Queers in solidarity with Palestine
“Are you gay? You know, they’d fucking rape you up the ass.”
As Israel bombs Gaza to rubble, some supporters of Israel are resorting to a frequently used tool in their discursive arsenal: pinkwashing. This involves characterizing Arabs and Muslims as irredeemably homophobic, while simultaneously upholding Israel as an oasis of gay rights in the Middle East. In doing so, they exalt Israel as beyond moral reproach and dismiss Palestinians as unworthy of liberation from the Israeli military occupation.
The remark above, an example of pinkwashing, was made by a middle-aged woman to a young pro-Palestinian student at Concordia University during a scuffle between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups at the university’s Hall Building on November 8th. Four days later, I attended the fifth pro-Palestinian march in Montreal since the start of the Israeli state's assault on Gaza last month, to talk to queer activists who are speaking in support of Palestine about what motivates their solidarity.
In the lead up to the march, I had reached out to the organizers of the queer contingent at the rally. A few messages later, I got the address for the meeting point. As we gathered on the afternoon of November 12th in downtown Montreal, what stood out the most was the diversity of the participants at the contingent. Asian, Persian, Arab, Black, and white; men, women, trans, nonbinary; gay, lesbian, queer – the 50-or-so strong group of queers for Palestine was as impressive in its multiplicity of gender and sexual expressions as it was in its unity in backing Palestine.
So, why support Palestine if you are gay? The most resounding answer comes from the Queers in Palestine group, who released a damning statement earlier this month opposing Israel's actions.
They write, “Israel has been weaponizing queer bodies to counter any support for Palestine and any critique of its settler-colonial project. Israelis (politicians, organizations, and “civilians”) have been mobilizing colonial dichotomies such as 'civilized' and 'barbaric,' 'human' and 'animal,' and other dehumanizing binaries as a discourse that legitimizes the attacks on Palestinians.”
The statement resonated with the protesters in Montreal – they did not want to allow Israel to weaponize queerness. Vincent Mousseau, a social worker in the city, told me that “it is essential for queer and trans people to be present to denounce that and to refuse that people speak in our name to justify their ongoing settler colonial, violent projects.”
The recognition that struggles are intersectional was a constant theme. Vincent, who has West Indian ancestry, added that as a “Black activist, I think the first quote that comes to mind is, of course, that famous Nelson Mandela quote, where we're reminded that our freedom isn't complete without the freedom of the Palestinians. And for me, that is an essential consideration that must be taken into account in any of the work that we do.”
Another participant who spoke to me, and wished to stay anonymous, said that “as a queer person with Jewish family from Palestine, I feel like learning about my own history. Why my people stopped identifying with being Arab really made me see the interconnectedness of struggle and how all of our liberation is bound up.”
Sarah, from Lebanon, told me that queer solidarity for Palestine is “all part of the same fight. We're all fighting against imperialism, white supremacy and colonialism.”
Often, apologists for the Israeli state try to focus attention on a narrative imagining what it means to be gay in Palestine that is very different than what queers living under apartheid and occupation say about their own experiences.
Queers in Palestine exist. And it is both tragic and ridiculous to claim that queers in Gaza at the moment are being liberated by Israeli bombs. As alQaws, a grassroots society for sexual and gender diversity in Palestinian society, points out, “there is not a pink door in Israel’s racist, illegal, apartheid wall from which Palestinian queers can escape the military occupation.”
First-hand testimonies from queer Palestinians prove both: that they exist and that they are being killed in the war by Israel. Queering the Map, an interactive map that allows queers to share testimonies from their localities, is full of heart-wrenching posts from queer Gazans.
One, for example, reads: “Idk how long I will live so I just want this to be my memory here before I die. I am not going to leave my home, come what may. My biggest regret is not kissing this one guy. He died two days back. We had told how much we like each other and I was too shy to kiss last time. He died in the bombing. I think a big part of me died too. And soon I will be dead. To younus, i will kiss you in heaven.”
And another: “I’ve always imagined you and me sitting out in the sun, hand and hand, free at last. We spoke of all the places we would go if we could. Yet you are gone now. If I had known that bombs raining down on us would take you from me, I would have gladly told the world how I adored you more than anything. I’m sorry I was a coward.”
And yet another: “The place where you died, even though we were only penpals, I love you to my core, 5 years of the best friendship. Ahmad died of the airstrike, you died of heartbreak. Khalid, I love you, I loved the way you came out to me, how I came out to you, how you introduced Ahmad as your boyfriend, I wanted to share your hurts with me, but we're seas apart, I'll free Palestine just for your eyes. I hope you rest well in heaven, kiss Ahmad all you want, and be very happy, in this life or another I'll follow you, and we can unite, I love you to Icarus and beyond”
As a report in Time magazine notes, all these testimonies are from areas that have been bombed by Israel over the last month.
Of course, this is not to say that lack of LGBTQ acceptance in the wider Arab world, including Gaza, is not a problem – as is also true in much of the rest of the world, including increasingly in the West. But, as Vincent told me, “just because someone does not agree with certain aspects of my life, it does not mean that they deserve to be violently bombarded.” Or, as the Queers in Palestine group states, “We refuse that Palestinian sexuality and Palestinian attitudes towards diverse sexualities become parameters for assigning humanity to any colonized society.”
The message from queer Palestinians and their supporters in Montreal, and all across the world, is clear: there is no pride in genocide and apartheid.
The march on November 12th is one of many actions that Palestinian solidarity activists have been organizing. The queer contingent, which has grown larger and larger over the weeks, was the joint effort of three queer groups: Mabaadarat, Helem Montreal and P!nk Bloc Montreal. Since the start of the war, these community and activist groups have been amplifying the voices of queer and Arab Palestinian and their allies. This includes social media activism as well as coordinating and reinforcing queer presence in the wider protest movement.