feature image photo by Pacific Press / Contributor via Getty Images
If you are a queer and/or trans person who is pro-Palestine, it’s likely you’ve been on the receiving end of some form of the insidious statement that you would be killed, brutalized, beheaded for your queerness in Palestine. Perhaps a complete stranger on the internet hurled this at you; perhaps it came from a loved one. It’s an absurd (not to mention Islamophobic, racist, and counterproductive) thing to say to anyone. It’s also, ironically, homophobic in and of itself. At least, it is if we think of homophobia to comprise not just hatred or discrimination toward queer people but also a privileging of certain queer lives over others.
I live in Florida, where we hear similar sentiments when it comes to the hurricanes that batter this place. During the most recent hurricane season, as a storm approached Florida’s Gulf coast, I saw someone reply to a tweet about the news saying it’s what DeSantis deserved for Don’t Say Gay. As if a hurricane would somehow harm a governor with easy means to evacuate and shelter more than it would the hundreds of houseless queer youth living in Central Florida. Every election cycle, that GIF of Bugs Bunny sawing Florida off the map resurfaces. Travel advisories warn out-of-state LGBTQ folks from avoiding traveling here and never once acknowledge the LGBTQ people who live here. These examples are not even remotely on the same level of attempting to justify genocide, but they come from a similar ignorance. Similarly, when Texas was hit by devastating winter storms that took out the state’s power grid, there was also this undercurrent of snark about how Texas — and Texans — deserved it, how this was punishment for the state being oppressive toward LGBTQ folks. A red state deserves to bleed, so it seemed these people believed. At least 246 people died that winter as a result of the storms.
Again, these are very small things compared to what is happening right now in Palestine, a place not hypothetically being cleaved off the map like that stupid GIF but quite literally by Israel’s ongoing occupation. But these things are all connected to the same harmful erasure of queer lives in certain contexts. Queer people exist in Texas, in Florida, in Palestine. Queer people are everywhere, and to wield homophobia as a tool to justify the oppression or destruction of others is in fact to just replicate hate, harm, and oppression, not fix it.
Queering the Map, a community-based and collaborative project that seeks to digitally archive LGBTQ+ experiences, desires, narratives, and personal truths via an interactive map where queer and trans folks can input their personal stories attached to geographical locations, has made an explicit effort to highlight the existence of queer Palestinians. It’s a queer map not just in the surface-level sense of mapping queer missives onto places but in reimagining place in a radical way. I’ve loved Queering the Map for a while, but I especially love it for this. It proves the project’s mission really is to queer the map. Maps are produced by and reinforce colonialism and empire, and here is a version of a map that challenges borders. It recognizes Palestine despite the fact the U.S. does not. In London, a group called The Dyke Project hacked a bunch of display ads on the U.K. transit system, replacing ads with images screenshot from Queering the Map highlighting queer Palestinian experiences.
📢BREAKING📢 we have HACKED over 100 bus adverts across London’s TfL network 🚇🚌🚏We replaced ads with stories from queer Palestinians, and a call for an end to the occupation 🇵🇸 pic.twitter.com/QngGhjBVFx
— The Dyke Project (@theDykeProject) October 27, 2023
Just like there are queers everywhere, homophobia, transphobia, and the persecution of LGBTQ+ folks exists all over the world and certainly in our own backyards here in the U.S. To single out Gaza reinforces Islamophobic assumptions. It also represents a complete disconnection from the realities of what’s happening in the United States right now. Murders of trans people doubled in the U.S. from 2017 to 2021. It is not technically illegal to be queer or trans in the U.S., but states throughout the entire country are trying to legislate us to the margins. This is especially true for trans folks, whose access to medical care and basic human rights are significantly restricted. You’re going to sit here and try to spin some hypothetical “gotchya” moment about what my life as a queer person would be in Palestine when I live in a state where a doctor can decide not to treat me if they don’t feel like it on religious grounds? Get outta here.
Everyone deserves safety, autonomy, and basic human rights. In the time since I started writing this, I’ve seen op-eds and social media posts pop up suggesting that “queers for Palestine” is akin to saying “chickens for KFC” or “minks for fur.” Aside from the dehumanization and condescension of those ridiculous comparisons, they also just aren’t accurate. They set up a hierarchy that true queer liberation seeks to dismantle. Global oppression of queer folks does not supersede any other form of violent, racist oppression. Fighting for Palestinian rights does not fundamentally take away from our own rights. Imperialism constantly constructs and maintains anti-queerness, and anti-imperialist work benefits all queer people.
I’ve seen people online peddle the misguided idea that Palestinian freedom and queer freedom are at odds with each other because queer Palestinians seek asylum from persecution in Israel. Indeed, Israel has an official policy to grant temporary stay permits to LGTBQ+ folks from the West Bank and in some cases has issued work permits. Israel also has cultivated a reputation for being an ultra queer friendly destination, though as queer feminist Jewish activist Ashley Bohrer has written, the deliberate pinkwashing of Israel seriously obscures a lot of the lived realities of queer Palestinians living in Israel: “This so-called gay-friendly state of Israel preys on the vulnerability of queer Palestinians, a vulnerability that many of us who live in ‘progressive’ ‘human rights-friendly’ countries still face.”
A longread feature in the independent nonprofit magazine run by Israeli and Palestinian journalists +972 Magazine similarly highlights stories from asylum-seeking queer Palestinians that contradict the dominant narrative of Israel as a LGBTQ+ safe haven, suggesting it’s only a safe haven for some. These queer Palestinians often face financial abuse, restrictions on access to healthcare, and other forms of discrimination and abuse. And while many of the sources interviewed indeed experienced violence in their homeland, it’s clear from reading these testimonies that things are not as simple as it being safe for all LGBTQ+ folks in Israel and unsafe in Palestine. In 2014, an op-ed published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz urged the IDF to stop its practice of blackmailing gay Palestinians. So even within Israel, there is pushback against the notion that Israel can function as a refuge for queer Palestinians.
Social justice movements do not exist in a vacuum, often intersecting in meaningful ways. There is a long history of queer artists, activists, and thinkers speaking and writing extensively on the importance of standing in solidarity with Palestine. In fact, almost all of my own personal consciousness raising about Palestine came from listening to and reading queer activists — first in a collective for women of color I was involved in at University of Michigan, and then far beyond my personal circles when I started reading more queer theorists and activists during my early years of coming out.
“I do not believe that our sexuality, gender expression and bodies can be liberated without making a ferocious mobilization against imperialist war and racism an integral part of our struggle,” Leslie Feinberg said at the Al-Fatiha international retreat in Washington in 2002. I highly recommend reading the linked full transcript of the speech. Feinberg explicitly touches on the problems with pitting queer folks against Palestine:
“…the spin-doctors of war are making every appeal to the progressive movements to back the imperial juggernaut as though this is a defensive and progressive war. They said part of the reason they are bombing Afghanistan is to ‘liberate’ women there. Then why did they earlier arm and back the counter-revolutionary forces that overturned women’s rights there?
They say we should fight against nations whose religion does not welcome l/g/b/t people. Yet they have no problem propping up anti-gay regimes that do their bidding. And when they talk about anti-gay religion, they don’t mean the church that is mired in child abuse revelations and blaming gay people for it. Or the Christian right wing that labels us “child molesters” to block our rights. Our fight is here!”
Bisexual poet and essayist June Jordan also has expressed solidarity with Palestine through her work and words. Her poem “Apologies to All the People in Lebanon” is dedicated “to the 600,000 Palestinian men, women, and children who lived in Lebanon from 1948-1983.”
You can watch a video of Angela Davis reading June Jordan’s “Moving towards Home” — another one of her works explicitly about solidarity with Palestine.
In 1989, Audre Lorde spoke on Palestine in her commencement speech at Oberlin College: “Encouraging your congresspeople to press for a peaceful solution in the Middle East, and for recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people, is not altruism, it is survival.” This was over three decades ago. (You can read more about the long and ongoing legacy Black feminist thought and perspectives on Palestine at BlackWomenRadicals.com.)
Lesbian and Jewish author Sarah Schulman began the work of re-educating herself about Israel/Palestine and interrogating her political consciousness of the Middle East in her book Israel/Palestine and the Queer International. Recently, she penned a piece for New York Magazine furthering this work. “The most difficult challenge in our lives is to face our contributions to the systems that reproduce inequality and consequential cycles of violence,” she writes.
Schulman is also an HIV/AIDS activist who worked with ACT UP in New York at the height of the HIV/AIDS movement in the late 80s and early 90s. She remains committed to documenting ACT UP’s important history, recently publishing the urgent book Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993. It’s easy to see a direct correlation between the recent action by Jewish Voice for Peace in New York to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and past actions by ACT UP. In fact, Jewish Voice for Peace — which is a Jewish collective of anti-Zionist activists organizing in solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle — made it clear the group was inspired by the work of ACT UP.
In January 1991, ACT UP organized the Day of Desperation, a massive protest at NYC’s Grand Central station. On October 27, 2023, thousands of Jewish activists and allies followed suit with a massive action at Grand Central station calling for a ceasefire. Many are saying it’s the largest act of civil disobedience New York has seen in two decades. In an Instagram post with side-by-side photos from both historical events, Jewish Voice for Peace writes:
“The iconic 1991 ACT UP Day of Desperation at Grand Central inspired queer anti-Zionist Jews to scale that same marble ticket office in the world’s biggest train station 32 years later to again disrupt business as usual and plaster an urgent message over the train schedule: NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE. PALESTINIANS SHOULD BE FREE.”
ACT UP leader Gregg Bordowitz, who was one of the “ONE AIDS DEATH EVERY 8 MINUTES” banner holders at the Day of Desperation in 1991, said of the recent Jewish Voice for Peace action: “HEALTHCARE NOT WARFARE is still a relevant demand as Congress prepares to give enormous military funding to Israel while key Republican congressional members block the dispersal of funds to PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), a 20 year old program which has saved more than 25 million lives around the world.” Here again, we see a direct link being made between the fight for queer life and for Palestinian life.
Including leaders of ACT UP, plenty of LGBTQ+ people showed up for JVP’s action at Grand Central. Trans activist and actor Indya Moore as well as trans writer, activist, and sex worker rights advocate Cecilia Gentili were among the hundreds of people arrested at the action. All these movements for liberation are connected.
Queer Muslim and queer Jewish activists have been calling for other queer folks to realize the importance of coalition building for Palestinian freedom, and it’s time to listen if you haven’t been already. The most urgent thing we can do right now is call for a ceasefire, though that is just where the work starts. All of the great queer thinkers I quoted in this piece have said much more about Palestine, and I encourage you to seek out their words but also, of course, the words of queer Palestinians who are here and whose queerness must not be erased, questioned, or used against them.