space submits a proposal, each are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. They are asked to abide by the code of conduct, which includes “don’t be violent, dont be naked, don’t steal–things of that nature”

The Center’s mission is being read aloud.


GT is talking again.


We are voting on whether or not to let the SB-sympathizers speak at the top. Motion has passed. AN had to count the votes individually.


Stuart Appelbaum is from the Jewish Labor Committee, according to Google.


Jasbir Puar is raising her hand, but is kind of sitting behind AN and is having trouble being seen.


Stuart Applebaum is angry and yelling that this is about space use, not Siegebusters.


We are still discussing whether or not to vote on taking a vote. How did ACT-UP get anything done?


I can not contain my resentment for the individuals who have decided to attend this meeting even though they have NEVER been to the Center, never used services here. Tragic.


Michael Lucas looks bored.


Michael Lucas is opposing the use of the meeting for talking about Siegebusters. GT responds by saying the meeting is open. Urvashi Vaid says she is not in SB, she is a member of the community and she wants to hear the proposal.

If this is confusing to you, don’t worry, it is confusing to me, too.


A woman named Esther disagrees, and says she understood this to be a broader meeting. Ann says the room will decide.


This is scheduled only until 6:30pm, which I think might be wishful thinking.


Steve Walsh says there is a sound problem, he can’t here. Ann Northrup makes sure microphones are in place for speakers.

Stuart Applebaum asks if we will disregard the 90 second limit in order to read the Siegebusters letter. Ann says that as facilitator, her job is to help the room do what the room wants to do.

Brad Taylor offers a clarification–the proposal is talking points NOT from Siegebusters, but from a collaboration of many community members.

A man named Ken stands and says that he thinks this is about how the Center rents rooms.


A man named Jeff asks for the misson of the Center, and another man has asked for the space guidelines.

Pauline Park has arrived.

A woman wants to know if it is OK if you are not GLBT to speak. She self-identifies herself as not LGBT.


A woman named Ann has asked that AN make an effort to keep looking for opposing points of view during the discussion. AN agrees.


A man has stood to ask that this “not be another propaganda meeting” — complaining about the 2 leaflets he has gotten, and noting that the meeting that was cancelled is a “propaganda meeting.”


A man has asked for the Board members to clarify their decision process regarding this issue.

Elaine Meisner asks historically what other groups have been disallowed from meeting here.

A man stands and asks who is running the meeting. Ann says the Center is running it, no outside group.


Brad Taylor from Siegebusters has asked to read their statement. Ann tables it. Bill Dobbs has asked all the center Board members to stand and identify themselves. Out of 19, 2 are here. Good shot, Bill.


We are at about 100% capacity. Guildelines are winding down and the discussion is about to begin.


A press person has asked for that to be amended , Ann is putting it to a vote and it stands. Why is it ok, I wonder, to not be quoted by name? This is a public forum! If you don’t want to be quoted, try not talking.


She has asked press to identify themselves, and ask asked press not to quote people by name without checking with them at the end of the meeting. I will assume this doesn’t apply to me.


Some claps for GT. Ann Northrup is back onstage. She is “borrowing some guidelines from ACT-UP meetings” – Anyone and everyone is welcome to speak, but not repeatedly because she wants everyone to have a chance to speak. 90 seconds or less. She is not keeping a stack in order to encourage a more spontaneous discussion. “No personal attacks.”


She says that it i a misunderstanding to read this decision as meaning that the Center is not welcoming to Queer Palestinians or LGBT Arabs.


“Many people consider the Center their home. That is an honor. The staff takes that responsibility very seriously.”


She is explaining the Center’s side of the story in a manner that makes it seem like she has rehearsed it. She says 6000 people per week come through the Center. Some of those are “literally in a life or death situation.”


GT says that the forum is to clarify the “space use guidelines” of the center.


Ann Northrup has called the meeting to order exactly on time. She has turned it over to Glenda Testone, who is welcoming us to “engage in a dialogue.”


Rumors that an unnamed corporate donor is pressuring the Center to maintain the policy barring Siegebusters. Further rumors: Urvashi Vaid and Kate Clinton, major donors to the center have threatened to “never donate another cent” to the LGBT Center until the group is reinstated.


[sorry about the weird time stamps on previous posts--it is fixed now]


80% capacity.


Glenda Testone is wearing tall black boots with 4″ heels. She is dressed like a sexy soccer mom.


Glenda Testone has arrive, and we are filling up quickly. Carrie Davis, from GIP, is also in attendance. Paul Schneider from Gay City News is here, and Bill Dobbs is passing out a “Letter to partipants at the LGBT Community Center public forum” –printed on pink paper, and signed by himself, Brad Taylor, Emmaia Gelman, Naomi Brussel, Sammer Aboelela, and Sarena Melchert.


The Center staff has organized room 301, a large loft-like room, into a wide circle of approximately 200 chairs, a la theater in the round. With 15 minutes until the start time, the room is about 1/4 full.


People are beginning to arrive. Lisa Duggan and Sarah Schulman are here. Several orthodox, gay jews have just come in. Activist and organizer Leslie Kagen is here, and Jasbir Puar is expected to come as well.


Ann Northrop has arrived, and just told us that she will be moderating. I know her from her DykeTV appearances, and she is another ACT-UP veteran.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Felicity H. March 14, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I believe “Jayla” is Jama Shelton, who works at Ali Forney (and is fairly high up in the management team there). She is a former intern at the Center. And she is indeed Glennda’s partner.

I have heard from Center employees that Glennda is not very bright, doesn’t have a very progressive or informed queer vision, comes from a glossy media background which I think trumps substantive and thoughtful leadership vision, and recently twirled around at a staff meeting proclaiming her newly found love of Pride (I guess she had just marched for the first time). It’s pretty depressing. The Center will likely transform into a middle of the road bland social space led by a bunch of wealthy clueless mostly white male board members and their puppet Glennda — while providing services to youth (many of whom are POC) and low income adults, because that’s their biggest funding source in terms of grants. But talk about a huge disconnect in values, vision, and politics.


rooster pants March 18, 2011 at 9:52 am

hi. i appreciate the coverage/sharing of the info from the forum. it’s important community forums are accessible to as many people as possible. with all due respect, i was surprised to find some of the comments/personal critiques . . . about shoes and questioning personal intelligence? they are hateful, sexist and misogynistic and i was saddened to find that on this site. i would much prefer a critical analysis/commentary on the issue without allowing it to devolve into a smear campaign . . . and if the leader of the center (or any org) were a man, would comments be made about their shoes?


Tom Leger March 18, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Yes, if they were 4″ tall.

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