On Monday, Seattle mayor Ed Murray touched down in Israel as part of a trip where he is expected to march in Tel Aviv’s gay Pride parade, meet Israeli political and military officials, and give a keynote at a conference celebrating Israel’s LGBTQ rights record.
The trip has generated a great deal of controversy, especially after reports revealed that despite the fact that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs was paying for part of his trip — reportedly the first time in at least a decade a Seattle mayor has accepted such a gift from a foreign government — taxpayers will still be forced to foot $36,000 for the rest.
If that isn’t enough to cause reason for suspicion about potential underlying motives, there’s the fact of who is behind the trip. A major sponsor is the pro-Israeli lobbying group called A Wider Bridge that aims to improve the country’s image among LGBTQ-identified Americans. That organization is closely linked with StandWithUs, a group that has come under fire repeatedly for rampant Islamophobia, verbal attacks on pro-Palestinian students, and promoting narratives that whitewash the realities of Israel’s occupation and mistreatment of the Palestinians.
The largest opposition to the mayor’s trip has come from queer groups across the United States accusing the mayor of playing the fool in the Israeli government’s global campaign to highlight its LGBT-friendly policies as a way to obscure or cover up its ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people.
As scholars and activists have repeatedly highlighted, Israel has in recent years actively pursued a global PR strategy under its Brand Israel label, often called “pinkwashing,” that seeks to divert attention from its massive abuses of Palestinian rights, including the killing of more than 2,200 people, around 70 percent civilians, in Gaza last summer, as well as the brutal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.
The strategy, which is complemented by a broader outreach to young, Western liberals through arts and culture, is rooted in the idea that if hipsters think Israel is a fun place to be gay, they might forget or at least ignore the fact that it maintains different systems of law for Jews and for Palestinians in areas under its military control or that it has kept Gaza under a nearly total economic siege for the last nine years.
After all, who wants to talk about racial apartheid when we could be talking about clubbing in Tel Aviv?
In this way, Israel’s strategy resembles that used by many corporations and politicians in the United States to distract from their own records of workers’ rights abuses or support for racist and classist laws, and instead refocus the perception that “being gay” is all about being able to party.
This strategy not only delinks queer and trans rights from other kinds of human, political, and social rights, it also de-historicizes the queer and trans rights struggles in order to delegitimize other forms of rights violations. In the case of Israel, “pinkwashing” sets up an opposition between the rights of queer and trans Israelis and those of Palestinians by calling for queers around the world to support a state friendly to Jewish queers but violently opposed to the rights of Palestinians — queer or otherwise — to live free, dignified lives.
For a queer or trans Palestinian living under Israeli occupation, the idea that global leaders should heap praise on Israel because Tel Aviv has a few gay clubs is not only absurd, it is also insulting and a direct expression of support for the denial of the basic rights of themselves, their families, and their people as a whole.
Amid the cynical use of “gay rights” as a cover for racial discrimination, it is no surprise that Palestinian queers have been at the forefront of the global campaign for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israel over the last decade.
In a 2010 statement, the Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions group wrote: “As Palestinian queers, our struggle is not only against social injustice and our rights as a queer minority in Palestinian society, but rather, our main struggle is one against Israel’s colonization, occupation and apartheid; a system that has oppressed us for the past 63 years.”
Mayor Murray has not remained silent on the accusations by activists, and a few days before the trip he even released a statement to a local radio station.
“To the extent that I can help advance the cause of equality in Seattle, in Israel, the rest of the Middle East, or in any other places, I welcome the opportunity to do so,” he said.
Murray’s statement highlights the shocking extent to which the mainstream gay rights movement in the United States has managed to so narrowly define “equality” that it embraces the freedom to fly a rainbow flag but not the freedom to live free of fear from military occupation.
Murray enthusiastically embraced calls for a boycott of the state of Indiana after it passed legislation deeply discriminatory to LGBTQ citizens, but apparently cannot extend that same empathy to both LGBTQ and straight Palestinians.
But queer and trans rights are not isolated discourses unrelated to the right to life, dignity, and freedom. If queer and trans rights are to be seen as nothing more than the ability to party or marry — divorced from an analysis of the political and economic realities that define our daily lives — then they are close to meaningless to the billions around the world, queer and otherwise, who daily struggle for better lives and a more just world.
In Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the West Bank where I live, the strategy seems so ridiculous that it can be difficult to know whether to laugh or cry when reports emerge of yet another Western leader or dignitary coming on an Israeli-funded trip.
Israel’s separation wall and policies of building Jewish-only settlements and roads for 500,000 settlers in the West Bank have chopped the region into little tiny bits of limited Palestinian sovereignty surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints.
The reality on the ground makes a mockery of Murray’s claims that he supports a “two-state solution” — a policy the sitting Israeli prime minister has said he refuses to consider — and a quick glance around Palestine and Israel would show that Israel has made this an impossibility.
Supporters of the trip have noted that Murray is meeting with exactly two Palestinians during a jaunt to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, as if to demonstrate that his participation in a multi-day trip coordinated by the Israeli government with the support of pro-Israeli advocacy groups and including meetings with Israeli military officials can be “balanced out” by a few hours in the West Bank.
These claims are disingenuous, to say the least, and rely on the notion that there are two sides in the conflict. But there are not. There is a military superpower that occupies the land and dispossesses a people who have been denied basic human, political, and civil rights for decades.
In this context, playing along with Israeli government efforts to raise publicity about how gay-friendly it is should be recognized as a form of complicity in the occupation and dispossession of Palestinians.
Unfortunately, Ed Murray isn’t the only who has been duped. Both Jenny Pizer of Lambda Legal and Brad Sears of the Williams Institute, two prominent LGBTQ advocates in the United States, are also speaking at a Tel Aviv conference Murray is attending intended to celebrate its record of gay rights.
U.S. queer organizations need to understand that participating in the pinkwashing of Israel and allowing “gay rights” to be used as a tool to suppress the rights of others wherever it happens is an ethical betrayal of the decades of queer struggle in the United States.
For the last decade, Palestinian activists have called on those who support justice and equality in the Holy Land to join the movement for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctioning of Israel in order to hold the state accountable.
They have urged people around the world to be conscious of how the long struggle for queer rights is now being cynically co-opted by the Israeli government for its own agenda that entails using gays as window-dressing for its brutal policies.
It is time for Ed Murray, and U.S. queers more broadly, to listen.
Alex Shams is a journalist based in Bethlehem and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago. Follow him @SeyyedReza.
Opinion | Why LGBTQ people should fear new Texas abortion law
Slippery slope measure turns private citizens into enforcers
I worry about everything from climate change to violence against transgender people to racism to reproductive freedom for women. But, until recently, I didn’t have to worry that a “$10,000 bounty” could be collected from me if I helped a woman to have an abortion.
Yet, this is now a terrifying concern for abortion providers, advocates of women’s reproductive rights and those who value civil liberties. Especially, for people in Texas.
If you value the right to privacy and are LGBTQ or a queer ally, you should be terrified.
Here’s why everyone with a sense of decency should feel the hair standing up on the back of their necks: It’s no secret, that the Supreme Court, more conservative since the court of the 1930s, is likely eyeing the chance to overthrow or gut Roe V. Wade.
In May, the Supreme Court said that, in its next term (beginning in October 2021), it would consider an abortion case involving a Mississippi law that would prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy (about two months earlier than permitted by Roe v. Wade).
The Court’s decision to consider this case gives hope to anti-abortion activists seeking the overthrow of Roe v. Wade.
States with Republican-controlled legislatures, aware of the make-up of the Supreme Court (with its conservative 6 to 3 majority), have acted quickly to severely weaken abortion rights. This has been especially true this year.
“More abortion restrictions — 90 — have already been enacted in 2021 than in any year since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973,” according to a Guttmacher Institute report.
On May 19, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed a draconian abortion bill into law. This measure, known as a “heartbeat law,” bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
Many women, at the six-week point, have no idea that they’re pregnant.
This is bad enough. Other states, including Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina have passed “heartbeat” laws banning abortion (when a fetal heartbeat can be detected).
But the legislation signed into law this spring by Gov. Abbott is even more insidious.
The legislation, scheduled to take effect in September 2021, gives private citizens the right to sue doctors and abortion clinic employees.
It doesn’t stop there. The new law permits a private citizen (from a pastor to an Uber driver to a friend, family member or perfect stranger) to sue anyone who performs or helps anyone to get an abortion. Even private citizens not living in Texas could sue people performing or helping someone to get an abortion.
Each private citizen could potentially be awarded $10,000 for every illegal abortion.
The law doesn’t allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. Though it would permit abortions in rare medical instances. Thankfully, on July 13, a coalition of abortion rights and civil liberties advocates, including abortion clinics, doctors, clergy, filed a federal lawsuit to challenge this new law.
Six-week abortion bans passed by other states have been successfully challenged because abortion rights advocates sued government officials.
But Texas’s new law prohibits state officials from enforcing it. It’s set up to be enforced by private citizens.
“We had to devise a unique strategy to fight this subversive law,” Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “We will pursue every legal avenue we can to block this pernicious law.”
This new law sets up a dangerous slippery slope for LGBTQ folk.
If a private citizen is allowed to sue anyone assisting a woman having an abortion, what, for example, would prevent anyone (from a minister to a friend to a cab driver) who helps a queer couple to adopt a child? Or suing anyone helping a transgender person to get health care.
Let’s do all we can to support the effort to block this dangerous law.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.
Opinion | LGBTQ victories are largely legal, not legislative
Leading lobbying groups ineffective as we face hostile Supreme Court
The recent conclusion of last month’s Pride month celebrations marked an annual milestone in both the history and advancements of rights for the LGBTQ community. The progress for LGBTQ rights over the last two decades has been groundbreaking – oftentimes described as an exemplary movement obtaining rights for a marginalized community. It was less than 20 years ago the United States Supreme Court struck down the country’s first real gay rights test in Lawrence v. Texas, decriminalizing “homosexual conduct” among consenting adults.
Even in the most recent years, we all recognize how major achievements like marriage equality to the protection of gay adoption – to the recent action ensuring a fully inclusive military with transgender service – have benefited the community. But with new attacks arising daily in state capitals around the nation, like transgender sports becoming the new “bathroom bill,” LGBTQ future generations are counting on the leading LGBTQ rights and legal organizations to secure more equality.
Almost unanimously, these groundbreaking rights – while being achieved at almost lightning speed (although not fast enough for the millions of LGBTQ Americans whose lives have been, and still being impacted) – have been won in American courtrooms, not the halls of Congress.
While the first federal LGBTQ rights bill was introduced in Congress in 1975 by former Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, it was simply referred to the Judiciary Committee and died. Forty-six years later barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, part of today’s Equality Act, has still not been passed into law by the LGBTQ lobbying organizations – and faces a similar fate this year in the U.S. Senate.
The Equality Act, the chief legislative target for Washington, D.C.’s LGBTQ lobbying organizations is dead in Congress despite the ripest political environment with a Democratic House, Senate and White House. The Senate’s filibuster and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are major structural problems for the legislation, but there is not even serious discussion or demands from the LGBTQ lobbying community to insist on passage through filibuster reform.
Must we automatically presume the LGBTQ community is so low a priority we are essentially beholden to prejudice of the minority in the Senate? When, therefore, can we ever expect any action? If not now, then when will gay lobbying succeed?
As an LGBTQ researcher at the University of Sydney in preparation for a new academic piece, I wanted to find out how groundbreaking LGBTQ rights could be won in courtrooms while lingering in Congress for half a century. The central question this research tried to answer was, “what factors contribute to LGBTQ lobbyist and advocate perceptions of movement success by LGBTQ organizations?” The answer became pretty clear when surveying the top LGBTQ lobbying and government affairs professionals, the ones with the most intimate, front-line view of congressional outreach.
Overwhelmingly, the research concludes the leading mainstream legal organizations have been primarily responsible for the community’s progress – not the LGBTQ organization’s lobbying efforts. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the wealthiest LGBTQ organization with a $48 million a year budget based in Washington, D.C. and founded 41 years ago, was ranked 10th most effective out of 17 organizations ranked. Since 2018, HRC has fallen six additional positions since the original research was published. In contrast, Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ community’s foremost legal rights organization, followed by the legal powerhouse, the ACLU, have moved ahead of them ranking as the most effective LGBTQ organizations.
The research clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the LGBTQ lobby, which has largely focused on gaining access to power structures instead of winning legislative victories. Fundraising models of these organizations, built largely around monetizing their access to power, has left little evidence of their effectiveness and in turn, has strengthened systems of oppression against an overwhelming number of LGBTQ people of color, transgender individuals and lower-income members of the community. The “access to power” model of LGBTQ lobbying has essentially commercialized gayness (white, cisgender, English-speaking, middle and upper class gayness) as a consumable product that most often benefits those in power. It’s a “scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” system of lobbying that shuts the door on the most marginalized LGBTQ people – those most in need of legislative victories to protect their lives.
Today, regardless of all of the progress in LGBTQ legal victories over the last two decades, the community is in the most dangerous place it has been in 25 years. LGBTQ lobbying does not work, and LGBTQ legal avenues have catastrophically changed. The 6-3 Supreme Court is poised to undermine Roe, which some say undermines Lawrence, which undermines Obergefell (the groundbreaking 2015 marriage equality decision). A house of very successful, but delicate legal cards, may begin to fall. The LGBTQ community is holding its collective breath against an anti-LGBTQ Supreme Court majority, and the spotlight is now shining brightly on the LGBTQ lobby and their ability to produce legislative success.
Unfortunately, the organizations responsible for shaping the community’s relationship with states and the federal government are largely seen as ineffective and oftentimes harmful to progress. This ineffectiveness leaves the LGBTQ community in a dangerous and perilous moment in the movement’s history.
To be successful, a radical transformation of the movement’s lobbying must happen immediately by shifting to a much more state-based movement, where anti-LGBTQ opponents are already attacking the identity and existence of transgender people with the introduction of more than 100 bills aimed to curb the rights of transgender people nationwide. Secondly, the danger to the lives of LGBTQ people from these legislative harms must be amplified and ready to be fought against. And lastly, a new model of investment is required that prioritizes the lives of transgender individuals and people of color and embraces an intersectional approach to lobbying.
The LGBTQ movement is about to face darker days ahead. Leaders in Washington’s premier gay rights groups, including their lobbyists, must figure out how to protect our children, protect the poor, and lift up the marginalized or face disastrous consequences in the next few years in legislative bodies from city halls to the U.S. Capitol. Otherwise our hopes to tackle issues like transgender sports and equality will rest solely on the LGBTQ legal apparatus.
Christopher Pepin-Neff, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, is the author of ‘LGBTQ Lobbying in the United States.’
Opinion | Macha, Byrne for Rehoboth Beach Commission
Aug. 14 election critical after reckless vote on Clear Space permits
On Saturday, Aug. 14, voters in Rehoboth Beach, Del., have an opportunity to make a strong statement on what they want their city to be in the future. During last year’s election for mayor and Commission, I suggested a vote for Stan Mills, Susan Gay and Patrick Gossett would take Rehoboth back to the Sam Cooper years and put anti-business candidates in control of the City Commission. My prediction has sadly proven accurate. The latest fiasco is the vote to turn down the city’s Planning Commission recommendation for the second time and potentially force the iconic Clear Space Theatre out of Rehoboth.
While voters of Rehoboth Beach can’t turn around the Commission with one election their votes can make a huge difference. That is why I urge support for Rachel Macha and Richard Byrne who have both shown an in-depth understanding of what Rehoboth Beach needs to flourish and promise a fair and balanced look at the future of the city. They understand to be successful for years to come Rehoboth must fairly balance the needs of its residents, businesses, and visitors.
Rachel Macha and her husband Rich have owned property in Rehoboth Beach for more than 21 years. They have a great loving family, 23-year-old triplets and 21-year-old twins. Macha is proud of the fact that since her kids were 14, they have held summer jobs in Rehoboth at Funland, Royal Treat, Jungle Jim’s, Bin 66 and Big Fish Restaurant Group.
She understands Rehoboth’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) and that within the next year the updated CDP will set forth a strategic vision for Rehoboth Beach. Macha said “It will be the Commissioner’s guide to navigating the way to a sound future to achieve its key strategic objectives, including preserving our sense of place, infrastructure, arts and culture, strategic projects, and safety. As a member of the Planning Commission, I focused intensely to carefully analyze and understand the concerns, desires, and suggestions of residents, businesses, and tourists before, during and after COVID.”
Her professional experience is in the area of improving customer service and customer experience in the technology, software, and service industries. She has spent years serving on various school, church, company, and non-profit boards and committees. For the past three years, she leveraged her experience serving Rehoboth on the Parks, Shade Tree Commission, and Planning Commission.
Macha also understands the future of the city depends on fiscal responsibility and enhancing the sense of community that Rehoboth Beach was developing before the current mayor’s efforts, intentional or not, destroyed it. To foster that sense of community Macha has proposed launching a Customer Experience Committee comprised of residents, organizations such as RBHA and CAMP, and local businesses to generate and openly discuss ways to move Rehoboth forward positively with a unified sense of purpose.
Richard Byrne and his wife Sherri have been coming to Rehoboth for more than 25 years. They bought their home in 2002 and have lived in Rehoboth full-time since 2009. Byrne has more than 30 years of experience in education, running university extension programs in Maryland and Minnesota. Those programs required collaboration among citizens, volunteers, youth, community organizations and working with county and state agencies. He has served in many ways including being a member of the Rehoboth Beach Commission for the past three years and is proud of his many accomplishments during that time.
He authored legislation creating Steve Elkins Way; created the environment committee; and promoted endeavors to take care of the city’s natural environment. He led the review of the city’s wireless communications facilities ordinance; has been involved with bringing back recycling to the boardwalk; brought forward several measures to improve pedestrian safety; and secured a grant to support the beautification of the public triangle on State Road.
He said, “If I am re-elected I will continue to preserve residential neighborhoods, protect the city’s natural environment and promote ethical, open, fair, and transparent government. I will continue listening to concerns of residents and business owners and look for new ideas for improving our city.” So on Aug. 14, vote Rachel Macha and Richard Byrne for a better Rehoboth Beach.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
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