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Queeruption Crosses the Line
But for the LGBTIQ movement as a whole, for peoples who consider ourselves part of the international human rights movement, to figuratively march en masse across the Palestinians’ picket line to attend, as Brian Dempsey put it, "a party in the sun," is an appalling spectacle.
Queeruption Crosses the Line
Let me be the first to admit that I may have had a head start when it comes to boycotts. I don’t think I saw a shopping bag in my first 7 years of life that didn’t say "Don’t Buy Judy Bond Blouses." I finally saw a Judy Bond blouse for sale when I was about 35. I didn’t buy it.
So maybe I shouldn’t be so critical when I hear that "radical queers" who "oppose the occupation" want us to travel to Queeruption in tel aviv in August 2006. This despite the call in July by over 200 organizations from Palestinian civil society to boycott israel. The July call reinforced the international boycott/divestment movement which is demanding the right of return for all Palestinians, israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, and the abolition of the apartheid system.
Queeruption is described as a "DiY radical queer gathering," which has previously been held in London, New York, San Francisco, Berlin, Amsterdam, Sydney and Barcelona. The Queeruption is intentionally planned to coincide with, and "spice up" the rescheduled world pride in jerusalem.
To recap – in 2003, InterPride decided to hold a world pride event in Jerusalem in 2005, with the theme Love Without Borders. QUIT! initiated a call for a boycott on travel to world pride, consistent with the international divestment movement. This call has been endorsed by a number of Palestine solidarity and LGBT groups. Other groups, such as No Pride in Occupation, in New York, have stopped short of calling for a boycott, but have been critical of the decision to hold the event in occupied Jerusalem. The israeli LGBT anti-occupation group Black Laundry, and the Palestinian lesbian group Aswat had planned events for the 2005 march that were aimed at pointing out that "love without borders," is particularly ironic in a city broken by a wall constructed to keep Palestinians out. The 2005 event was postponed to 2006 due to fears of right wing civil unrest related to the Gaza "disengagement."
As the travel boycott movement has gathered steam, the "radical queers," of queeruption have this to say about the boycott, "We are aware of the fact that for some people Israel, as a state that uses apartheid methods, is a target for boycott. We respect people's decision to boycott. In fact, some of us support the campaign for boycotting Israeli goods and Israeli academic figures. Others among us believe boycotting Israel while both the UK and the US are themselves illegally occupying Iraq, and employing repressive methods in their war against terror, is a little hypocritical. But we all agree that visiting here can give people more information and a more rounded argument against Israel’s colonialism."
Here’s the thing. A boycott isn’t about individual intentions, it’s about collective action. If you support the farm workers, you don’t buy the grapes, even if they’re for a gay brunch. If you support desegregation, you don’t take the bus, even if you’re heading to an NAACP meeting. If you don’t want the bar to discriminate against African Americans, you don’t cross the picket, and if you want to get rid of apartheid, you don’t travel to South Africa and play at Sun City.
Boycotts are not built over night. Even the relatively successful UFW grape boycott took years to build and a huge organization to maintain. The Palestine divestment movement is self-consciously modeled after the South Africa movement, which most people seem to remember as having started in about 1987 or so, and having brought about a negotiated end to apartheid in 1992 leading to the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994.
The South Africa boycott actually started before Nelson Mandela began serving what became a 27 year sentence. In 1960, south african police opened fire on marchers in Sharpeville who were protesting the pass laws. Sixty-nine people were killed, and several hundred were wounded. There were calls for an international boycott of South Africa. Some of the early boycott efforts included "We Say No To Apartheid," a campaign that started in 1965 and encouraged artists, writers and entertainers not to visit South Africa or allow their works to be distributed there "until the day when all its people – black and white – shall equally enjoy the education and cultural advantages of this rich and lovely land." The campaign included Tallulah Bankhead, Leonard Bernstein, Harry Belafonte, Victor Borge, Diahann Carroll, Sam Davis Jr., Henry Fonda, Julie Harris, Langston Hughes, Burgess Meredith, Arthur Mller, Sidney Poitier, Ed Sullivan and Eli Wallach.
Other boycott efforts in the 1960s included a conference on economic sanctions in 1964, which led to a campaign to end investments and loans. After several years of this work, the united methodist church withdrew a portfolio of $10 million from first national city bank, because the bank refused to end its participation in a revolving loan fund for south africa. The loan fund was finally terminated in 1969. In 1960, an all-white south african team competed in the Rome olympics. But when south africa ignored the international olympics committee’s demand in 1963 to integrate its athletics program, the south african team was barred from the 1964 Tokyo games, and did not compete again until the end of apartheid. The boycott in international athletics grew to such strength that 25 African countries withdrew from the 1976 games in Montreal to protest the olympic participation of new zealand, which had continued sports links with south africa.
Throughout the 1960's to1980's there were also boycotts of companies that profited from the apartheid regime, or did business with the government there. Several boycotts targeted companies that provided the government’s identification card system (pass system), including kodak, polaroid, and later, IBM.
In the mid-1980s, Queen, Rod Stewart, and Status Quo, all broke the entertainment boycott and played Sun City, a big music complex in Bophutswana (one of 10 South African Bantustans). Here’s what Brian May of Queen said about it, "The truth is we thought very carefully about going and we considered that it was right because for the first time we were going to be able to play to non-segregated audiences, which we did, and it's absolutely true, whether people believe it or not...We feel that by going there and by stating very clearly our point of view, which was that we were utterly opposed to apartheid, that we did a lot more to accelerate the end of that way of thinking in South Africa than many people have done by staying away...By going there we feel like we helped them, and I know a lot of them there feel the same way...Nevertheless, we've now had so much pressure from people, the UN committee, Little Steven and all his friends, that it's better to stay away that we've said "OK, we'll go along with you, we'll do it your way", and we've said we won't go back."
Many LGBT individuals and groups, including LAGAI, were active in opposing apartheid in South Africa. However, until the late 1980s the participation of white south african gay organizations was not challenged in the mainstream gay movement. Scottish Activist Brian Dempsey, recalled that, "in 1987 SHRG [the Scotland Homsexual Rights Group, which later became Outright] did take a leading position in the successful campaign to have the Gay Association of South Africa (GASA) excluded from ILGA on the grounds that GASA was a predominantly white group which did not take an anti-apartheid stance (Gay Scotland, #27 & 30). SHRG had opposed GASA's membership from 1983, and in the struggle to expel GASA, SHRG supported other South African groups such as the Rand Gay Organisation (RGO) as having a "genuine multi-racial membership and clear opposition to apartheid" (Gay Scotland 30). They also publicised and urged support for, the case of Simon Nkoli, an RGO member on trial for his life for protesting against apartheid (Gay Scotland 28). At the 1987 ILGA conference the vote to suspend GASA was won and shortly after this GASA collapsed thus removing the issue from the agenda. This campaign is seen as one of the most effective of SHRG's in the international gay movement although the work done on it was limited to a few leading members of the group." (Taken from Brian Dempsey (1995) Thon Wey (USG, Edinburgh)).
The call to boycott world pride is now provoking response from mainstream organizations that are usually quite comfortable in ignoring everything we say. At a workshop at the recent creating change conference, a board member of the national lesbian and gay task force (NGLTF) a sponsor both of CC and world pride, justified their position by saying that the invitation to go to israel had not come from the government, but from queers in israel. However, as even queeruption points out, "The organizers of the Parade cooperate with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Tourism, in order to bring many tourists to Israel on the occasion of the World Pride." Meanwhile, neither Jerusalem Open House (the sponsors of the event) nor interpride, nor queeruption, have demanded that israel open it’s checkpoints and borders to allow Palestinians and other queers from the area to attend these events.
Picket lines mean...
I understand that the people who support israeli apartheid and the brutal occupation of the west bank and gaza, will gleefully cross this picket line, the way that I would go out of my way to cross a picket line set up by operation rescue. But for the LGBTIQ movement as a whole, for peoples who consider ourselves part of the international human rights movement, to figuratively march en masse across the Palestinians’ picket line to attend, as Brian Dempsey put it, "a party in the sun," is an appalling spectacle.
In 1982, one of the first "gay positive" mainstream movies, Making Love (starring Kate Jackson, Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin) opened an exclusive San Francisco engagement at a movie theater that was part of the struck UA theater chain. So queer people set up a huge picket line, complete with music from the Carry It On Marching Band, and ran buses to a non-struck theater in San Mateo. Because picket lines mean...DON’T CROSS.
(This article first appeared in the November 2005 issue of UltraViolet. UV is published by LAGAI – Queer Insurrection. You can contact LAGAI at http://www.lagai.org, e-mail lagai [at] bigfoot.com, or call (510)434-1304. Read more about the boycott of World Pride at http://www.boycottworldpride.org)