Queer visions at the World Social Forum: Free Palestine

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On Saturday 1 December, at the final general assembly of the World Social Forum: Free Palestine -- the first time this annual gathering of the global justice movement had devoted a special Forum to the cause of Palestine -- the Queer Visions delegation presented a statement targeting pinkwashing.

The Queer Visions group included sixteen activists from seven cities internationally. We gathered in Porto Alegre prior to the World Social Forum through an initiative of Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS), alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society (alQaws) and Pinkwatching Israel to network, strategize and trade tactics with this larger global movement. Selma Al-Aswad, a Palestinian activist from Seattle, read out our statement. We were met with overwhelming support from the crowd of hundreds of international activists.

It was a fitting end to a tumultuous three days. The struggle for Palestinian liberation felt more pressing than ever, following Israel's most recent vote-getting war against Gaza, resulting in 150+ deaths. Also on everyone's mind at the WSF was the UN vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state and now Israel's announcement of new settlement plans that will chop the West Bank in half.

We felt the successes of the movement in Porto Alegre too, especially when Stevie Wonder called off his concert celebrating the IDF, stating that as a UN Messenger of Peace, "I have always been against war, any war, everywhere."

Queer Visions presented two public panels to the Forum, addressing queer activism, Palestine solidarity and anti-pinkwashing. Haneen Maikey, director of alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society (a group of LGBTQ activists who work to challenge gender and sexual hierarchy in Palestinian society) and co-founder of PQBDS, outlined key moments in a queer narrative of resistance, beginning with the first intifada, and tracking activism through the work of alQaws, the formation of PQBDS, the varied alliances with global queer anti-apartheid groups such as QuAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto), and the launch of the www.pinkwatchingisrael.com website as an online hub and network for queer BDS activism.

Dean Spade showed how the twin planks of gay marriage and gays in the military are central to pinkwashing in both the US and Israel, while Gina Dent argued that we should remap paradigms of solidarity along south-south lines that recognize new geographies of common cause in a post-Katrina era. Lynn Darwich outlined the particular strategies that the Beirut-based group Meem has used in Lebanon to evolve from a focus on support/identity to activism. 

The second panel was a remarkable cross-generational conversation about specific local boycott campaigns and strategies, involving Ramzy Kumsieh (PQBDS/Queeristan), Natalie Kouri-Towe (QuAIA), Mikki Stelder, Sarah Colborne (Palestine Solidarity Campaign), Angela Davis and Selma Dillsi. All six gave talks that highlighted feminist and anti-racist analysis, where engagement with the Palestine liberation struggle was tied to forthright opposition to settler colonialism and imperialism.

Ramzy Kumsieh traced Pinkwatching and PQBDS's decision to join the boycott movement back to political organizing within alQaws, Palestine's queer rights organization. Natalie Kouri-Towe outlined the history of the annual (and unsuccessful) attempts by pro-Israel lobbyists to ban QuAIA from marching in Toronto’s Pride parade, while Selma Al-Aswad  presented a case study of a campaign that successfully cancelled the Seattle/Olympia portion of a state-sponsored pinkwashing tour of Israeli LGBT groups.

Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain, traced queer contributions to the Palestine solidarity movement (often behind the scenes) back through several decades.

Angela Davis, one of the most inspiring beacons of committed grassroots activism and rigorous critical engagement, spoke with passion of the necessity to connect struggles and build bridges, and concluded with the words of poet/activist June Jordan: "I was born a Black woman / and now / I am become a Palestinian."


John Greyson is an award-winning Canadian filmmaker who is active in the global movement in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. 

For more information visit the website of Pinkwatching Israel


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