Reports indicate that more than 200 people took part in the protest against A Wider Bridge, an organization seeking to bolster “LGBTQ connections with Israel” that organized the reception at the Creating Change Conference in Chicago.
A video that Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network posted to his Facebook page shows protesters chanting “no justice, no peace” as they walked up a set of stairs in the Chicago Hilton
Several of the protesters held signs that read, among other things, “no pride in apartheid” to draw attention to the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians. They also spoke out against efforts to promote Israel’s LGBT rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its controversial policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Windy City Times reported that the protesters gathered outside the reception. A few of them were able to enter the room in which it was taking place.
Sarah Kala-Meir and Tom Canning of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, an Israeli LGBT advocacy group, were scheduled to speak.
Kala-Meir, who is the executive director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, told the Washington Blade that the protesters began shouting at her and Canning. She said that they left the room through a back door.
“We did not feel safe in that environment,” Kala-Meir told the Blade. “Once we were shouted at by protesters, we felt it was quickly escalating and we went out a back door.”
Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, in a statement said that more than 100 people attended the reception before the protesters disrupted it.
“Part way through the reception, a handful of anti-Israel protesters entered the room and later commandeered the stage, denying the leaders of JOH (Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance) the opportunity to tell their powerful story,” he said.
Slepian said the protesters blocked others from entering the room “ and turned the LGBT Task Force’s conference and the Hilton Hotel into a fire storm of hate that felt truly unsafe and threatening to many of our participants, and especially to our Israeli guests.”
National LGBTQ Task Force Deputy Executive Director Russell Roybal told the Blade that hotel personnel called the police in response to the situation. He said that his organization does not “believe anyone was arrested.”
“We carefully monitored the situation,” said Roybal.
Roybal did not specifically comment about the protest itself.
Decision to cancel reception reversed
Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and others, including members of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, sharply criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force for allowing A Wider Bridge to hold a reception at its annual Creating Change Conference.
The National LGBTQ Task Force earlier this month announced it had cancelled a panel that was to have included officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after “listening to concerns from our community.”
“The Task Force pays a lot of lip service to being concerned about social justice, and to understanding the ways in which oppressions intersect with one another,” said the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity in a statement it issued earlier this week. “Their actions this year have demonstrated a clear hypocrisy and betrayal of what queer liberation truly means,”
The organization also called upon the National LGBTQ Task Force to “reject Zionism” by supporting a campaign that calls for a boycott, economic divestment and sanctions against Israel over its policy towards the Palestinians.
“By siding with the forces of oppression and occupation, the Task Force is clearly on the wrong side of history,” said the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity.
The National LGBTQ Task Force initially cancelled the reception.
LGBT rights advocates and their supporters, including the Anti-Defamation League, criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force over its decision to cancel the event. The organization on Jan. 19 announced it had reversed its decision.
“We want to make it quite clear that the Creating Change Conference will always be a safe space for inclusion and dialogue for people with often widely different views,” said National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey in a statement that announced the decision. “It was not at all our intention to censor representatives of the Jerusalem Open House or A Wider Bridge at Creating Change and I apologize that our actions left people feeling silenced.”
Thayer told the Blade that the protesters were “very, very angry that an ostensibly ‘progressive’ outfit like” the National LGBTQ Task Force “would host a pro-colonial organization.”
Teenager killed during 2015 Jerusalem Pride march
The reception was to have taken place less than five months after an Orthodox Jewish man stabbed a 16-year-old girl to death and injured five others during an attack on a Jerusalem Pride march that Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance organized. The July 30, 2015, incident took place a day before two Jewish settlers allegedly killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents when they set fire to their home on the West Bank.
“We are still quite post-traumatic from the attack at Jerusalem Pride,” Kala-Meir told the Blade, referring to the protesters. “It definitely hit on a nerve.”
“I would have like a chance to speak about our work and what we do in Jerusalem, but obviously we were not welcome there,” she added.
Slepian in his statement further defended Kala-Meir and Canning.
“These remarkable LGBT leaders from Israel, who do great work in the very diverse and challenging city of Jerusalem, had spent the last six months helping their community heal and recover from the trauma of a barbaric act of anti-gay violence at last summer’s Jerusalem Pride march,” he said. “They expected to be supported and embraced by the U.S. LGBT community at Creating Change. Instead, the protestors denied their humanity and silenced their voices, and the conference tragically did little to provide for their safety and security.”
Thayer rejected the comments that Kala-Meir made after the protest.
“The victimhood at this event being claimed by the Open House representatives is also disingenuous,” Thayer told the Blade. “The event they chose to attend was hosted by ‘A Wider Bridge.’”
“A Wider Bridge is notorious for frequently partnering with the Israeli government — including its most violent, right-wing, racist elements — to promote media favorable to Israel,” he added. “In the LGBTQ context, that’s ‘pink-washing’ — using LGBTQ community as political cover for the daily violence of the Israeli state, and the theft and violence of settlers and other far-right elements.”