Is it time to divest from the LGBTQ Task Force?

Political coalitions are founded, in large part, on mutual self-interest.

LGBTQ groups, for example, routinely support pro-union legislation. And it’s not simply a matter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people liking workers. The decision is also highly political. Gay groups know that unions have political muscle. And there is an expectation that, when the time comes, the unions will return the favor, and support the LGBTQ cause of the day.

It’s a simple political quid pro quo.

Which raises the question of why the National LGBTQ Task Force continues to pander to its membership’s anti-semitic fringe, as it did this past week when “the country’s oldest national LGBTQ advocacy group” canceled, and then following withering criticism, uncanceled, a Shabbat religious service and reception hosted by two Israeli Jewish groups at its annual Creating Change conference.

Then, once the service went ahead, the Task Force did nothing to stop its membership, carrying signs accusing Israel of “apartheid,” from shutting the religious event down and forcing its Israeli LGBTQ hosts to flee for their safety. The protesters openly called for the annihilation of Israel. (See the 3:30 mark in the video below, where the protesters chant: “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.” This is an oft-repeated phrase referring to Israel’s borders, and meaning that Palestine should replace the state of Israel in its entirety.)

A number of leading voices in the community were appalled by the entire spectacle. Here’s Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer of LGBTQ hero Edie Windsor:


And Evan Wolfson, the man responsible for marriage equality in America:


All of which raises the question of why the Task Force, a self-described LGBTQ group, believes that the Palestinian issue, regardless of the merits, is an LGBTQ issue at all.

Israel has been historically, in many important ways, more pro-LGBTQ than even the United States. As AMERICAblog’s Jon Green noted in an earlier story:

[Israel] stopped enforcing its anti-sodomy laws in 1963, prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1992, let gays serve openly in the military in 1993 and recognized same-sex unions in 1994  (in other words, in many ways it’s been ahead of the United States on LGBTQ rights, to say nothing of its neighbors in the region).

Israel also handily beat its Middle Eastern brethren, including the Palestinians, in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey of worldwide attitudes towards gay rights.

When asked whether “society should accept homosexuality,” 93% of Palestinians said no, while 4% said yes — putting the Palestinians on par with gay-hating Uganda, which also had a 4% yes vote.

In Israel, on the other hand, 47% did not believe that society should accept homosexuality, while 40% said it should. That puts Israel behind Europe and the United States, but far ahead of much of the rest of the world — especially its neighbors Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, whose sentiments were even worse than the Palestinians. (See poll to the right.)

When in the history of politics has any political organization, let alone a civil rights group, formed an alliance with people who don’t even believe in its members’ right to exist? The Log Cabin Republicans come to mind.

Their abysmal lack of support for gay rights is not to suggest that the Palestinians don’t have a legitimate gripe with Israel. Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t. But the simple fact that Palestinian society doesn’t believe in the right of gays to even exist does not have any bearing on whether Israel is justified in its defense policy. The issues are entirely unrelated.

And that’s the point. The linkage of the Palestinian cause and the LGBTQ movement is pink-washing at its most blatant. It’s a prime example of someone with an outside agenda trying to score political points by wrapping that agenda in the increasingly-popular rainbow flag. And before anyone points to the LGBTQ community’s support for the anti-apartheid movement as a historical parallel for rallying around Palestine today, South Africa’s post-apartheid government has been incredibly pro-LGBT — the political quid pro quo in action. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, has already shown that LGBT rights, and human rights more generally, are, to put it generously, not a priority. And not a peep from the Task Force about that.

But, some argue, X% of all Palestinians are LGBTQ (since X% of a typical population is LGBTQ). So when those LGBTQ Palestinians are killed by Israelis, their struggle becomes an LGBTQ struggle. But what about the X% of Israelis who are LGBTQ and killed in Palestinian and Arab terrorist attacks (including children and babies)? This line of argumentation would make those Israeli deaths (along with every issue and cause known to man) also an LGBTQ issue, and thus the Israeli struggle an LGBTQ one.

I’d be remiss not to mention one final inconvenient truth: American Jews have been some of the LGBTQ community’s (and the American left’s) oldest and strongest allies. The Task Force’s attempt to whitewash the historic and ongoing support of American Jews for progressive politics, and Israeli Jews for LGBTQ rights, is offensive. If anyone should be facing a boycott over Middle East politics, it’s the Task Force itself.

In fact, another leading voice in the community, Tony Varona, who was at Creating Change, appears to be doing just that:

Last night’s appalling incident has cast a shadow of anti-Semitism, insularity, and reckless extremism over what have long been jewels in the LGBTQ movement’s crown – the Task Force and its marquee annual conference. Creating Change has become overwhelmingly negative, fractured, even at times dangerous and toxic.

Until and unless the organization addresses the harm(s) done, course-corrects, and distances itself from the anti-Semitism, bullying, and censorship soaking this conference, I am afraid I can no longer support the Task Force in any manner nor attend another Creating Change. I also will no longer recommend that my LGBTQ and allied students attend the conference, and will strongly encourage other academics and administrators across the country to do the same.

Here’s a little more background on the Palestinians’ abysmal record on LGBTQ rights in the West Bank and Gaza:

"LGBT rights in the Palestinian territories."

InsideOutsider is a longtime Democrat who has worked for a variety of progressive organizations and causes. He lives in Washington, DC.

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