Out in the World: Queer Palestinians unenthused by SF Pride's call for ceasefire

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday February 16, 2024
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Palestinian drag artist Mama Ganuush demonstrated against the Israel-Gaza war while participating in New York's Fashion Week, February 9-14. Photo: Courtesy Mama Ganuush<br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>
Palestinian drag artist Mama Ganuush demonstrated against the Israel-Gaza war while participating in New York's Fashion Week, February 9-14. Photo: Courtesy Mama Ganuush

Some queer Palestinians and their supporters met San Francisco Pride's call for a ceasefire and to free the hostages in the Israel-Hamas war with lackluster enthusiasm.

The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration Committee, which produces the Pride parade and celebration, released its statement February 8, three days after the organization announced its 54th annual Pride Parade and Celebration theme, "Beacon of Love," February 5, according to a news release from SF Pride.

This year's SF Pride parade and celebration will be June 29-30.

Queer transgender Palestinian drag queen Mama Ganuush and Kate Raphael, a founding member of Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism!, were quick to lament SF Pride taking four months to call for a ceasefire and to release the hostages taken by Hamas soldiers October 7.

"I think it was extremely late," Mama Ganuush told the Bay Area Reporter from New York City where they were participating in Fashion Week. Mama Ganuush said they have lost 207 family members in the Israel-Hamas war.

Raphael, a lesbian, stated, "I wish it hadn't taken them four months."

On October 7, 2023, Hamas attacked peace festivalgoers and multiple kibbutzes, killing more than 1,300 Israelis and 31 Americans, among others, and took 250 hostages, according to the White House and the Associated Press.

Israel responded by launching its own attacks. More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel Defense Forces attacks and more than 68,000 are estimated to be wounded as of February 13, reported the BBC. This week, Palestinians who have taken shelter in Rafah, a city in the southern part of Gaza, are fleeing due to an imminent threat of a massacre by Israeli military forces. Israel walked away from negotiations for another ceasefire and release of hostages. (A temporary ceasefire took place last November and Hamas released some hostages.)

Mama Ganuush, 42, only wanted to be identified by their drag name because of family members still in Palestine and Egypt and for personal safety reasons. They said they asked SF Pride to call for a ceasefire December 11. They never received a response, they said. They told the B.A.R. the February 8 statement was the first they heard of SF Pride speak about the Israel-Hamas conflict.

"They never said any statement or did any support," Mama Ganuush continued, talking about what they said was SF Pride and other national LGBTQ organizations' inaction in the face of Palestinian supporters calling on LGBTQ organizations to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza War.

"We have begged them," to call for a ceasefire in the war, but, "unfortunately, a lot of queer and trans organizations, like GLAAD, and others" have been silent, Mama Ganuush said. "None of them have been even responsive to our calls."

GLAAD issued a statement October 16, 2023 denouncing Hamas' attack on Israel and the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia worldwide.

SF Pride officials did not return a message seeking additional comment.

"Not calling out the genocide by name is something that is extremely disturbing for me," said Mama Ganuush. "They have failed queer and trans people by not standing up for what's right early on."

SF Pride's release does mention genocide.

"The continued war and genocide in Gaza are marked by tens of thousands of lives lost including many children," SF Pride's statement reads. "As urged by the United Nations and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, we urgently echo the call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all hostages."

The perceived lack of support for Palestine from the LGBTQ community's leading organizations has severely disappointed Mama Ganuush.

"At this point, I honestly gave up on the queer institutions that we have and most of the creative institutions that we have in this country," they continued. "I think there's a big influence of Zionism and there's a big influence of Zionist gays like Scott Wiener and Rafael Mandelman."

Mama Ganuush was referring to gay Jewish political leaders California state Senator Wiener (D-San Francisco) and San Francisco Supervisor Mandelman (D8). Mandelman was one of three supervisors who voted against the ceasefire resolution at the Board of Supervisors last month.

Wiener declined to comment for this article. Mandelman and gay Jewish community leader Tyler Gregory, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment.

Last month, a joint statement was issued by JCRC Bay Area, the Anti-Defamation League, and American Jewish Committee that called on San Francisco Mayor London Breed to veto the supervisors' resolution. Breed had previously spoken out against the measure. She ended up not vetoing it.

"While municipal resolutions have absolutely no impact on the state of affairs in the Middle East, they are engendering hate and creating deep divisions between Bay Area communities," the statement read.

"The mayor traveled with JCRC to Israel last year as part of the San Francisco-Haifa Sister City delegation to better understand the lives and complexities of both the Israeli and Palestinian communities," the groups stated. "Our organizations will continue to advocate for meaningful change, including the release of the hostages, humanitarian aid to Gaza, removing Hamas from power, and pushing for lasting peace and security for the entire region."

LGBTQ support for ceasefire

Jeffrey Kwong, president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, wasn't quick to judge SF Pride for the time it took to take a public position on the Israel-Hamas war. Responding to the criticism, he pointed out that many LGBTQ organizations are democratic and have "large constituencies with diverse opinions." That takes "a lot of conversations" and "time to make sure that we sufficiently consult our stakeholders in the process. I respect that."

"I think it's a positive move, and we hope others will join us," Kwong said about S.F. Pride's statement.

Last month, the Milk club rescinded its March primary endorsement of President Joe Biden over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war, as the B.A.R. previously reported. A vote to also rescind its endorsement of Wiener fell short of the threshold needed.

Despite her criticism about SF Pride's timing, QUIT's Raphael said, "I think it's very important that queer organizations are joining this call."

"As SF Pride is one of the largest queer institutions, certainly one of the oldest in the country, hopefully, they will set an example that groups around the country will copy." she added.

Kwong noted that the Milk club and some of its members have supported Palestinians in Gaza since the war began and the political club works with SF Pride regularly.

"We continue to look forward to working with Pride on issues that matter to all of our communities," he said.

He also noted that he's spoken with queer Palestinian community members who work in the Castro who have had family members killed in the war.

"I think it's important for us to listen to the voices and make sure we come together," he said.

Raphael, 64, added that from her conversations with queer Palestinians, the public support from LGBTQ organizations has helped them have conversations with their family about sexual orientation and gender identity.

She believes the support is going to "reverberate a lot" among queer Palestinians.

"It's super important for making it clear that we understand that Palestinians are part of our community and have always been part of our community," she said.

The National LGBTQ Task Force joined the call for a ceasefire in the war with a statement posted on Instagram January 16, the final day of its annual Creating Change conference held in New Orleans.

SF Pride call for ceasefire

SF Pride's statement reads in part, "Our hearts are heavy with grief for the Palestinians and Israelis whose lives have been damaged or destroyed by violence, whether physical, psychological, or emotional."

SF Pride leadership echoed the calls by the United Nations and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all hostages in the statement.

"In the magnitude of the conflict in Gaza, we must remember who we are as a community, both locally and globally," the statement said. "In these times of profound sorrow, we echo the cries of the world in calling for peace and unity. We urgently ... call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all hostages."

The organization continued, stating, "In these times of war and violence, S.F. Pride calls for an immediate activation of a comprehensive plan for resolution, restoration, and reparation."

SF Pride ended its statement with, "Our liberation is an act of love, and our quest for collective freedom binds us to one another. In these challenging times, SF Pride will maintain that love and liberation must be interwoven in our pursuit of freedom. Our city, a sanctuary for the queer community, epitomizes the power of love and resilience in the face of global injustices."

Not enough

Mama Ganuush believes it's a "good step forward" and is grateful that SF Pride has issued its statement in public support of Palestine. Nonetheless, they said that it's the "bare minimum" of what SF Pride could be doing by bringing greater recognition to the issue.

They noted that the statement isn't "very clear about the genocide" of Palestinians, including children.

"I think that not calling out the Palestinian genocide, specifically, dehumanizes Palestinians as casualties, and doesn't recognize the pain and suffering and the genocide that's happening to them," said Mama Ganuush, whose family fled Jaffa, which is adjacent to Tel Aviv, in 1948 and grew up stateless in Cairo, Egypt before they fled to the U.S. due to their LGBTQ activism in 2009. They settled in San Francisco and have since become an American citizen.

Raphael agreed with Mama Ganuush, adding SF Pride's statement also didn't "acknowledge the U.S. role in funding the genocide in Palestine and calling for an end to U.S. military aid."

"Hopefully, this encourages SF Pride to think about its role in the world more expansively and to be more proactive and taking positions on many issues around human rights all over the world, and especially in our own community," she said.

Raphael expects "Palestine [to be] front and center" of the conversation at SF Pride's second annual Human Rights Summit ahead of Pride weekend in June.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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