Pinkwashing does not advance queer rights

July 24, 2014
Calling for queer people to defend Israel only silences queer Palestinians. Photo:

As the bombs fall on the Gaza Strip, taking the lives of over 750 Palestinians — including many civilians and children — one voice has emerged attempting to defend the Israeli regime on a very curious basis: that Israel should be defended because it is a bastion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights and dignity in a sea of nations that would deny these rights.

More importantly, American LGBTI people should be thankful “for all Israel has done for us” and remember how important Israel is to the US in the region.

This is the voice of James Duke Mason, a wealthy, White, gay man in the US, using the pages of the Advocate to spread support for the apartheid regime in Israel by “pink-washing” a violent regime to obscure its true nature.

In his article, Mason neglects to mention there are LGBTI Palestinians who live in Gaza and the West Bank, who are bombed, shot, beaten and dispossessed by Israel along with thousands of other Palestinians.

Calling for LGBTI people to defend the apartheid regime only silences these Palestinians, distances them from LGBTI people around the world by painting over their identities, making them just another face in the great unwashed sea that these white, Western gay men see as savages.

This is the logic of the “White man’s burden”, carried out by Israel, the outpost of imperial power in the Middle East. Much like the argument that the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was necessary to bring women’s rights to the region, this time we need to “save” the third-world LGBTI people from their homophobic peers.

It ignores the deep homophobia of the imperialist nations and their colonies, and the fact that when the missiles from Lockheed Martin hit, they do not discriminate along the lines of gender and sexuality.

In response to Israel’s strategy of “pinkwashing”, queer activists in Palestine have previously said: “You cannot have queer liberation while apartheid, patriarchy, capitalism and other oppressions exist. It’s important to target the connections of these oppressive forces.

“Pinkwashing is a strategy used by the Brand Israel campaign to garner the support of queers in other parts of the world. It is simply an attempt to make the Zionist project more appealing to queer people.

“This is another iteration of a familiar and toxic colonial fantasy — that the colonizer can provide something important and necessary that the colonized cannot possibly provide for themselves.”

At its core, this idea encourages LGBTI people to support and defend their governments so that they can become accepted citizens. It is middle and upper class gay men, usually white and living in imperialist or First World nations, who can easily identify with the ruling elites, and can ignore the divisions along class, ethnic, religious and gender lines that define class societies. They can become the most patriotic of the patriotic, fall into line with the rest, and become assimilated into a society where power is mostly held by white, rich men.

The people who champion this idea throw working-class and non-white LGBTI people under the bus in an attempt to associate closer with the ruling elites, and gain full access to the corridors of power. It is an ideology that preaches acceptance of the few at the expense of the many, and will open doors for LGBTI people, but only those who otherwise fit the model of “civilised society”.

What then, is the alternative vision? For a true LGBTI liberation struggle to take place, it must include and embrace all members of the community, especially those who suffer most under capitalism, including LGBTI people in the Third World, who suffer both from homophobic oppression in their own communities and from imperial domination as inhabitants of the global South.

We need to understand that injustice anywhere means justice is nowhere, because we cannot truly be free from oppression until everyone can join in.

Without that, the movement will continue to uphold dictatorship, apartheid and colonialism, and will be a movement for a privileged few, not the disenfranchised many.

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