Monday, February 28, 2011

The LGBT Center of New York: A Limited Understanding of Liberation

Text of my letter to Glennda Testone, Director of the LGBT Center of New York, February 24, 2011:
I write as a 70-year-old Jewish lesbian activist to tell you that I am very sorry that the Center gave in to those who label all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. To critique Zionism as a form of extreme nationalism is not anti-Semitic; it is a valid analytical response to a nation state that acts with great power in its part of the world. The Center has tragically failed in its mission by this censoring of queer people who want to announce their position on a social injustice that affects other gay people in another part of the world. I am as you may know, co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, author, teacher and part of the New York activist scene for many years. [What I should have said here, the one thing I am not, is wealthy.] Many like me would have stood with you if you had not given in to this bullying. Now you are just another place where courage failed.
                                                                Joan Nestle

At the Brighton Conference, I attended a session where two women spoke about the need for intersectionality when looking at LGBT history and issues. Here is a perfect example of that fancy word. When Michael Lucas literally got on his high horse and called in his gay chips--do this or I will issue a call to my influential friends to cut off their donations to the Center--he stood at the intersection of two identities, Jewish and queer and enacted them as if one was the same as the other--support Israel and you are a good gay person, support the right of a group with many gay and Jewish people in it to educate about the B,D and S of Israel movement, you are a bad gay person, to be exiled from the community home. The further irony is of course that he threatened a boycott of the center for its allowing such a group to use its facilities--boycott is ok for him, but not for other forms of political action. In his congratulatory letter, he crows of his victory: "It took only 8 hours to accomplish our mission" and thanks people for showing their support of Israel. Jewish gay people stand at yet another cross roads, another intersection. We will be and have been called anti-Semites because we believe Israel's occupation is unjust, its treatment of both Arab citizens within its borders and in Gaza and the West Bank, its support of the internationally declared illegal Settlement Movement are crimes against humanity, that racism is a basic underpinning of the national thinking and social policies of Israel--as many in Israel also believe-- and we are queer and want to meet at our queer public home, we want to educate about a movement to unsettle this regime, much like we did in our anti-apartheid campaign against South Africa. Again, we are not Jewish enough, not queer enough to be allowed to do this.

I want to add another moment of intersection for me. Some in anger at the actions and assumptions of Michael Lucas have prefaced his name with "pornographer" Lucas. I reject this. For so many years, I have tried to talk about what it meant to be a lesbian from the 50s, what it meant to be a pornographic non-citizen for that is how we were seen. Pornography or public sexual images is a complex subject for gay people. That Lucas publishes sexually explicit images is not his failure here. And another irony, one of the libels against Jews for many many years and well into the Nazi period was that we were all pornographers, that we were the obscene people. Again, a moment of intersectionality. Simplistic thinking or name calling does no one any good. It is hard to stand at a place where identities or images of ourselves meet--many times going off in opposite directions, it is hard to think about the richness of our many histories and where they take us and where they leave us and what kind of present do we want to make of this all. It is hard, but oh so fully human.

Judith Butler has written a brilliant reply to the director and to the community at large and more and more of us Jewish and other queers I hope will stand at this intersection and try to see what this all means--the play of wealth, the demand for one view of a complex issue, the fear to take on dissension by one of our only major public institutions that we all have supported through the years. The rainbow is shattered.  Fear and panic will do this every time. I suggest to the Director that a public meeting be called to look this dilemma full in the face, that Lucas attend and the members of the Smash Apartheid group attend and let us see who are we now in this February of 2011--what does the word queer or lesbian or gay or transgender mean or does not. For now.  

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