#lgbtME: We Do Not Live in Vacuums!

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Last Wednesday on Twitter, posted a recent article published by Haaretz, entitled “Gay Palestinian Seeks Residency in Israel on Humanitarian Grounds,” and tagged it as “Pinkwash at its best!” Considering the reactions that followed, one can safely assume that sharing a hashtag on Twitter does not correspond to sharing similar politics. Here’s how the discussion went on:

: “#Gay #Palestinian seeks residency in #Israel on humanitarian grounds,” http://tinyurl.com/3y2jv9x #pinkwash at its best! #lgbtME

: how is that pinkwashing? The article is rightfully critical of the foot-dragging that prevents the guy from getting asylum.

: “humanitarian aid” from #Israel? Have you noticed portrayal of Palestinians? This is a settler-colonial state, this is #pinkwash

: I object as much as u do 2 any hasbara efforts that use the lack of gay rights in the Arab world to make Israel look “enlightened”

: Are we supposed to ignore stories of genuine suffering of gay Palestinians who escape to Israel because it makes Israel look good? #lgbtME

The next morning, “queers passionate for human solidarity and against sectarian hate” created Humanity Not Sectarianism and and tweeted their very first post, “The Right Balance on #lgbtME: The Suffering of a Gay Palestinian.” While such campaigns to depoliticize struggles are quite common within LGBT circles, they remain dangerous zones to frame solidarity and action against oppression.

It is safe to acknowledge that the article published by Haaretz is not a classic case of Israeli Pinkwashing. Even though the portrayal of Palestinians is awkwardly reduced to a binary of “victimhood” (in the case of Majed) and “violent homophobia” (his entourage), as points out, the article is nevertheless “critical of the foot dragging that prevents the guy from getting asylum.” It does not exactly represent Israel as a safe haven for gays in the Middle-East. For the purposes of this article however, whether or not it is pinkwashing, is besides the point. What I would like to tackle here is the oft-repeated discourse, put forward by campaigns, such as “Humanity Not Sectarianism” and “Gay Middle East,” that depoliticize struggles in their promotion of a common LGBT struggle in the Middle East.

“Humanity Not Sectarianism” choose to define themselves as the following:

We are an independent group of queer bloggers from the Middle East and North Africa and beyond. We believe in human values, compassion and understanding of LGBT people in the area and fight against their oppression, discrimination. Most of all we are fed up with people and groups manipulating and distorting LGBT issues into narrow sectarianism, full of hate and division.

In the above understanding of LGBT issues, emerges an assumption that the oppression and discrimination that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders experience can be disassociated from the contexts in which each lives, and from the violence that each is faced with, sometimes regardless of their sexuality. One of the questions that arise is whether “LGBT issues are manipulated and distorted” when they are incorporated within larger political frameworks. By bringing up “pinkwashing” and pointing to “the portrayal of Palestinians” in the article, did “ignore the humanity of the plight of their fellow and twist it into sectarianism,” as have claimed in the introduction of their first blog post?

As LGBT activists, we often fall into the trap of positioning ourselves where we can magically bypass the politics of our own locations and those of other queers like us. We sit at a compassionate standpoint through which individuals, such as ourselves, or diverse groups are able to cross borders and come together in solidarity with one another. In the invisible background of this vague framework of common humanity, lies a history of obfuscation, depoliticization, and isolation. If we were to dig deeper, we are bound to find narratives of colonial experiences, along with marginalized realities that seem to be of lesser importance from where we stand.

Such a position operates with the premise that all humans are equal, and that they all deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, and justice. Granted. When does this assumption become dangerous? When LGBT activists adopt a universalist approach in claiming that all LGBTs are equal, and that they all deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, and justice. When our efforts are focused on these values solely, politics of location, power dynamics, and histories of racial oppression are often left in the dark. A relevant question would be: Why is it that (some) queer activists believe that sexuality is enough to grant an individual membership into the Zionist entity? Doesn’t this mean that being gay is a privilege in this case? Had Majed been straight and facing similar threats, would LGBT activists have taken notice? We turn a blind eye to acute restrictions and dangers imposed on a daily basis on Palestinians living in the West Bank. We sweep the racism emanating from the Israeli Jewish state under the rug. But when one of these Palestinians happens to be a homosexual facing threats from his community, we are quick to adopt our positions of saviors, yes saviors, in the name of justice and compassion. We forget that locating the grounds from which we speak about the subjugation of the Other is just as important as speaking about the subjugation of the Other. We do not live in vacuums.

Speaking of vacuums, have you come across Gay Middle East’s vision? Before stumbling upon this particular page on their website, I always wondered why the most active tweeps on #lgbtME, , had no mention of their location. A look at the pages / websites of more groups, campaigns or initiatives in the region would usually give us a lot of insight into the spirit, values, and politics that each promotes. It would give us insight into their location, both figuratively and literally. I always wondered why Gay Middle East focused on brief reports of ambiguous news on asylum cases, persecutions by Syrian authorities, executions in Iran, and sometimes even insignificant local news (such as Acid closing down for two weeks in Lebanon). I always wondered how that depoliticized page entitled “Israel” sat between “Iraq” and “Lebanon” in their header. It wasn’t until I clicked on their vision that something clicked in my head. The vision begins with a future pride parade that cuts across the Middle East:

Starting in Damascus, Syria, G.L.B.T. marchers will begin the parade, proceeding south towards the port city of Tyre, Lebanon. Another group of marchers, gathering in Beirut, Lebanon will start marching south along the Mediterranean … From the white limestone cliffs at Naqoura/Rosh HaNikra, they declare their peaceful intentions – and cross into Israel.

This is where I begin wondering whether Israel will also be declaring its “peaceful intentions” or if this were only an Arab requirement in the vision of Gay Middle East. Either way, after swinging by Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Gaza, Hebron, Jenin, and meeting up with gays from Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf, the parade heads towards Wadi Rum:

Wadi Rum, Lawrence’s headquarters in the majestic Jordanian desert will be the site of our celebration of life. What a more suitable location for a celebration of love and brotherhood could there be than the hauntingly beautiful Wadi Rum, a grand marvel of God’s creation against which the measure of humankind seems so small. Our very being, our determination, the courage of our convictions and the strength in our numbers will show the world that the middle east, the cradle of civilization believes in peace, love, and brotherhood.

Lawrence of Arabia’s orientalist reference aside, Gay Middle East is a typical example of a campaign that depoliticizes struggles in the name of a common humanity and LGBT identity. The world they envision is one through which a diverse LGBT community will emerge throughout the region as one, and where queers will join hands across all differences and boundaries. It is a world where power dynamics, injustice, discrimination, and all forms of violence are set aside to give way to “peace, love, and brotherhood.”

And so, in that spirit, my dear queer in the Middle East: Never mind those other queers in the parade who have proudly served the Israeli Defense Force. Never mind those that are rooting for a Zionist state that discriminates against racial minorities. A two-state solution? One state? Never mind racist queers who think your family is ugly but who wouldn’t say it to your face; you’re one of them now! Never mind lesbophobic gay men; they can’t rain on your parade! Never mind all those queers who think they can “save you” from your family’s conservatism. Were you considering coming out as a transgender? A tip: Never mind those queers near the yellow tent in Wadi Rum, they’re busy wondering where all the effeminate men and butch women left to. Just a heads up, they may judge you. But hey, who cares about all of these insignificant details, as long as Wadi Rum awaits, take out your rainbow flag and shout it out: We’re here, we’re queer!

- Acknowledgements: To the Ramallah and Jerusalem Troublemakers, TQ, and the Existentialist Beiruti – thank you for thinking with me. I love you all.

Lynn is actively involved in Meem, a community of queer women and trans folk. She's also into pixels, among other things.

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