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LGBTQ Israelis should embrace solidarity with Palestinians

Full equality requires all forms of discrimination to be eliminated

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Pinkwashing, Jerusalem, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Wayne McLean; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

LGBTQ Israelis are fed up with the contempt hurled at a marginalized minority. Last week, Aguda — the nation’s premier LGBTQ organization — called for the nation’s very first queer general strike last Sunday.

A few days prior, Israel passed a basic law (the equivalent of a constitutional amendment) forsaking the old formula of a “Jewish and democratic” state with an ethno-nationalist definition of Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish People.” The new law declares national self-determination a right “unique to the Jewish people” and omits any mention of democracy or the principle of equality.” Arabic, formally an official language, has been downgraded to a “special status.” Palestinian citizens of Israel, a fifth of the population, already face over 65 discriminatory laws from housing to marriage. Unlike other discriminatory laws, however, the nation-state law constitutionally enshrines their second-class status.

It wasn’t the only discriminatory law passed last week. The day prior to the “nation-state” vote, the Knesset voted to deny surrogacy rights to gay couples. A cacophony of Israeli LGBTQ protest erupted culminating in the strike. While some protesters expressed broad support for equality, others did not directly link the two bigoted acts passed by the legislature. The omission of any vocal solidarity with Arab citizens could not have been an oversight given the proximity of the votes and the religious-nationalist coalition behind both acts. Regrettably, it fits a pattern among LGBTQ leaders in Israel.

While some LGBTQ Israelis harbor racism toward Palestinians (indeed there is an openly gay member of the ruling, right-wing Likud party), much of the LGBTQ community refuses to express solidarity with Palestinians fearing it would set back the gay rights movement inside Israel if gay activists are perceived as “Arab lovers.” An LGBTQ movement that openly condemns the occupation would certainly encounter more pushback than a movement that toes the nationalist line, but the lack of solidarity is morally bankrupt and self-defeating.

The bet on a succession of right-wing governments (drifting further right every election), aligned with religious fundamentalist parties, will never pay off. Of the 17 pro-LGBTQ bills introduced in the Knesset since 2013, only one of them has passed. As recently as 2016, the Knesset voted down “proposals to recognize a bereaved widower in same sex couples … a bill banning conversion therapy … a bill to recognize a same-sex marriage contract and … a bill to train health professionals to deal with gender and sexual inclination issues.” The day before the bills were voted down, the Knesset approved a symbolic gesture recognizing LGBT Rights Day. That same year, the Ministry of Tourism announced a $2.9 million publicity campaign to promote gay tourism in Israel, meanwhile the government funded Israeli LGBT organizations at one tenth that amount. These two toothless acts demonstrate that when it comes to the gays, the Israeli government is less interested in our well-being at home and more concerned with how to market us in its Brand Israel propaganda, portraying the country as liberal in a cynical gambit to distract from its horrific occupation, a policy known as “pinkwashing.”

Complicity has served to alienate many LGBTQ Israelis from their peers around the world. The decision of Tel Aviv’s LGBTQ film festival to accept state funding, and thus avoid any films and panels critical of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, prompted a queer boycott. The excuse “but Palestine isn’t a gay issue” won’t do. Every human rights struggle should be of concern to LGBTQ individuals still fighting for our human rights; nevermind the obvious fact that gay Palestinians also suffer under occupation. The silence of most LGBTQ organizations is shameful.

Not all are so servile toward the Israeli government. A courageous minority — echoing the radical spirit of Stonewall and ACT UP — raise the banner “No pride in occupation” and stage their own Pride parade, in opposition to the de-politicizing of Pride. They understand that their liberation is interwoven with equal rights for the Palestinians and that full equality can only be secured once all forms of discrimination have been eliminated.

Instead of seeing their cause as distinct, Israel’s LGBTQ movement should embrace an intersectional struggle for queer and Palestinian liberation and support universal equality. They could start by forming a partnership with alQaws, the queer Palestinian activist group. It is no coincidence that a stronger American gay rights movement emerged after the successes of the Civil Rights Movement that amplified the values of fairness and equality, which post-Stonewall gay activists could reference with more resonance among the general public. If the right-wing is voting against them anyway, LGBTQ Israelis have little to lose and much to gain if they join the global BDS movement to support equality for all Israelis and Palestinians.

 

Khelil Bouarrouj is a junior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.

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Maura Healey for governor of Massachusetts

The best candidate to lead residents into the future

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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maura Healey is the clear choice for governor of Massachusetts. As a woman and a lesbian, she understands what it means to face discrimination and has used her life experiences, turning them into a successful career fighting for the rights of all the people of Massachusetts.  

Maura is a graduate of Harvard with a degree in government and has her Juris Doctor from Northeastern University School of Law. What some in Massachusetts may know is after graduation from Harvard, and before getting her law degree, Maura spent two years playing as a starting point guard for a professional basketball team in Austria. She truly is an amazing woman.

Maura went to work for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. She became chief of the Civil Rights Division where she successfully led the state’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. During her time as a lawyer with the office she also served as the chief of the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau and chief of the Business and Labor Bureau fighting for consumers, workers, environmental protections and more. So, clearly Maura was always a leader. In 2014, she ran and won her race for attorney general, becoming the first openly gay state AG in the nation. She has served with distinction in that role for the past seven years managing an office of more than 600 employees. Her record is one of standing up for all the people of Massachusetts.

Maura is now running for governor and the people of her state have the opportunity to elect an experienced, tested, smart, savvy woman to lead them. Maura understands government and has a vision for the future that she is sharing with the people of Massachusetts. That vision is simple — to improve the lives of all the people. Maura is a respected and strong leader and will fight to make her vision a reality. 

Maura understands the issue of climate change and recently released her agenda on the subject at maurahealey.com/climate, which indicates she fully understands progress on this issue will make a difference for all as people work together to save the planet. Her agenda includes making great strides on renewable energy, including wind and solar. She believes done properly this can bring tens of thousands of jobs to the state. She knows Massachusetts can remain a leader in new technology development, and a leader in ensuring environmental justice. 

Maura understands how Massachusetts can use the once-in-a-lifetime funds from the federal infrastructure program President Biden got through Congress to make progress on a host of issues facing the state. 

She talks about guaranteeing quality healthcare for all; equal justice and economic justice; women’s rights; quality education; and giving every person in Massachusetts a fair shot at success. She believes each person deserves to live in a safe community and has fought for reforms to end the spate of violence in our nation. 

Maura is talking to the people of Massachusetts as she travels the state about the need for more affordable housing, ending homelessness, and her commitment to making Massachusetts the place where all women will be assured of equal access to quality health care. When elected governor, she will ensure the state remains committed to a woman having control of her own body and healthcare decisions. She will make the state a welcoming place for those women who live in other states that may not be doing the same.

She speaks of making Massachusetts a leader in providing affordable child care and is committed to transforming Massachusetts’s early education and care system. She has released her proposals and support for the Common Start legislation, which would make child care free for the state’s lowest-income families, limit child care costs for most families to no more than 7 percent of their income, and significantly increase pay for early educators to address the workforce crisis in the early education field. These are just some of the proposals Maura has to fulfill her vision for a better future for all the people of Massachusetts. 

It is clear Maura Healey is the best candidate to lead Massachusetts into the future. I urge everyone to join her campaign and help elect Maura Healey governor.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Politicians should stop using children as political punching bags

Let us hold leaders accountable for their vicious self-centeredness

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Screen capture via YouTube)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s recent signing of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was a body blow to the LGBTQ+ community — particularly for those of us who trust in our schools to provide a safe and welcoming space for our children.

But it was what the governor’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, tweeted earlier in March that made my heart leap into my throat. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer.”

As the former executive director of GLSEN, I know a dog whistle when I hear it. And I also know that politicians who have ambitions of running for higher office, like DeSantis, choose their words extremely carefully.

DeSantis is deliberately activating a cultural fear tactic to scare schools and educators away from providing LGBTQ+ children and their families with potentially life-saving support. And unfortunately he is far from alone in going down this dangerous path of spouting hate for political leverage.

Throughout the historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Ketanji Brown Jackson, we saw Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and others bring the specter of child indoctrination into the national discussion in the context of race. In doing so, they were following the lead of Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist-journalist known for creating an all-purpose header for all things controversial out of the label “critical race theory” (CRT).

This began to take shape last year with the intentional mischaracterization of schools implementing diversity, equity and inclusion programs as attempts to indoctrinate our kids with divisive leftist ideals. Starting with Hawley’s attacks on Judge Jackson, they upped the ante by accusing schools of “grooming” children to be anti-racist — this time drawing from the QAnon playbook.

Radical politicians push legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, or vile rhetoric like the insinuations about Judge Jackson, in order to further their agenda of dismantling our children’s access to a good, truly multicultural public education by sowing confusion and distrust, as was openly stated by Rufo at a speaking event at Hillsdale College earlier in April. All the while, they create a deeply dangerous environment for some of our most vulnerable children.

And their timing could not be more dire. This deluge of bad policymaking and shrill rhetoric is happening at the exact moment when we are experiencing a national mental health crisis among our youth. Nearly four out of 10 teens reported feeling “persistently sad or hopeless,” according to CDC data — a 40 percent increase from pre-pandemic levels.

Black and LGBTQ+ students in particular are more likely than their peers to have attempted suicide, and when politicians use them as political chips to be played, it compounds those risks. Never mind the fact that schools’ efforts to undo racism and anti-LGBTQ+ bias and violence is itself an investment in these children’s survival. Black adolescents experience multiple instances of racial discrimination every day, one study found, with real consequences for their mental health. Schools need to play an active role in rectifying that.

In my 20 years at GLSEN, I wrote far too many condolence letters to parents who lost a child to suicide. Some politicians see no harm in shaming and stigmatizing vulnerable children.

We’ve seen lately this onrush of harmful, self-centered behavior from those in a position of public trust. But on the other end of the spectrum, is Spencer Cox: the Republican governor of Utah who recently issued a brilliant letter explaining his veto of an anti-trans sports bill passed by the state legislature.

Vetoing the bill, which would have banned trans girls from participating in women’s sports in public schools, was surely a politically unpopular move in a deep-red state. But after thoughtfully considering the issues, reviewing key research, and weighing the competing needs of stakeholders, Cox took a stand in defense of some of Utah’s most vulnerable children.

For all those who rise to the calling of public service, there’s a choice to be made. Gov. Cox made the choice to safeguard the most vulnerable youth in his state despite the political implications. I sincerely hope that in this critical moment, more of our country’s leaders will follow his example.

And should it take more than their own consciences to do so, let us all hold leaders accountable for the impact of their cynical/vicious/immoral self-centeredness on all of our children.

Eliza Byard is a senior adviser to the Campaign for Our Shared Future, a leading global expert on LGBTQ+ issues in K-12 education and youth development, and served as executive director of GLSEN from 2008-2021. 

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Where does wrongful detention of Brittney Griner go from here?

She will inevitably be labeled a hostage

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Brittney Griner

It seems like years rather than weeks ago that American political prisoner, Trevor Reed, was released from Russia in a prisoner swap. It also seems like years since an American citizen, basketball superstar Brittney Griner, was taken into custody in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport for allegedly having hashish oil in her possession. 

We now know what many of us believed all along – that Brittney Griner was, in the far too late proclamation by the U.S. government, “wrongfully detained.” In diplomacy-speak, wrongfully detained is synonymous with politically detained, which is super close to what will soon enough inevitably happen – calling Brittney Griner a hostage. 

Since the beginning of Griner’s detention, I have done dozens of print, radio, TV, and related interviews, and I have a pretty clear view of how and why we got here. 

As I wrote around six weeks ago, if we read between the lines of what’s being said in traditional and social media, we can extract three key reasons why the Griner situation isn’t getting the attention that it should be and would be if it was a different athlete.

The first reason is that Brittney Griner is not a terribly high-profile athlete.

This is patently untrue. As I have been commenting from the minute we learned that she was taken into custody by the Russians, Griner was absolutely the highest-profile American athlete that Russia could have taken into custody as they were preparing for their brutal invasion of Ukraine. 

The only other high-profile athletes playing in Russia or transiting through at that time were the very few American players in Russia’s top hockey league, the KHL. None are superstars in their sport, as Griner is.

The second argument for why Griner isn’t getting the attention she should be is that she is LGBTQ.

I have argued that this is a reasonably good hypothesis. It just seems that a straight athlete would be getting a lot more attention and public sympathy than Griner has, in part, yet not in full, because of her sexual orientation. That’s a remarkably harsh position to have to take in 2022, yet it’s clear that Griner doesn’t fit the mold of what many Americans see as that all-American athlete. That one’s sexual or gender orientation should drive the American public’s level of sympathy for one of their own top athletes is a shame, but here we are.

The third and most commonly cited reason for Brittany Griner getting less attention than another athlete in a similar situation is that she’s Black. 

This argument holds little weight with me. Yes, it makes sense that in comparison to a high-profile white athlete, some people are simply going to care less about a Black athlete. Again, that’s a harsh analysis, yet not unaligned with many things going on in the nation today.

But I think this is a reductive argument that crumbles under the weight of the analogy that I usually use during TV and radio broadcasts about the Griner case – and that is, what if this was Kyrie Irving?

I like to use Kyrie Irving as an analogy because he is a highly controversial Black athlete. Obviously, NBA players don’t have to have second jobs in places like Russia, Turkey, and China, to make ends meet, as the WNBA women do. But just imagine that Kyrie Irving was traveling alone through Moscow airport. If Irving had been taken into custody by the Russians, I can guarantee that this would be front-page news not just in the sports section but on the front page of all significant papers practically every day. That simply hasn’t been the case with Brittney Griner.

Every day, I am asked where this goes from here. With Griner’s May 19 hearing delayed “one month” (though at the time of writing, no date has been set), I remained convinced of two things: that this goes to a worse place than we are now and that it progresses painfully slowly. 

As to the first point, to maximize leverage over the United States, it’s likely that Griner will end up somewhere like a Russian labor camp before she ever steps back into the United States. While Russia does not follow the Rule of Law, it would be neither legally nor politically expedient to just hold Griner in a Moscow jail or prison indefinitely. They need to make her situation worse to turn up the urgency of the case for the American government.

But this indeed won’t happen overnight. As I’ve also been saying all along, the next hearing date will also be delayed, OR we will learn through a TASS Russian media release that Griner was tried, found guilty of all charges, and sentenced (see labor camp, above).

As to what each of us can do, my advice remains the same: Keep talking about it. Make this Brittney as viral as Britney Spears was a year ago. Just as Britney Spears’ freedom from her conservatorship was turbo-charged by the #FreeBritney hashtag, let’s #FreeBrittney now.

This is significantly less trite than it sounds. There is no indication that the American government doesn’t want you to forget about Brittney Griner. As former hostage Jason Rezaian discussed on an excellent recent Washington Post podcast, he always “calls BS” on those parties, saying we should keep detentions such as Griner’s out of the public spotlight. He advocates being as loud as we can be on this, which is why I keep doing interviews on this issue as much as possible.

Ultimately, Brittney Griner will be a political prisoner until the United States and Russia can decide, in crass basketball terms, on a fair player trade. On Friday, we learned that the two sides might actually be in discussions now for a trade involving Griner for notorious convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, aka the “Merchant of Death.”

Unless this can re-enter and remain in the public spotlight, along with any pressure on the government, Britney Griner will not get the treatment she deserves as one of the greatest basketball players of her generation. That the massive disparity between how NBA and WNBA players are compensated laid the foundation for her to be in this position is the harsh reality these leagues face today. Yet it pales compared to the uncertain reality Griner faces today in a Moscow jail.

A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the chief legal analyst for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world.

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