Thursday, March 3, 2011

Whose Center is it?

One evening in 1981, or maybe it was 1982, I attended a meeting in a falling-apart former NYC public-school building on 13th Street in Manhattan. At this meeting, 15 or 20 activists began organizing a protest against a series of racist offenses against Black gay men at Blues, a bar in the Times Square area. The protest, which took place a few days later, was great, a big angry march and a wonderful expression of LGBT anti-racist unity.

The building where we'd met would later become New York City's LGBT Center. Now, all these years later, it's a big, beautiful, well-financed hub for all manner of social, political, and every and any other kind of gathering imaginable by and for our community.

Except Palestinians, apparently. Or their allies in the struggle against Israeli apartheid. Solidarity is no longer welcome at what once was a center of unity.

In mid-February, in a breathtaking and shocking accommodation with a small cohort of rabid racist Zionists, LGBT Center Executive Director Glenda Testone unilaterally canceled an event that had been scheduled to take place at the Center this Saturday, March 5, to mark Israeli Apartheid Week. She did so without any consultation with the event's sponsors, the group Siege Busters, although this group has met regularly at the Center, and with the bizarre excuse that the planned meeting would somehow violate the Center as a "safe space."

Safe for whom? For a handful of racists, apparently, those who would deny access to Palestinians and who apparently wield inordinate power.

The response has been rage and outrage. Letters, calls, and a petition that's now garnered thousands of signatures. Lots of Jewish LGBT people, myself of course included, have joined this chorus, whose initiators include novelist Sarah Schulman and professor and writer Judith Butler.

I have not yet heard what the next steps in the response to this outrage by the Center will be. But this is not the Center we started to create that night 30 years ago with the Blues bar protest. This must not stand.

For more information, check here and here and here. And sign the petition demanding that the Center reverse its exclusionary decision here.

UPDATE: Tomorrow, March 5, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., there will be a demonstration to protest the LGBT Center's ban on anti-occupation queer meetings and activists. I'll see you there, in front of the Center, 208 West 13th Street, just west of Seventh Avenue.