The LGBT civil rights movement has evolved admirably over the past few years to become more inclusive, working against institutional bigotry of all kinds, and grappling with the intersectionalities that exist within all of us. Those multiple identities impact not only how we think of ourselves, but more notably, what others think of us.
Unfortunately, some of that progress has empowered the more radical amongst us to act in a brazen, autocratic manner. The growing demand on the left for political purity includes the act of blacklisting and de-platforming -- i.e., not allowing people with whom you disagree a platform from which to speak. On the radical left, free expression loses out to demands for protection from insult and offense.
The most recent such episode, a stain on the LGBT community, is the willingness by the National LGBTQ Task Force (Task Force) to cave into demands from radical queer activists to ban a Jewish organization from hosting a reception at this week's upcoming Creating Change conference. This is not the type of change for which the Task Force stands, and is a disgraceful act of capitulation. Unfortunately, this spinelessness is not new at these conferences, as in recent years the organizers have allowed trans-exclusionary radical feminist lesbians (TERFs) to organize, a group of queer women of color to take the stage to prevent the Denver mayor from speaking, and just last week a fiasco with the invitation/de-invitation of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to participate in the conference. The Task Force is allowing the loudest voices to quash dissent and inhibit dialogue, the kind of dialogue that is necessary for progress. Placating those radical voices does not benefit the queer people most in need, nor the community as a whole.
The group at issue today is called A Wider Bridge, on whose board I sit. Here is their statement:
CREATING CHANGE CREATES BIAS -- NATIONAL LGBTQ TASK FORCE CANCELS A WIDER BRIDGE ISRAEL RECEPTION at UPCOMING CONFERENCE IN CHICAGO. A WIDER BRIDGE ANNOUNCES EVENT WILL GO ON AT NEW VENUE.
After being approved as a part of the program well in advance, the organizers of the Creating Change conference in Chicago caved into extremist anti-Israel demands and canceled the A Wider Bridge-sponsored reception that was to be held on Friday, January 22. The reception plans to feature two leaders of Jerusalem Open House, (JOH) Jerusalem's flagship LGBTQ organization. A Wider Bridge is announcing today that the reception will go on, but at a new location outside of the conference venue. It will be held at the Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan Ave, at 8:30 PM. on the 22nd.
Arthur Slepian, Executive Director of A Wider Bridge, said "A Wider Bridge is one of the leading LGBTQ organizations in the country, an advocate for LGBTQ rights here in North America, in Israel and around the world, and it is both sad and disgraceful that the organizers of Creating Change decided that there is no place for us in this significant gathering of LGBT leaders from around the U.S. and the world. We work to promote honest dialogue and collaboration and to present Israel to our program participants in all of its complexity. Our trips include visits to the West Bank and the opportunity to hear directly from Palestinians. We meet with Israeli Ethiopians, transgender leaders, and LGBTQ leaders from Israel's religious communities. Our programs explore issues involving homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ultra-nationalism, and many other forms of bigotry -- the very same issues being addressed at the Creating Change conference. The Israeli LGBTQ community has something important to add to the global conversation about LGBTQ rights. We are saddened by what appears to be capitulation to the intimidation of a small number of anti-Israel extremists who want to shut down the voices of those who don't adhere to their rigid and exclusive party line. As LGBTQ people, we are all too familiar with being oppressed through shaming, the closet, and imposed silence, and we see great danger in allowing this kind of censorship and blatant double standard to become the norm in our community."
Slepian added, "It is especially sad that this action excludes from Creating Change the leaders of one of the most important LGBTQ organizations in the world. Jerusalem Open House (JOH) is an organization that works tirelessly to build LGBTQ community in a city with a very diverse population and a challenging environment. JOH organizes the annual Jerusalem Pride March that was the scene of horrific violence last summer that led to the death of one teenage girl, and JOH has been leading the effort to help the community recover from the trauma of that tragedy. We hope that the leaders of the LGBTQ community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, will come to meet these leaders and stand in solidarity with us at our alternative event."
This action was taken after a series of tweets from a queer activist of color whose Twitter handle is @darkmatterpoets, and a blog from über Jewish trans radical, Dean Spade. First, a sampling of the tweets:
— DarkMatter (@DarkMatterPoets) January 13, 2016
#CC16 will you cancel the "LGBT life in Israel" event out of respect for Palestinian human rights? This is not "dialog", this is colonialism
— DarkMatter (@DarkMatterPoets) January 13, 2016
Dean Spade, a radical professor who has repeatedly interfered with efforts to pass hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws because they require engaging with a system he considers fatally corrupt, jumped into the fray. Once again he misrepresents the mission of the organization, calling it an Israeli front organization as if we're puppets, and insults the motivations of the hundreds of queer Jewish members of A Wider Bridge who are committed to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. His talk of Israel as a colonialist enterprise exposes his implicit bias and ignorance of history. His purity test would have the unintended outcome of silencing that group of American Jews most likely to help Israel step back from the brink of fascism, while also driving a wedge through the heart of the progressive community, similar to what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu managed last year when he split the American Jewish community. Congratulations, Dean -- you and Netanyahu are accomplishing the same objective, just as Hamas and Jewish terrorists conspired to derail the Oslo Peace Accords with the Tel-Aviv suicide bombings and assassination of Prime Minister Rabin.
Regardless of Professor Spade's beliefs, however, the onus is on the leadership of the Task Force. For the Task Force to bow to his demands is an act of bigotry against Jewish LGBTQ persons as mean-spirited as any other, and of far greater significance than the multitude of micro-aggressions of which many activists complain daily. Queer Jewish activists are an integral part of the movement, and have been since Stonewall. Acts such as this only serve to re-inspire some of the black-Jewish tension that arose after the 60's. Jews are a minority, too, and are working against racism and sexism in America today as allies with the entire spectrum. To paint this problem as simply black and white, when most Jews around the world are viewed as anything but white, is callous and counter-productive.
We must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.