LGBTQ Politicians Won’t Save Us

ACT UP NY installation in Fire Island

all photos by Alexa Wilkinson via ACT UP NY

Pride is still a protest, especially when Pride is taking place during a genocide. On the morning of June 2, ACT UP NY continued its work in fighting back against pinkwashing and calling out mainstream LGBTQ organizations’ failures when it comes to Palestine with an action staged at Fire Island’s Trailblazer’s Park.

The Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association (FIPPOA) established the park as a permanent public space meant to honor queer and trans heroes with a display of flags bearing their faces. On June 1, a new flag was installed dedicated to Ritchie Torres, the U.S. representative for New York’s 15th congressional district.

While Torres is openly gay, he’s also a loud and proud Zionist and has bolstered the power of the NYPD in his district even while claiming to be in favor of police reform. FIPPOA’s decision to honor Torres as a “trailblazer” is built on the flawed idea that “representation” and one’s identities are the only markers of progress and radical change. That Torres is technically the  first openly gay public official in the Bronx is seemingly worthy of celebration and heroic honor in the eyes of FIPPOA. Never mind that his alliances with the NYPD in his home district and the IDF abroad go against everything true queer liberation stands for.

SILENCE = DEATH

Alexa Wilkinson via ACT UP NY

ACT UP NY made their voices heard on this matter by raising two flags of their own at the park: one for Cecilia Gentili, the trans activist, artist, and genuine trailblazer who died in February, and one for Queer Palestinians, symbolized by ACT UP NY’s SILENCE = DEATH watermelon insignia. The watermelon flag was hung in front of an existing ACT UP flag, though ACT UP NY notes that they were never contacted by FIPPOA about being honored at the ceremony in the first place. The purpose of installing these two alternate flags was to “rehabilitate the integrity of Trailblazers Park,” according to ACT UP NY.

By placing the watermelon version of the SILENCE = DEATH image in front of the existing ACT UP flag hung by FIPPOA, ACT UP NY pays tribute to the organization’s history while also expanding its legacy to encompass the current fight against Israel’s pinkwashing, occupation, and genocide. This move effectively recontextualizes the park as one that centers Palestinian liberation in its supposed message of LGBTQ+ progress and trailblazing. Members of ACT UP NY removed the flag for Ritchie Torres to replace it with the flag for Cecilia, who was one of the many LGBTQ activists to be arrested at the Grand Central station action organized by Jewish Voice for Peace on October 27, 2023 alongside other ACT UP leaders.

Cecilia Gentili at the Trailblazers Park in Fire Island

Alexa Wilkinson via ACT UP NY

Cecilia Gentili represents the kind of true trailblazing efforts the park is supposedly meant to commemorate. “ACT UP NY is disappointed in FIPPOA for choosing to invoke the name of our organization without consulting or informing us,” reads a press release put out by ACT UP NY. “By not contacting us, they have confined our organization’s work to the past, using our name and image as a shorthand for Queer activism without sharing any of the radical values of present-day activists.”

ACT UP’s fight does not belong in the past. The organization has made it clear that its present fight is against war and genocide worldwide. Torres, meanwhile, has taken to Twitter to double down on his Zionism and make wild and racist claims about queer Palestinians that are easily debunked. “These activists openly align themselves with Hamas,” Torres wrote of ACT UP NY. “Did it ever occur to them that Hamas is a barbaric oppressor of Queer Palestinians? That a Queer Palestinian is far freer and safer in Israel than in a Gaza Strip ruled by Hamas.”

There is no evidence to support Torres’ claim that queer Palestinians would be safer in Israel, a place they don’t even have access to during the current genocide and had limited access to prior to October 2023 due to apartheid. Israel relies on pinkwashing to manufacture Western consent for its destruction of Palestine and violence against Palestinian people. To invoke violence by Hamas against Palestinians when over 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since October 2023 is an absurd redirection when it’s clear based on evidence that, currently and historically, the greatest threat to Palestinian safety and life is the IDF.

On top of his Zionist and Palestinian views, Torres has been a roadblock to progress in his own district, speaking out against efforts to defund the police at a time when his own constituents are facing widespread police brutality. Having LGBTQ+ politicians in office does not always lead to queer and trans progress. With Torres, we see that on both a local and global scale. Words like “trailblazing” lose their meaning entirely when they’re applied to people like Torres, who through his words and legislative actions openly supports genocide. Openly being gay doesn’t negate any of that. As queer people, we should be outraged and appalled that a politician claiming to stand up for LGBTQ rights is actively condemning ACT UP NY, an organization that was at the forefront of one of the most important political movements in LGBTQ history. This Pride, we shouldn’t just be turning to politicians. We should be looking to the activists who are doing the real trailblazing.

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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 861 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Insanely vile, ignorant and totally wrong on all fronts. Do you even know the meaning of the word zionist? Or genocide for that matter? The war in Gaza is NOT a genocide. It is a war. There are casualties which are truly tragic, but in no way is the IDF seeking to eliminate all Palestinian lives, unlike Hamas whose charter clearly states their mission is to wipe out all Jews from the planet. There would be a hell of a lot less casualties in this war if Hamas didn’t hide behind their civilian population.

    • Absolutely correct. According to international international law, various provisions are required for the offence of genocide:
      In international law, genocide requires an offence that includes, among other things, the killing of members of a group, which is almost certainly the case.
      This act must be intentional.
      And thirdly, the special thing about genocide is that it also requires an intention to destroy.

      This intent to destroy is very difficult to establish, for this one would need concrete evidence, for example a written order as in Srebrenica. All these acts must be carried out with the specific intention of destroying the group of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. There is currently no legal proof of this. Hamas, on the other hand, has explicitly stated in its Charta that it wants to destroy the Jews in Israel.

  2. Once again an absolutely undifferentiated contribution. As a humanist who identifies with neutrality and justice as a goal for long-term peace, I am always shocked by the articles published here. A pop culture site that suddenly becomes political, what could possibly go wrong? Of course a questionable person like Torres is being instrumentalised to make a point. You have chosen to become political on the the topic of one of the most complex conflicts the world has ever seen. This conflict alone would take hundreds of hours of research to represent in a journalistically worthy manner. But you are a pop culture site, grabbing buzzwords and promoting political opinion. I don’t form my opinion based on statements from Zionists or Hamas worshippers. Listen to what ordinary people say, many involved on both sides will say different things. Both have their justification. Stop dividing people and promote reconciliation. But if you are not prepared to report in a truly differentiated way, then don’t do anything. It does more harm than good. I work hand in hand with Palestinians and Israelis. They often disagree, but there are enough points of contact to work well together and that’s where the solution lies. Stop dividing and help unite. How you report on the conflict is no different than how Fox News reports on Trump’s candidacy

    • What I am trying to say is that I have always seen the LQBTQ+ movement as a force for love, peace and coexistence? What is happening at the moment is the complete opposite. A movement that seeks protest. Protest is sometimes inevitable and necessary, but not just for the sake of protest. Instead of uniting, you are trying to divide. Yes, this is the trend at the moment in world politics of populism, but isn’t it the mission of the LGBTQ+ community not to do exactly that? If not, then I distance myself from it and only identify as a humanist. If you argue otherwise, please do so in a differentiated and well-informed way or I prefer to rely on established journalistic formats. Is pop culture nowadays nothing more than populist journalism without depth? In that case, I’m no longer on board. Bye LGBTQ+. I’m a humanist and I don’t stand for the populist protest that people see as their mission. It jeopardies freedom and peace. Talk to each other and don’t just paint ‘creative’ protest posters. I also refuse to take a side that you so naively proclaim. My only side is that of people who stand up for peaceful coexistence. Not loud voices or bad “journalism”. Why don’t you show all sides?

  3. I knew Cecila from a professional circle , she was incredible, truly amazing. When I reached out cold one day to ask if she’d be at all willing to present/train on something to a large audience I wasn’t expecting her to say yes. I could say a million things about how perfectly she and her team delivered their expertise at the event but I’d still not be able to paint the picture. We stayed connected after that, always looking for more ways to collaborate. They say don’t meet your hero’s but she was the exception AND she was real, she showed up for her community, she prioritized us all even when she didn’t have to. Her loss in our rainbow community is a huge blow but really, we were all so lucky to have her at all. Grateful to ACT UP for keeping light shining on her.

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