LGBTQ advocates for Palestinian rights

Gender rights activists and supporters of LGBTQ community express solidarity with Palestinians, as they walk the queer pride parade in New Delhi on November 26, 2023.

(Photo by Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images)

Why We Must Reject the Pinkwashing of Genocide in Gaza

For a gay high schooler living in the U.S., it is with extreme difficulty that I watch the American and Israeli governments exploit my sexual identity to excuse ongoing ethnic cleansing.

The Progress Pride Flag was never intended to fly over the corpses of dead Palestinians. Like many queer young people today, I have watched with paralyzing anger as the symbol of our liberation waves atop armed Israeli killing machines and our existence is commodified as justification for Israel's imperial violence. Israel has no right to wave any flag over the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Yet, for that flag to be colored with a rainbow is illustrative of the settler state's incorrect, dangerous rationale for carrying out its ongoing genocide.

In 2011, a New York Timesop-ed popularized the term pinkwashing, accusing Israel of using pro-LGBTQ rhetoric as a cover-up for itsillegal and brutal occupation of the Palestinian territory. The term describes how colonial powers like the U.S. and Israel use false acceptance of sexual minorities to distract from and justify rapid, brutal expansion. Any queer person who has been an advocate for the rights of Palestinians has encountered this phenomenon: “Try living in Palestine for a day and see how you like it,” online colonialist apologists tell us. “Where are the pride flags in Gaza?”

The point of LGBTQ advocacy has never been the indiscriminate bombing of school children.

These remarks are a result of a targeted Israeli marketing campaign that has been defending its ongoing genocide since 2005. The 88 million dollar program, called ‘Gay Israel’ or ‘Brand Israel,’ is a global effort to “underscore [Israel’s] diversity in a population that tends to judge Israel harshly, solely on its treatment of Palestinians."

The Narrative’s Lies

As Israel and its associated settler colonies market themselves as “gay havens,” they perpetuate the flip side narrative as well—that Palestinians are a barbaric and homophobic population of uncivilized heathens. The narrative itself is anerasure of Palestinian queer life and Israel’s oppression of LGBTQ residents. It ignores that Western colonialism has historically led to worse treatment of LGBTQ minorities in colonized regions. When the British claimed “Mandate Palestine” in 1920, they passed sweeping anti-gay legislation that still governs homosexual relationships in Gaza today. Throughout history, in the name of bringing civilization to Middle Eastern communities, colonialists have criminalized queerness and facilitated queer oppression.

Moreover, Israel itself has punished LGBTQ identities since the state’s birth. The current Netanyahu administration has positionedhomophobicleaders at the peaks of the Israeli government, refuses to legalize gay marriage, and faces rampant rates ofanti-LGBTQ sentiment in the country. Israel cannot be considered a pro-gay force for freedom as it continues the erasure of Palestinian queer life, facilitates an ongoing genocide, and furthers anti-queer lawmaking.

Pinkwashing amid Genocide in Gaza

Today, a glance at Israeli social media shows “In the name of love” written across a pride flag, flown over rubble in Gaza. Another scroll shows the Star of David printed onto a rainbow flag proudly held in front of an armed Israeli military tank. “Under Hamas, being gay means death. The hidden Palestinian LGBTQ+ community can be HOPEFUL as soon they will live and love free of Hamas,” the posts decry. These common criticisms that pit the queer community against Palestinians miss the mark entirely. Queer advocates uniquely align themselves with the Palestinian cause because our oppression overlaps.

The idea that a violent invading army can be the catalyst to end all homophobia in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is as absurd as it is dangerous. Academics and journalists are already realizing how perilous pinkwashing as a practice can be, as it leads to queer people of color internalizing that our liberation is necessarily tied to the erasure of Palestinian culture. As this siege is consistently positioned as a battle for civilization and the preservation of Western society, LGBTQ citizens must refuse the Israeli government's attempt at forcing us into defending the state’s genocidal militarism.

For a gay high schooler living in the U.S., it is with extreme difficulty that I watch the American and Israeli governments exploit my sexual identity to excuse ongoing ethnic cleansing. LGBTQ-identifying kids and students across the country are now being made to reckon with our government’s insistence on killing children in our names. In every discussion on the topic, it becomes clear that not only are we made to live in this country knowing that our government is funding and enabling genocide, but we also must be reminded that our queer existence is being used every day to justify it.

A generation’s worth of high schoolers like myself are growing up in institutions that weaponize our inalienable identities for violent colonial expansion.

The point of LGBTQ advocacy has never been the indiscriminate bombing of school children. The point of LGBTQ advocacy has never been to displace 1.5 million people, nor to kill 26,000 Palestinians—innocent men, women, and children—in cold blood. It has never been to destroy 70% of Gazan homes. Regardless of what the IDF has to say, the largest cause of death for a queer Palestinian is an Israeli bomb. The worst oppressor of queer Palestinians is the Israeli occupation.

It is time that Americans and the rest of the outside world reject the Israeli narrative that queer rights are mutually exclusive with Palestinian lives. When I, and people like me, advocate for Palestinian people’s right to life, it is not our job to defend our existence as members of a sexual minority. Israel’s siege has never been for our rights, and genocide can never be justified in our names.

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