June 16, 2011

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

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About Queers for an Open LGBT Center