June 23, 2011

Article on QFOLC, QAIA and more: "Protesting apartheid at Pride"

Here are some excerpts from "Protesting apartheid at Pride" by Frankie Cook (June 22, 2011)

"While QAIA received a surprising amount of support and interest at the first two New York City-wide Pride parades, the same cannot be said of NYC LGBT Center, which has kicked pro-Palestine queers to the curb. 
...The center essentially took the same position as the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs by saying that it's illegitimate and illegal to call Israel an apartheid state. Until now, the LGBT Center has been a place where activists of all sorts have come to organize--from antiwar, to abortion rights, workers' struggles and many others. 

June 22, 2011

QFOLC Tells Garden Partiers: Stop Censoring Viewpoints of Groups that Meet at Center

Patrons of the LGBT “Community” Center’s Garden Party at Pier 54 on Monday evening, June 20, were greeted by an informational picket urging them to tell Center board members that their policy of censorship and exclusion is unacceptable. About 45 members of QFOLC, QAIA and their supporters joined the picket.

Board chair Mario Palumbo briefly stopped to speak with us, but reiterated his refusal to have a meeting between QFOLC and the board, which is one of our demands. Palumbo kept parroting what are now the Center’s talking points on the controversy: that LGBT people who are concerned with Palestinian rights are a “distraction” from the mission of the Center. He said that there is nothing to talk about and walked away when he realized that a member of the press was recording him. Stonewalled again. Palumbo took special exception to our references to “OUR Community Center.” I guess it belongs to the funders on the board now.

June 21, 2011

QFOLC Garden Party protest: some photos!

About 45 people turned up to protest the LGBT Center's censorship and general bad behavior yesterday, delivering 600 flyers to partygoers and a strong message to the Center: "you can't avoid controversy by slamming the door on the queer community!" More to come on the protest. Meanwhile, here are a few pics from Pauline Park. (Full album on Facebook here.)

June 17, 2011

Trans Day of Action takes on the Center, links queer/justice struggles

The NYC Trans Day of Action takes place next Friday, June 24th. This year, as every year, it makes strong links between the rights of trans people and other queers; demands to end racism, anti-immigrant  and "war on terror" policy and repressive policing, and battles on other social and economic justice fronts. This year, the points of unity include specific support for the push to open the LGBT Center back up to the community, and end censorship there.

In the wake of protests against the Center's exclusion of queers and its odd community forum in March, many folks noted that the board (particularly Board President Mario Palumbo and Tom Kirdahy, the only board members who showed up at the forum) and director Glennda Testone seemed oblivious to the depth and history of LGBT organizing -- particularly queer work on issues they seemed to deem "not queer enough," like racial and economic justice, and human rights.

Maybe the Center bigs only attend Manhattan pride, where they could -- if blinded by beads tossed from club floats and given enough promotional Absolut cocktails -- convince themselves that all queers do is dance and join support groups. (And many of us do!) But they'd be better advised to check out the Trans March, the Dyke March, and pride marches in Harlem, Queens and Brooklyn that show the vastly wider reach, and the deep political engagement, of the queer movement.

If the Center's decision-makers were really part of the larger community, we wouldn't have to explain it to them. And they wouldn't be in so very much trouble right now.

June 16, 2011

Protest the Center, and Protest its Welcome to Mayor Bloomberg.

by Andy Humm, Queers for an Open LGBT Center

We're protesting the LGBT "Community" Center's lack of transparency and openness at its Garden Party on Monday from 5:30-7:30 PM with an informational picket at 14th St. and the Hudson River. But now we have another reason to protest as the Center is welcoming Mayor Bloomberg to his first Garden Party and hailing his "incredible support" for LGBT rights. The fact is, Bloomberg's record on LGBT rights and civil liberties in general has been a disgrace.

Yes, Bloomberg is putting himself out there as a champion of same-sex marriage, but if it passes--as it may--it will be in spite of Bloomberg not because of him. Bloomberg has given MILLIONS in donations to prop up the anti-gay Republican Senate majority. This majority is blocking every piece of progressive legislation we care about from transgender rights to stronger tenant protections to universal health care for New York.

QFOLC slams censorship @ NYC LGBT Community Center

Statement from QFOLC
June 16th, 2011
(QFOLC has called a protest at the Center's annual Garden Party! Monday 6/20. Btw, it's NOT at the Center -- instead, at 14th St. & West Side Highway.)

• Lift the Ban Against Siege Busters & Queers Against Israeli Apartheid
• Open Board Meetings
• Free Speech at the Center

New York's LGBT Community Center has served as an indispensable resource since its founding in 1983. But now, something has gone very, very wrong at the Center. Its Board has turned the simple matter of renting space to queer groups for organizing into a giant mess. Groups have been told they can meet and then are banned. Suddenly there’s a cloud of censorship on 13th Street.

Claiming it "has been forced to divert significant resources from its primary purpose of providing programming and services to instead navigating between opposing positions involving the Middle East conflict," the Center announced "a moratorium, effective immediately, on renting space to groups that organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Summarily canceled were scheduled meetings of the group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA), which the Center had approved only eight days earlier. One such meeting took place without incident.

Previously, the Center banned the group, Siege Busters, from further meetings because of its organizing around Israeli Apartheid Week. Center Executive Director, Glennda Testone, stated that Siege Busters was expelled because it was both non-LGBT and controversial, with neither factor alone being grounds for refusing meeting space. Obviously, QAIA met this announced criteria. Also obvious―now―is that the banning of Siege Busters and the criteria were a smokescreen for something else.

By banning queer political organizing groups in response to "controversy," the Center is moving into a dangerous world of policing the queer community on behalf of outside forces―forces that are openly trying to silence anyone with a position different from their own. Making matters worse, by banning discussion of the Middle East conflict, the Center is, indeed, taking a side: implicitly endorsing Israel's policy on Palestine as well as the dangerous idea that anyone who objects to this policy is "anti-Semitic." Only groups opposing that occupation had been meeting there, so the ban affects them only. Despite the extreme controversy surrounding this issue, these groups have affirmed the right of those supporting the opposite position to meet at the Center as well.

The Center's "primary purpose" as described in its release is historically inaccurate. The Center was founded in 1983 to provide meeting and office space to community groups for the purposes of organizing, developing programs and rendering services. That the Center now itself performs some of these functions is great, but this role should never be used as an excuse to negate its founding purpose by limiting access to community groups.

Contrary to the Center's claim, there is nothing around which to "navigate." Republicans, Democrats, socialists and anarchists have met at the Center; so have Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and atheists. Before this latest statement from the Center leadership, no one―including the Center itself―had ever suggested that the provision of rental space implied an endorsement of the groups renting rooms or of their political perspectives.

Siege Busters was banned under pressure from anti-free speech, Islamophobe Michael Lucas who threatened to organize a donor boycott of the Center. When QAIA was briefly allowed to meet, he threatened to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times against the Center, calling it an "anti-Israeli nest." Thugs like Lucas are the last people the Center should be listening to when developing policy.

Clearly, secret conversations are taking place behind the closed doors of the Center's boardroom. But if the word "Community" in the Center's name has any meaning, we all have every right to know what's going on. Instead of responding positively to requests from community activists to meet on this matter, the Center board hired a consulting firm to formulate a space utilization policy at exorbitant cost that is a complete waste of community resources.

Calls for open board meetings have been heard before. Now, with the latest flip-flop and ever lengthening trail of obfuscation, the need for the Center to heed this call is more urgent than ever.

• Lift the Ban Against Siege Busters & Queers Against Israeli Apartheid
• Open Board Meetings
• Free Speech at the Center

June 15, 2011

Reporter stumped by pretzel logic of censorship.

From Duncan Osborne's blog:
'I was struck by one thing on June 11. Lucas and the folks who joined him in pressuring the Center to give these two groups the boot prevented them, or tried to, from meeting and talking among themselves. When I asked Lucas if he had any plans to challenge the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in the gay pride marches in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, he said “I don’t care. They can do whatever the hell they want.”
So it is beyond the pale for these groups to meet quietly, but perfectly acceptable for them to carry their message to what will have been hundreds of thousands of people by the time they are done marching in the June 26 pride march on Fifth Avenue? So the objection is what? I remain confused.'

Protest @ the Center's Garden Party! Mon 6/20 @ 5:30pm

We're trying to put the community back in NY's LGBT Community Center. Please join us at a protest at the Center's Garden Party on Monday evening. Mayor Bloomberg is attending for the first time and being greeted by the Center as a "strong supporter," despite his terrible record on LGBT rights and civil liberities.

June 14, 2011

GCN on QAIA & Queens Pride: Queer speech in queer space, what's the big deal?

Another vote against censorship, this one from the Queens Pride Committee and Councilmember Danny Dromm. From Gay City News: The World, Again, Comes to Queens.
'...Queens Pride also played host to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA), a group who used the parade to loudly voice their opposition to the Jewish state’s policies toward Palestinians....
[Councilmember Danny] Dromm voiced uncertainty about the specifics of QAIA’s stance, but said he had no doubts about their right to participate in the parade. 
 “I don’t know exactly what their stand is, although I have heard some of the press around it,” he said. “I know that the Pride Committee, when they discussed the participation of that group here, felt that, look, they’re gay, they should be allowed to march and to express their viewpoint. We all agreed on that.”'

June 8, 2011

LGBT Center sit-in: weird success, failure & pix.

This evening's sit-in by Queers Against Israeli Occupation and Siegebusters, with support from QFOLC, went oddly unchallenged by the LGBT Center. About 60 people gathered in the lobby to hold the scheduled-then-banned QAIA meeting, since the Center had refused to allow QAIA to rent a room.

The meeting went on for about 90 minutes and broke just about every rule the Center has ever enforced about the lobby: meeting attendees sat on the floor, blocked the flow of traffic (not on purpose, but because there were so many people), spoke and applauded loudly, etc. The Center made absolutely no response -- staff just let the meeting go on. And amazingly, the sky didn't fall as queers discussed controversial topics and organized action.

While the Center was arguably wise to just let the moment pass without escalating (remember that in March they panicked and hired private security goons, ostensibly to protect the Center from the queer protest outside), it doesn't necessarily add up to good news. Instead, it seems like the Center will just go along with whatever pressure it most currently feels.

The LGBTQ community urgently needs the Center actually to stand up for queer space, for openness, for community and accountability. That includes refusing to be bullied into pushing queers out of the Center, making its operations transparent and public, and explicitly affirming that the Center is open to all facets of the community -- not just whenever it's convenient. Nothing like that happened tonight, and the fight goes on.

Here are photos from the sit-in. More will be listed here as we see them posted.

Gay City News:

Critics of Israeli Occupation Occupy Center Lobby

Queer group terming treatment of Palestinians “apartheid” defies ban on its meetings

June 7, 2011

For tomorrow's LGBT Center Sit-In: the flyer.

Village Voice: LGBT Center's self-imposed "public humiliation."

This VV post speaks for itself. And for a lot of us.
"This is not particularly shocking, but it is the most blatantly embarrassing example of how both the Center's Board and its executive director, Glennda Testone, have been willing to placate Lucas and publicly humiliate themselves. It also shows how thoroughly they are willing to turn their backs on the Center's 28-year history as a locale of controversial free speech in order to become just another censored venue catering to influential donors."

June 6, 2011

QAIA calls Sit-In at LGBT Center - Wed 6/8

In response to the LGBT Center's second (or third) refusal to rent space to anti-Occupation groups -- and its announcement that such refusal is now the Center's policy -- NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is calling a sit-in this Wednesday, 6pm at the LGBT Center.

Many other cities have queer groups organizing around Palestine, in some cases actively supported by queer institutions like Pride Committees. In Toronto, where the city's Pride march was threatened with de-funding because of the participation of Toronto's Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, the exclusion was overturned as improper. As in New York, the politics in Toronto are complicated and cross over queer-straight boundaries. (But they're not too complicated to muddy the difference between those who would silence queer organizing, and those who would fight to hold space for it.)

Here's NYC QAIA's call for this Wednesday's sit-in.
The Center has done it again. After a brief flirtation with openness, the NYC LGBT Center has capitulated to right-wing pressure – and shut down progressive queer political organizing again.


Wed., June 8, 6pm

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was supposed to have our meeting at the Center at that time... but since the Center won't stand up for us, we have to SIT IN! 
Last week, the Center responded to community demands that the Center remain open to queers, by finally granted meeting space to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. But on Thursday, after a new round of threats and bullying from the right, the Center cancelled all future QAIA meetings. In short, the Center has said that it won't stand up for queers' right to organize if that organizing becomes “controversial.” (Read statements from the Center and QAIA here.) 
Please call and/or e-mail Center director Glennda Testone and board president Mario Palumbo (again!) Tell them they can't avoid controversy just by slamming the door on queer activists. You can email from here: http://openthecenter.blogspot.com/p/action.html

June 4, 2011

Siege Busters statement on exclusion of all Palestine organizing groups

Siege Busters Statement - June 4, 2011
Regarding LGBT Center Exclusion of all Groups Organizing in Support of Palestine

It is with deep disappointment that we, the members of Siege Busters, receive the news that the Executive Committee of the LGBT Community Center has decided to extend the ban of our group to all of those organizing for justice in Palestine. It is clear from the established pattern that this decision reflects capitulation to an exceedingly small number of financially influential donors who have threatened to destroy the Center for renting space to groups who hold an opinion that differs from their own. In response to these threats, the Center has in every instance complied with the demands of this small number of donors by cancelling events, banning groups, and even disallowing an entire category of activism and speech from taking place within the facility.

Of particular concern to Siege Busters with this latest incident of exclusion is the adoption by the Executive Committee of demonizing language. By stating that all groups organizing around the Palestinian liberation struggle were to be banned due to “anti-Semitism in political expression,” the Executive Committee has chosen to promote the characterization of pro-Palestinian activism as hateful and racist. This despite the fact that a large number of the activists banned from the Center are themselves Jewish, and not a single incident of anti-Semitic language or action has been cited by the Executive Committee when this characterization has been challenged.

Gay City News sifts through the wreckage of the LGBT Center fiasco

Gay City News tries to sort out who exactly is pushing the Center to slam the door on queer political organizers. The verdict: a whole lot of Lucas' friends, Retail Workers Union leader Stuart Applebaum, maybe some elected officials (but maybe not.)

Also, GCN's Osborne asks, how much is the Center spending on a consultant to sort this out instead of actually talking to the community? (Way too much! Since bringing on the consultant, the Center's handling of the situation has just gotten worse. It's taking a major beating from all sides.)

"Opponents of QAIA said they spent the week following its meeting urging groups, individuals, and Center donors to contact the agency and ask it to reverse the decision, which it did on June 2... Lucas then said he had been copied on “well over 100 emails, but it's not 1,000” to the Center. Other groups and “lots of donors” contacted the Center, he said, though he would not identify any... 
Stuart Appelbaum, the openly gay president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said he had spoken with many people, including elected officials or their staff. 
"The Center is developing a new space rental policy with help from Ritchie Tye Consulting. The Center did not respond to an email asking what the consulting firm would be paid. In 2007, Ritchie Tye charged the Gay Men’s Health Crisis just under $92,000 for consulting, according to GMHC’s IRS filings from that year."

June 3, 2011

Lucas: Out against truth and history on more than one front.

Queers for an Open LGBT Center has not focused on Michael Lucas. He's vile, but it's the NYC LGBT Center that's the point. That said, Lucas' deliberateness in snatching away progressive queer political space -- and the huge latitude he's been given by queer institutions to do it -- is worthy of notice, if only because it's  a surprise to many of us who believed that even queers who deeply disagreed probably shared some common ground. Now that it's not necessarily radical to be queer anymore, do we still share that ground?

From PinkwatchingIsrael.com, here's a piece on how deeply political was Lucas' film "Men of Israel," using the icon of unashamed public queer sexuality to virtually kill off the Palestinian history of a village, and claim it for Israel. The tactic will be familiar to New Yorkers fighting off Lucas' attacks: he tells a silly fictitious story ("The Center is supporting terrorist groups!), tags it with buzz words about queer community and freedom ("they're providing a fig leaf for Arab homophobia!"), and then spreads it so far and wide that it no longer matters whether it's true -- it's just part of the narrative that everyone "knows."

June 2, 2011

NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid: statement on the Center's ban of their meetings

Statement from NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid:
Pro-Israel pressure machine is shutting down NYC queer community organizing.

June 2, 2011

This afternoon, the NYC LGBT Center summarily cancelled all future meetings of NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid -- and all LGBT groups organizing around the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Center claimed in a press release that it has been diverted from its "primary purpose of providing programming and services" by the protest and rhetoric around the question of meeting space.

We object completely to the idea that the Center's "primary purpose" is for "programming and services" -- it was created as, and has always been, a community space for queer organizing and self-determination. We object to the Center's spineless attempt to hide behind social services to queers, as if political organizing were not also critical to queer community and survival. We already know that the Center's board suffers from serious disconnection with the larger LGBT community and its history, but we are shocked and aggrieved at this slap in the face to queers as makers of our own path rather than passive recipients of "programming."

The Center's failure to stand up for queer communities' right to use its space sadly goes further, though. In banning "groups that organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the Center is telling queers that we will be out on the street as soon as we are challenged by powerful forces. The Center is clearly responding to pressure mounted by well-resourced pro-Israel forces -- including right-wing activist Michael Lucas, who recently moved the Jerusalem Post to write an article full of absurd accusations that the Center is anti-Semitic and is "providing a fig leaf for Arab homophobia."

LGBT Center strikes again: another queer group banned.

The LGBT Center is amazing... they've done it again. They've completely given in to right-wing demands to cancel the meetings of anti-Occupation groups (and no other groups, btw.) This time they're saying it's just too hard to stand up for queers' right to organize, and it's impinging on their provision of "programming and services" -- as if queer organizing is marginal. What horrifyingly short memories.

The LGBT Community Center Calls a "Time Out" In Renting to Groups Organizing Around the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Thu, June 2 2011
Media Contact
Cindi Creager, Director of Communications & Marketing
(212) 620-7310, ccreager@gaycenter.org
New York, NY June 2, 2011 -- The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center today announced a moratorium, effective immediately, on renting space to groups that organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision comes after months of divisiveness, protest, and heated rhetoric regarding whether the Center should rent space to two groups organizing around these issues.
The Center has been forced to divert significant resources from its primary purpose of providing programming and services to instead navigating between opposing positions involving the Middle East conflict. The Center, which does not endorse the views of groups to whom it rents space and requires all groups to sign a non-discrimination pledge, has decided to implement this moratorium to allow a cooling off period.
“We must keep our focus squarely on providing life-changing and life-saving programs and services to the LGBTQ community in New York City,” said Executive Director Glennda Testone. “We respect those who are deeply passionate about these issues, and we respectfully ask that they take meetings outside of the Center. Make no mistake, everyone is welcome at the Center; but these particular organizing activities need to take place elsewhere.”
In February, the Center declined to rent space to a group called Siege Busters, a non-LGBT-focused group whose presence at the Center provoked controversy and diverted energy and resources away from the Center’s core mission. The Center subsequently agreed to rent space to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, which conformed to the Center’s application guidelines and signed its non-discrimination agreement. But the ensuing controversy has again consumed significant time and resources and forced Center staff to negotiate issues of anti-Semitism in political expression – an area outside the Center’s expertise. For these reasons, the Center has adopted an indefinite moratorium.
“We have tried in good faith to weigh each space request while considering the deeply held beliefs of members of our community about these issues,” said Board President Mario Palumbo. “But we are first and foremost a community services center and need to ensure that all individuals in our community feel welcome to come through our doors and get what they need to live healthy, happy lives. This must be our priority.”

How fire spreads: Jerusalem Post jumps on the "Center is anti-Israel" message

A new article from the Jerusalem Post calls the LGBT Center "anti-Israel" and says that anti-occupation queers are just providing "a fig leaf for Arab homophobia." Wait -- it just reports that other people are saying that. But you'd have to do some real filtering to understand that the JPost isn't endorsing that view.

In truth, the Center's board and staff are the farthest thing from anti-Israel: if anything, they appear to be so apolitical that they default to "shh, don't say anything about the Occupation!" And queer anti-occupation activists support Palestinian queers' demand to end occupation as a starting point for opening up civil society. But that matters not to sensationalist reporting.

This is the kind of baseless but effective pressure tactic that makes middle-of-the-road organizations buckle -- unless they have some core principles about free speech, openness and truth. The LGBT Center has not been strong on any of that lately, so this is worrisome.


NY LGBT Center slammed as center of anti-Israel activityBy BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
06/01/2011 23:58

Manhattan institution providing fig leaf for Arab homophobia, Wiesenthal Center says.
New York City LGBT Community Center’s decision to host an event of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid last week has drawn sharp criticism. 
Prominent US gays and the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday laced into the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. 
Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Wiesenthal Center’s international director, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was a group of “self-hating gays” who “are working against the interests of their own brothers and sisters and should be shunned by all LGBT NGOs. By accepting them, the New York center is providing a fig leaf for Arab homophobia.”

June 1, 2011

Summary of the LGBT Center/Palestine drama so far: Pauline Park

Pauline Park (of Queers for an Open LGBT Center, among other groups) blogged a how-we-got-here history of the LGBT Center's ridiculous floundering that has resulted in their alienation of queers of color and progressive queers, and the suppression of queer political organizing. It's a sad read.


Within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, the slogan “we are everywhere” is not only wonderfully true but painfully true as well, as LGBT people are found both among the Jewish Israeli and Palestinian and Arab populations living within the borders of the State of Israel. And LGBT people in the United States are found on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide, scattered on a continuum from those who see Israel as the only legitimate claimant to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean to those who believe that all of that land is the home of the Palestinian people alone. Many queer Americans, of course, are somewhere in between, recognizing as legitimate both the State of Israel and the aspirations of the Palestinian people. Perhaps a majority in the LGBT community in the United States is either frustrated to the point of giving up or apathetic after years of war and conflict.
And the story of how the Center became drawn into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, despite the desire of its board and staff to avoid such entanglement — or perhaps because of it — is a cautionary tale for LGBT community centers and LGBT organizations and queer politics more generally — both in New York and beyond.

About Queers for an Open LGBT Center