ACT UP NY Calls on GLAAD To Oppose Genocide, Drop the ADL

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

On May 11, GLAAD hosted its annual awards ceremony, celebrating queer and trans media and celebrities. But outside the doors of the venue was where the real queer activism took place, an action organized by ACT UP NY taking shape. The protest called on GLAAD to oppose Israel’s US-backed genocide, occupation, and apartheid as well drop the ADL, a longtime Zionist organization that villainizes pro-Palestine protests and students and uses accusations of antisemitism as a shield against its blatantly racist tactics.

Fliers for the protest invoked GLAAD co-founder and ACT UP NY member Vito Russo, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1990, and whose legacy stands in strong opposition to genocide. Queer liberation and Palestinian liberation are intrinsically linked, and nothing makes that more clear than ACT UP’s activism and organizing around a Free Palestine. Shirts and signs at the GLAAD action depicted ACT UP’s famous iconography of a pink triangle with the words SILENCE = DEATH, but the triangle has become a watermelon, one of the symbols of Palestinian freedom and resistance.

A protestor holds a flier with Vito Russo on it and wears a pinned message that says SILENCE = DEATH

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

GLAAD’s silence on the genocide — and worse, its partnership with a dangerous Zionist group like the ADL — indeed goes against everything the organization was originally built on. “GLAAD was founded in 1985 in response to the AIDS crisis and the mainstream media’s homophobic coverage of it,” @actupny posted on Instagram. “At the time, over 16,000 people had died of AIDS, which was widely compared to a genocide. Today, over 30,000 people have died in Gaza, and the mainstream media continues to ignore the lives and deaths of Queer Palestinians, as well as other neo-colonial atrocities in Congo, Sudan, and the Global South.”

NY <3 GAZA banner

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

Signs at the action bore messages like: “NO PRIDE IN GENOCIDE,” “GO TO HELL ADL,” “QUEERS AGAINST GENOCIDE,” and “SAY NO TO PINKWASHING,” and “YOU CAN’T PINKWASH GENOCIDE.” A 50-foot muslin banner that Sara Ramirez’s partner Sawyer DeVuyst helped sew was dropped from a nearby building and read NY ❤️ GAZA, accompanied by the watermelon triangle symbol that explicitly unifies the goals of ACT UP with the goals of Palestinian liberation. Activists wove gay flags, trans flags, and even a mashup of a Palestinian flag with the rainbow pride flag. The message was clear and steadfast: There are no borders between these struggles. What ACT UP NY was fighting for during the HIV/AIDS epidemic was the same fight it’s fighting for now. Healthcare not warfare. Freedom and liberation for all queer and trans people in all parts of the globe, especially the parts undergoing concentrated imperial violence.

a protestor waves a flag that represents the Palestinian flag and the gay pride flag

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

The GLAAD Awards protest builds on ongoing efforts by ACT UP NY to fight genocide and pressure mainstream LGBTQ organizations to divest from Israel and speak out against genocide. Earlier this year, ACT UP NY was part of a pressure campaign on the Human Rights Campaign to stop taking money from Chevron, Northrop Grumman, and other companies that profit on Palestinian suffering. We should all be asking why an organization supposedly for human rights takes money from weapons manufacturers. ACT UP NY, alongside other queer and trans-led movements, calls attention to these contradictions and deceptions.

Again, all of this stands on the firm foundation of queer and trans liberation history. It’s easy enough for people to say something like “pride is a protest” and another thing to metabolize that message and live it.

And hey, no one makes better protest signs than queer people.

a sign that says YOU CAN STILL FIGHT BACK WITH LIMP WRIST

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

a sign that says YOU CAN'T PINKWASH GENOCIDE

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

A sign that reads HEALTHCARE NOT WARFARE

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

A person holds a sign that says JWES AGAINST GENOCIDE

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

The protest also didn’t stay confined to the awards venue’s entrance. Trans drag activists Chiquitita and DiDi Opulence brought the fight right to the donors’ faces, bringing the passion of the protest outside into the actual ceremony. “GLAAD is complicit in genocide,” Chiquitita chanted from the audience during the host’s opening monologue.

Chiquitita noted on her Instagram story immediately after her demonstration how perfect the timing of it had been. “They had just finished showing a video on the big screen about how drag has always inherently been political and how drag queens have always been at the forefront of change,” she explained. The hypocrisy is staggering. Here they are, celebrating the political nature of drag and the contributions of drag queens to progress, but meanwhile Chiquitita and DiDi were escorted out of the event. Chiquitita tells Entertainment Weekly that a man associated with GLAAD tried to confront her about the protest, characterizing it as misguided. GLAAD still has not made any meaningful statement in support of the queer and trans Palestinians living and dying in a genocide right now. A GLAAD spokesperson gave Advocate a statement so vague and neutral I won’t even bother to reprint it here, because it essentially says nothing and does not even mention the words Gaza or Palestine.

Central to GLAAD’s mission is a commitment to “fair, accurate, and inclusive representation,” and the GLAAD Accountability Project “monitors and documents individual public figures and groups using their platforms to spread misinformation and false rhetoric against LGBTQ people, youth, and allies.” But GLAAD has yet to speak out about mainstream media’s erasure of queer and trans Palestinians or the dangerous, often racist rhetoric that all queer and trans people would not be safe in a Free Palestine.

Chiquitita perfectly sums up the problem with neutral statements like GLAAD’s, telling Entertainment Weekly: “I don’t believe in neutrality, and I don’t think queer people are granted the privilege of neutrality ever, in any situation, in any country.”

GLAAD is correct about this: Drag artists and trans women have indeed long been at the forefront of liberation movements and progress, and that’s only reiterated by the pushback against GLAAD’s own failures to meet the moment. “It is worth recognizing that the most outspoken critics of GLAAD’s partnership with the ADL thus far have been drag artists – like Sasha Velour, Lady Bunny, and Pattie Gonia – and many in the trans community,” @actupny posted on Instagram.

“I was moved by the protestors outside and inside to investigate the partnership between GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League,” Velour said on Instagram after the event. “Although the ADL has helped track anti LGBTQ+ hate across the country, they have destroyed their own credibility by consistently labeling human rights advocacy for Palestine as antisemitism, vilifying protestors, and working to suppress all activism for Gaza. The actions of ADL are not consistent with our standards for justice as a queer community, and I urge institutions like GLAAD to publicly suspend all future work with them and support queer Palestinians.”

In addition to Chiquitita and DiDi Opulence’s presence inside, the protest outside included several prominent trans artist-activists, including Sara Ramirez and Qween Jean, the founder of Black Trans Liberation.

Sara Ramirez at the ACT UP NY protest outside the GLAAD Media Awards on May 11. Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

Qween Jean at the ACT UP NY protest outside the GLAAD Media Awards on May 11. Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

Chiquitita at the ACT UP NY protest outside the GLAAD Media Awards on May 11. Photo by Alexa Wilkinson.

Chiquitita at the ACT UP NY protest outside the GLAAD Media Awards on May 11. Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

Noor, a queer Palestinian and one of the speakers at the protest, said the following according to an official statement from ACT UP NY:

“As a Queer Palestinian, it goes without question to me that there’s no such thing as Queer liberation without the liberation of Palestine. We fight for Palestine in honor of our Queer history and ancestors, for those Queer Palestinian siblings of ours living in Palestine, and for all those generations to come. This violent, unjust oppression — apartheid, bombs, weapons, mass destruction, disabling and displacement of indigenous humans — does not discriminate. Queer Palestinians are just as much a part of our community as any other, as such we must advocate for the end of this genocide & apartheid, from the river to the sea.”

a trans flag waves at the ACT UP NY demonstration outside the GLAAD Awards

Photo by Alexa B Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

A lot of the mainstream media’s framing around the protest has played down what it is ACT UP NY is actually fighting for and also made it seem like some minor inconvenience rather than an urgent call to action and meaningful demonstration. In Entertainment Weekly‘s coverage, the protest is described as “a protest against Israel’s military action in Palestine,” which is a hell of a way to describe a seven-month genocide and ongoing occupation. Variety similarly does some handwringing in its recap of the night, opening with an anecdote about Chiquitita’s statement without ever naming her, calling her “the lone pro-Palestine advocate” as if there weren’t also 150+ demonstrators outside fully fighting for her same message. Instead, Variety focuses on the bewildered reaction of host Ross Matthews and also shares his lukewarm “go girl give us nothing” statement prior to the event about needing to speak carefully so as not to alienate half the country. While on stage at the awards ceremony, Matthews made a similarly vague comment about free speech.

GLAAD and its mouthpieces are happy to speak out about drag bans and other stateside legislation that harms queer and trans people, but apparently taking a stance against genocide is too divisive. It’s similar to how PEN America loves to condemn book bans but not the targeted killing of Palestinian journalists and writers. But by watering down liberation movements into something safe and ignoring global crises and violence, these organizations aren’t the beacons of progress they pretend to be. GLAAD emerged as a response to other institutions failing during the HIV/AIDS crisis, and now it’s repeating those same failures and silences.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 847 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. “GLAAD and its mouthpieces are happy to speak out about drag bans and other stateside legislation that harms queer and trans people, but apparently taking a stance against genocide is too divisive.”

    Yes, that is their job, not geopolitical disasters in the middle east, it’s not their fight. We should be focusing on holding the white house and winning the house of representatives so our rights won’t be further eroded in the United States.

    It would be easy to stop Israel from pink-washing the war, make gay people not illegal in Gaza, until then queer folks should not take part in these protests, queer activists acting like dodo birds when it comes to the Islamic world is getting so tired.

    • Our tax dollars are going to fund another country dropping bombs on innocent civilians. Instead of things, like, y’know, our own healthcare. Why do you think that’s an unconnected issue to the queer struggle here in the U.S. when we know how much more likely LGBTQ people are to be poorer and have less access to necessary healthcare in this country?

      • Your tax dollars also fund the Iranian regime that is cracking down hard on its own citizens right now, especially women and queers. But somehow, we do not see a whole lot of coverage concerning Iran in this space (or others that claim to be deeply invested in Palestine. Because, what would eventually help, would be to get rid of the regime in Teheran.)

    • Exactly this. It’s illegal to be gay in Gaza not because of Israel but because of Hamas and local prejudices. Not because of Zionists. I don’t agree with everything the Israeli government does just like I don’t agree with everything my country’s government does- but that doesn’t mean that ACT UP or GLAAD should concern themselves with a geopolitical conflict on the other side of the world. And what about the hostages, what about the initiation of the war by Hamas and their sympathizers, after what was already a ceasefire?!

  2. “Absolutely! GLAAD needs to use its platform to speak out against human rights abuses everywhere. Palestinian LGBTQ+ people deserve our solidarity. #FreePalestine”
    “The ADL’s record on racial profiling and Islamophobia is troubling. Time for GLAAD to find partners who align with their values of equality for all.”

  3. The insanity of the LGBTQ+ embrace of the lies of Hamas continues. The ‘article’ (editorial?) has so many mis-representations it’s hard to count – the 30k number is the easiest one.. it’s been completely refuted even by the UN now. The regime you support, and the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, are anti-queer. The queer Palestinians FLEE to Israel to be safe. This is a known fact. Thankfully GLAAD has stuck to its knitting.

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