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No pride in genocide!

Palestine is a queer issue

Héctor A. Rivera reports on the experiences of grassroots queer networks like the one in Los Angeles that are coming together across social movements and activist communities coming out in support of Palestine. Denée Jackson, Layal Bata, and Promise Li contributed to this report

Despite censorship and a coordinated backlash by the U.S. and European establishment in support of Israel, we are seeing the largest anti-war protests since the War in Iraq—challenging Zionist propaganda’s initial hold on public opinion. For example, in the U.S., anti-Zionist Jews organized by Jewish Voices for Peace and IfNotNow have led civil disobedience and direct action campaigns that have spread across the country.

In New York, more than ten thousand people flooded Brooklyn for Palestine and shut down the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Protesters in San Francisco also shut down freeways on Sunday in that city’s largest and most militant action yet. This after more than one hundred thousand people marched in central London calling for a humanitarian ceasefire and an end to the occupation.

In Los Angeles, we have participated in building an informal grassroots network of queer activists and allies from different movements across the city since mid-October to pressure elected officials to support a ceasefire in Gaza. For decades, Israel has also portrayed cities like Tel-Aviv as the “Gay capital of the Middle East” and has pushed a gay human rights discourse to legitimize its brutal occupation of Palestine—otherwise known as “pinkwashing.” While Los Angeles-based Democratic Party politicians have largely claimed to support LGBTQ+ people, all have refused to take meaningful action to stop Israel’s genocide of Palestinians—including especially queer Palestinians.

This emerging queer-led network fights for a simple message: There is No Pride in Genocide and is driven to action by the urgency of this demand.

Wake-up call for Jimmy Gomez

One of the first actions organized by the ad-hoc Queers for Palestine was a protest at the office of Democratic congressperson Jimmy Gomez, who represents several LA neighborhoods in California’s 34th congressional district, is a member of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and has not signed on to the call for a ceasefire.

On Tuesday, October 24, early in the morning, about forty queer activists and allies gathered outside of Rep. Jimmy Gomez’s office. Many in attendance live in the neighborhoods represented by Gomez.

A small contingent first gained entry to the office to speak with Jimmy Gomez’s staffers about the importance of supporting a ceasefire. In the meantime, the rest of the group began a picket and chanted outside. Those outside held banners and signs that read “Free Palestine”, “No Pride in Occupation”, and “No Pride in Apartheid”, among others. When the organizers finished inside the office, they came out and some organizers gave a few speeches.

Photo by Promise Li.

Dani, a Palestinian-American who attended the action, appealed to Gomez:

What war have you ever heard of where one side has so much power and the other is so utterly disempowered? This is apartheid. This is genocide. We all can see it just by looking at our phones, why can’t you Jimmy Gomez?

Rob, a queer Arab activist who grew up during Israel’s siege in Lebanon, spoke about how Israel’s pinkwashing narrative harms people like them. Rob linked the Palestinian struggle to other ongoing fights for liberation, saying,

Because this generation of Angelinos are raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, raised by the movement for Indigenous sovereignty, raised by the movement for unhoused people, and the fight for continued queer and trans liberation, young people today know that if all of us are not free, none of us are free.

Palestine is a queer issue

On Saturday, October 28 the queer contingent also participated in the weekly protests for Palestine organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, Al-Awda and many Palestinian organizations, and tens of thousands of families in downtown Los Angeles. Other organizations have joined the resistance, and the American Indian Movement led the rally with a land acknowledgment.

As the protest got underway the Queers Against Apartheid contingent was well organized with pink bandanas for members to recognize each other, a trans flag and a pride flag flanking the Left contingent, and two large rainbow banners at the center that read “No Pride in Genocide” and “No Pride in Occupation”. Other signs in the contingent included “Gays for Gaza”, “Dykes for a Free Palestine” and “Lebanese Lesbian 4 A Free Palestine.”

Leah, one of the organizers of the contingent shared that their motivations for this action were many:

I have been watching the media, far-right Nationalists, and fascist Zionists use myself and other queer siblings as a shield to justify racist, ethnic cleansing and the most visible genocide in my adult life. As a trans and queer advocate, this has created a moral imperative to fight this false narrative and stand with my Palestinian siblings, both in Gaza and at home, and to make it clear that queers will not be used as a ‘blank check’ to justify the war machine.

Dani also carried a sign that read “No Pride in Genocide – Queer Palestinian for a Free Falasteen” and said that they joined the contingent because:

I am firmly against the occupation of the indigenous land of Palestine and I also want to represent queerness because Israel thinks it has a monopoly over LGBT safety and we know that is not true because there can be no equal rights under Jewish supremacy if non-Jewish Palestinians are being blackmailed, are being killed, are being arrested and are being used for Israeli intelligence. If Israel is weaponizing the homophobia that prevails around the world in order to continue to occupy Palestine, I’m going to speak up against it.

Asked to expand further they stated:

The pinkwashing that I see is Israel claiming a status as an LGBT haven for human rights. But there are billions of dollars that go into this branding. And we have to come out and be loud to counter the misinformation that Palestinians are killing each other if they’re queer. That is simply not the case. It’s actually really disgusting that Zionists would use this rhetoric to turn us against the occupied and the oppressed and queer people know better. Queer people know that our solidarity and our liberation is so deeply intertwined with Palestine and it cannot be untied.

As the march snaked through downtown LA on its way to City Hall, the queer contingent chanted “Free Palestine!” and “No Pride in Genocide.” A few chants tried to make an explicit connection between queers and Palestine; “Hey Israel what do you say? How many queers did you kill today?” but they did not gain much traction with the crowd.

In two different instances, young men asked queers carrying the flag to put it down since it was too visible and that this march was not a place to bring a gay agenda. The flag carrier tried to find common ground, letting these men know they were on the same side. Still, they insisted the pride flag was too visible. At this point, the queer contingent stepped in to defuse the argument and the queers refused the request arguing that queer Palestinians also needed to be represented. Through the rest of the march, both the trans and the pride flag were flown high. Queer couples, families, Palestinian teens, and others who were not involved in the organizing joined our contingent during the march.

We must continue to raise queer liberation in the struggle to free Palestine, centering the voices of queer Palestinians. Unity between these struggles is urgent and necessary because the far right is trying to use LGBTQ+ issues as a wedge to divide both communities.

The struggle continues at Arroyo Fest

On Sunday, October 29th, the group stood on the Avenue 60 bridge and crashed the Arroyo Fest, at which for the first time in twenty years thousands of people walked, skated, and biked on a closed section of the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway, the oldest freeway in the west. With this captive audience, they displayed two banners on the overhang, one demanding “Cease Fire Now! Free Palestine!“ and the other declaring “No Pride in Genocide” over a rainbow flag.

Photo by Héctor Rivera.

Although there were three or four participants who made rude gestures towards the organizers, over the five hours the group was present, they received overwhelming support for their declarations. The goal of the banner drop was to ensure that the ongoing genocide in Palestine stays in people’s hearts and minds as the public’s attention starts to sway to other issues. As walkers and bikers went under the bridge, they chanted along with organizers and started their own, declaring “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as well as various messages of global solidarity such as “From Palestine to Mexico, there border walls have got to go”/“From Palestine to the Philippines, stop the US war machine”/“From turtle Island to Kashmir to Palestine, Occupation is a crime.”

As the group led chants and engaged with supportive participants, some groups even joined them on the bridge or stayed near the bridge to chant and amplify their message. Walkers and riders held up fists and peace signs, rang bells, called for a free Palestine, and waved to show their support for the message in a moment of acknowledgment and connection.

The experience of grassroots queer networks like the one in LA is indicative of the growing activity spreading across social movements and activist communities coming out in support of Palestine and calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. One month after Israel’s escalation in Gaza we are in a crucial moment that can become a turning point if we are able to draw more social sectors into our movement and to bring millions more into the streets.

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Héctor A. Rivera, Denée Jackson, Layal Bata, and Promise Li View All

Héctor A. Rivera is a queer, chicano educator. He lives in Los Ángeles, Califaztlán. He’s a member of the Tempest Collective.

Denée Jackson (she/her) is a bi-racial (black and white) queer woman with Jewish ancestry. She is based in Los Angeles and has organizing roots in Tucson. She's a member of the Tempest Collective and Black Lives Matter LA; she also practices transformative justice in community settings.

Layal Bata is a queer Muslim Palestinian based in Los Angeles with a background in labor, housing, and Palestinian advocacy.

Promise Li is a socialist activist from Hong Kong and Los Angeles and a member of Tempest and Solidarity (US). He is active in international solidarity with movements from Hong Kong and China, tenant and anti-gentrification organizing in Chinatown, and rank-and-file graduate worker labor organizing.