This year’s Pride parades met a new opponent: pro-Palestinian LGBTQ+ protestors

New York, NY, USA November 12, 2023: Queers for Palestine March from Union Square ending at Stonewall. Marchers on 7th avenue in the West Village carrying a Queers for Palestine banner.
Photo: Shutterstock

During New York City Pride last Sunday, pro-Palestinian protestors blocked the parade route, spraying red paint onto a truck towing the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) float. Some protestors began distributing informational leaflets, others smeared themselves in red paint and unfurled Palestinian flags, and several sat in the street alongside a white banner that read, “No queer liberation without Palestinian liberation.”

“Free, Free Palestine!” they chanted, and “Shut it down!”

“By taking blood money from arms manufacturers, @HRC has become complicit in the genocide of the Palestinian people,” wrote the protest organizer, Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG), in an X post alongside a video of the action. “Stop arming Zionism. Free Palestine.”

New York City police quickly cleared the area of photographers while onlookers repeatedly shouted, “Shame!” Officers then zip-tied the protestors, arresting 10 and charging seven with disorderly conduct, told Gay City News reported.

Pro-Palestinian protestors had criticized the HRC last February for accepting a “platinum” financial sponsorship from Northrop Grumman, a weapons manufacturer that supplies the Israeli military. HRC has issued previous statements sympathizing with those harmed by the conflict.

But WAWOG wasn’t the only group who disrupted a Pride event this year to protest for Palestine.

In Boston, Massachusetts, over 100 protestors blocked the parade route, and over 60 pro-Palestinian organizations signed a letter calling on the parade’s organizers to stop accepting money from companies with financial ties to Israel. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pro-Palestinian protestors blocked the parade, facing off against a drumline. In Denver, Colorado, pro-Palestinian protestors interrupted a ska band performing on the PrideFest main stage to explain that the same conservative Christian nationalists who support the bombing of Palestine also regularly encourage violence against LGBTQ+ people.

In San Francisco, California, over 1,000 people boycotted the main parade to attend a “No Pride in Genocide” Palestinian solidarity march, co-organized by Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT) and a local chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace. The march’s organizers accused SF Pride of accepting sponsorships from corporations “actively involved in the genocide of the people of Gaza” while noting Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinian queers.

“Palestinian queer people do not have the right of return, are subject to the dehumanizing and violent treatment Israel gives to all Palestinians at its numerous checkpoints, often do not have the ability to enter into Israel, even if in a relationship with an Israeli, and suffer the same persecution as all Palestinians,” a QUIT spokesperson said to LGBTQ Nation in a statement.

Israel’s treatment of Palestine has long divided the LGBTQ+ community. Israel has spent millions to tout itself internationally as the most LGBTQ+-friendly nation in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Palestine grants nearly no civil rights to its own LGBTQ+ citizens.

Pro-Palestinian protestors have long accused Israel of using its LGBTQ+-inclusive policies to “pinkwash” its human rights violations against Palestinians. As a result, anti-queer conservatives in the U.S. often resort to “homonationalism,” citing Muslim-majority countries’ anti-LGBTQ+ policies as a pretext for racism, Islamophobia, and violence against Muslims.

The American queer community’s disunity over Israel and Palestine has gained greater significance following the October 7, 2023 Hamas militant terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, which reportedly killed 1,200 civilians and took 253 hostages.

Since then, the Israeli military has killed somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 Palestinians, Reuters reported in May. An estimated 2.3 million people have been displaced from their homes by forced evacuations amid Israel’s continued attacks in Gaza. Israel also stands accused of genocide in the World Court for its destruction of Palestinian homes, schools, hospitals, refugee camps, and vital infrastructure. An estimated half of all Palestinians in Gaza are now experiencing starvation as a result of Israel’s continued military action, the United Nations’ World Food Program has said.

These issues have gained particular significance during this election year. In Democratic primaries nationwide, over half a million voters chose “uncommitted” on their ballots instead of voting for President Joe Biden in protest of his continued support of Israel. In many states, the margin of protest votes could cause Biden to lose a very close general election against former President Donald Trump.

While Biden has acknowledged that U.S. weapons have helped Israel kill Palestinian civilians, Biden’s ultimatums have largely been ignored by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the U.S. government has continued to supply billions of dollars in weapons to Israel even as it funds humanitarian aid to the Palestinians harmed by them.

Some members of the queer community, like Ethan Felson, executive director of A Wider Bridge, a nonprofit that connects LGBTQ+ communities in North America and Israel, say that the pro-Palestinian protests have made some Jewish queers feel unsafe and unwelcome at this year’s Pride events. Felson’s sentiments have been echoed by out gay Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), who has taken a very pro-Israel stance in the conflict.

“The anti-Israel wing of the LGBTQ community is essentially telling pro-Israel Jews that if you wish to be a part of the LGBTQ community, then you have to be in the closet about your Zionism, you have to be ashamed of your Zionism,” Torres told NBC News, referring to the movement to establish a Jewish homeland. “That to me is not Pride. That’s a perversion of Pride.”

Destruction from an Israeli bombing in Gaza
Shutterstock A Palestinian man surveys the wreckage in Gaza following an Israeli attack

But the stakes of not speaking up have never been higher. While Biden’s policies have upset pro-Palestinian queers, other LGBTQ+ people have also pointed out that Trump doesn’t support Palestine either.

As president, Trump drafted a “peace plan” for the region without any Palestinian input. He also defunded the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees and moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem while closing the U.S. mission to Palestine in the same city, both of which heightened tensions in the region.

Additionally, Trump has said he will reinstate his Muslim travel ban and oversee mass deportations of immigrants in the U.S., having accused immigrants of “poisoning the blood of our country.” Overall, his stances threaten undocumented Arab families living in the U.S., increase hostility towards Arab Americans, and remove any pretense of the U.S. being a mediating force in Middle Eastern peace talks.

While queer voters worry about the harmful anti-LGBTQ+ impact of a second Trump term, QUIT’s spokesperson told LGBTQ Nation that Biden and the Democrats are continuing to alienate voters and risk re-election by refusing to end the United States’ largely unconditional support of Israel.

“We, as grassroots activists, have no control or power over the Democratic or the Republican parties,” QUIT’s spokesperson said. “The current election shows how little democracy there is in the U.S., where polls have continuously found that the majority of Americans do not support Israel’s actions in Gaza. If the Democrats, including Biden, want support in this election, at a minimum, they need to stop supporting the slaughter of Palestinians.”

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