February 17, 2013

IconQueer activist Sarah Schulman on censorship, the ‘corporatisation’ of queer spaces, and the Israel-Palestine conflict

Legendary queer activist Sarah Schulman has spoken out against the LGBT Center of New York City and its decision to ban her from a controversial book reading.

Schulman is a writer and activist who co-founded the direct action group the Lesbian Avengers in the early 90s. She was due to give a reading of her book Israel/Palestine and the Queer International at the LGBT Center of New York City, but was banned from doing so last week.

Speaking yesterday (16 February 2013) at the Lesbian Lives conference at the University of Brighton, Schulman blamed the increasingly corporate nature of queer spaces for the censorship.

“When I was getting on the plane to come here [to Brighton, UK], on Thursday [14 February 2013], an hour before I came, I found out I was banned from the lesbian and gay centre where I was supposed to be doing a reading of this book, said Schulman.

“They have banned all discussions about Israel-Palestine, because they think it’s divisive.

“In the subsequent 48 hours since I got here, the centre got a thousand emails of protest, it’s all over Facebook, and this morning they changed their minds.

“But it’s good to know that the community is resisting this. The corporate sector is taking over the gay world. And they’re apolitical, and they do stupid things like this, but we can stop them.

“When something like this thing happens, with the gay centre, I think it’s great. Because it shows that there’s still a group of people in our community that want social justice, and want free expression, and don’t want to be corporatised.

Sarah Schulman speaking at the Lesbian Lives conference at the University of Brighton on 15 February 2013:

In an interview with BuzzFeed on 14 February, Shulman blamed the centre’s “stereotyped beliefs about punitive rich Jews” for the ban.

“It’s hard to understand the logic of the LGBT Center,” said Schulman. “At the failed community meeting with their director, Glennda Tentone and her board, there were no Jews on staff, yet they kept telling us that this censorship would make the Center a ‘safe space” for Jews!

“It was bizarre, especially considering that Jews like myself, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Judith Butler, Joan Nestle etc were among the 1500 people who signed a petition for an open center.

“It seems that they hold cliched and stereotyped beliefs about punitive rich Jews who will pull out their Jew-money if anyone criticizes Israel, and it was this misguided prejudice that lead them to defensively ban any criticism of Israel.

“I know it sounds insane, but I honestly think that that is what happened. A weird kind of anti-semitism combined with a profound lack of intelligence and integrity.”

Schulman has previously criticised the the Israeli government for using its progressive attitude towards gay rights as whitewash, or ‘pinkwash’.

“Since many people mistakenly see events like Gay Pride parades as signs of modernity, the government claims that Israel is a progressive country,” says Schulman.

“Queer people have not fought for so long to be used by a racist government to justify human rights violations.”

“I believe in equal rights for all human beings. If there is a Jewish Right of Return, there can also be a Palestinian Right of Return. I do not support different levels of rights based on religion.”

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