Out in the World: Israel-Hamas conflict missing as SF Pride holds summit on human rights

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Tuesday July 9, 2024
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San Francisco Pride Executive Director Suzanne Ford, left, and board President Nguyen Pham welcomed attendees to the organization's second annual Human Rights Summit. Photo: Courtesy SF Pride
San Francisco Pride Executive Director Suzanne Ford, left, and board President Nguyen Pham welcomed attendees to the organization's second annual Human Rights Summit. Photo: Courtesy SF Pride

Perhaps the biggest global issue of concern to LGBTQs — the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the plight of Palestinians — was missing in action from San Francisco Pride's recent Human Rights Summit.

While the board of the SF Pride organization did vote on a resolution endorsing a ceasefire earlier this year, the conflict was not discussed at the June 27 event. Nonetheless, organizers said the forum brought together global LGBTQ activists who discussed myriad other issues.

"It was a very, very successful event," said Michelle Meow, who produced the summit with SF Pride, noting that "it is still very grassroots."

Lesbian media personality and activist Meow welcomed an estimated 350 attendees to the Commonwealth Club World Affairs of San Francisco for the summit. Another estimated 100 people attended via livestream, she said.

Meow expressed she was proud that the summit was accessible, attracted a global audience, and uplifted queer youth leadership. She noted the international attendance was bolstered by last year's merger of the Commonwealth Club of California and World Affairs of Northern California, which formed the Commonwealth Club World Affairs of San Francisco.

The organic grassroots nature of the event "reminds me of how our community has always organized, which is, 'Let's just get things done. Let's come together,' especially in times of crises and in times when we really need each other," she told the Bay Area Reporter July 1.

"Let's face it, the global atrocities and violations of human rights and human life are devastating, and that has a huge impact on our community," Meow continued. "It's a scary moment politically for many of us, if not all of us around the world."

The eventful day brought together both in-person and livestreamed via videoconference international activists, youth activists, and sports activists for a full day of conversation. The activists were joined by keynote speakers Honey Mahogany, executive director of the San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives, and Schuyler Bailar, a transgender man who's a former NCAA swimmer, among other community advocates and leaders. Bailar had been the keynote speaker at the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club's annual gayla that was held hours after the summit.

Mahogany and Bailar did not respond to a follow-up request for comment. Neither mentioned international issues in their remarks.

SF Pride officials Suzanne Ford, a transgender woman who's executive director, and Nguyen Pham, a gay man who's board president, helped open the summit with Meow.

Pham told the audience SF Pride's theme, "Beacon of Love," was chosen due to the more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the United States this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Around the world, LGBTQ activists are pushing back against legislative assaults from Uganda's draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 to Russia outlawing the LGBTQ movement as an extremist organization to Argentina, where the community is seeking justice for four lesbians who were murdered and fighting against a new right-wing regime, the B.A.R. previously reported.

The summit did not address the Israel-Hamas war and ongoing protests by queer Palestinians and allies. Security precautions were taken and no demonstrations at the summit were reported. A counter SF Pride protest, "No Pride in Genocide: Queer and Trans March for Palestinian Liberation," took place in the Mission and Castro neighborhoods June 30, as the B.A.R. reported.

Meow did not respond to the B.A.R.'s question why the Israel-Hamas war wasn't a part of the summit.

The summit happened as the United Nations, the State Department, and Outright International all released reports ahead of Pride weekend on the state of the LGBTQ movement globally in the face of a "super election" year and the rise of right-wing autocracy governments.

"San Francisco is going to say, 'No,' to that. We are going to counter that hate with love," said Pham, who is the first-ever gay Vietnamese person to head the organization's board.

Ford responded to questions about why host a celebration with everything that is happening in the world today with, "They need to see us march down Market Street."

"They need to know that here in San Francisco, in California, we stand up for everyone's rights," she said.

State of Pride

Meow moderated the global panel, "State of Pride Around the World," with speakers Lenny Emson, executive director of Kyiv Pride; Charlene Liu, co-founder of Shanghai Pride; Nicolas Rodriguez, a member of PRIDE SV — Marcha Por la Diversidad en El Salvador and vice president of global outreach and partnership management at InterPride; and Natalie Thompson, co-president of InterPride.

InterPride is the umbrella organization for Pride organizations around the world. The organization became the second LGBTQ organization to gain consultative status at the U.N. in 2023. It is producing next year's WorldPride in Washington, D.C. May 23-June 8.

Thompson did not speak about the organization's new U.N. status during the panel discussion.

Responding to questions from the B.A.R. after the summit, Thompson wrote in a July 3 email that "elevating these voices within the human rights advocacy space is paramount in bringing about real change."

The importance of gaining a seat at the table at the U.N. allows InterPride and its members to "influence policy and highlight further the work that still needs to be done in order to actualize freedoms from persecution based on gender identity and sexual orientation."

"It is pretty important, as far as the conversation goes, with the global [LGBTQ rights movement]," Meow added. "The purpose of that was to showcase how we are affected as a community, globally, and from the Pride perspective."

Super election year

"This EuroPride is very important [politically]," said Emson, referring to the global event that took place June 21-29 in Thessaloniki, Greece. She added that after the European Parliament elections in early June, it became clear that Europe's LGBTQ community needs "to do a lot." As the B.A.R. reported, the elections saw the far-right make some gains in the legislative body of the E.U.

Emson, a lesbian, joined the summit from EuroPride.

"We need to be more visible. We need to be united as LGBTQI people. We need to fight for our rights. We need to stand up and speak up because the threat to LGBTQI rights right now is really terrifying," Emson told the audience.

Kyiv Pride was denied hosting a Pride event in early June due to security concerns, reported the Kyiv Post. Kyiv Pride organizers didn't give up, however, and LGBTQ Ukrainian soldiers led the first Pride parade since the Russian invasion in 2022 in Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv, June 16, reported the Washington Post.

"It is interesting what is happening around the world, how we are facing all these conservative waves, a huge wave affects everybody," said InterPride's Rodriguez. He prefaced his remarks that he had to be careful about what he said due to El Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele's regime.

Rodriguez, a gay man, is also the founder of ELSALVADORG, the LGBTQI news publication in Central America.

Bukele, who came into power in 2019, won reelection as president for his second five-year term in March. A majority of Salvadorians, 84%, voted for Bukele, reported El Pais.

Rodriguez told the audience this year was the hardest year to produce Pride in El Salvador in its 27-year history. Permits and security were harder to get. Companies and sponsors were afraid to support the LGBTQ community because "many important people from the government are against LGBT community here in El Salvador."

Attacks against Salvadorian LGBTQ people and organizations are increasing online and on social media, with people calling for El Salvador Pride to be canceled, he said. Opponents state LGBTQ people are "not for society," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez told the audience that earlier this year, after Bukele denounced so-called gender ideology in El Salvador's education system, Education Minister José Mauricio Pineda swiftly removed any mention of gender ideology from its public schools.

"We are facing again all the rights that we raised, all the respect that we raised, all those decades are banished again, because conservatives are speaking against us and insulting us in the street without knowing any consequence," Rodriguez said.

Liu, a lesbian, explained China's largest and longest-running Pride celebration has remained mostly online, hosting only a few private events indoors since 2021.

Shanghai Pride launched in 2009. In 2020, the organization abruptly canceled all events without explanation, reported the Alturi. It happened separately from COVID-19, which prompted a global lockdown.

Liu did not mention why Shanghai Pride abruptly shut down.

China has cracked down on LGBTQ rights within the past five years. The B.A.R. previously reported the Chinese government shuttered queer social media accounts and websites, organizations and groups, and academic departments teaching feminism and LGBTQ issues at universities.

Hosting Shanghai Pride online and at small private events provided a sense of security for participants and connected organizers and the community with allies and Chinese queers in the diaspora, she said.

"It worked for us because people feel like, 'OK. We are coming out. We are part of the community,'" Liu continued, stating people felt safer to come together in the community despite increased monitoring of events.


"Many of the Pride organizers from around the world talk about their 'celebration' as more of a protest or more of a 'Stonewall moment' for themselves," Meow told the B.A.R., referring to the 1969 riot in New York City that is credited with ushering in the modern LGBTQ rights movement in the U.S. "That's because they, too, are fighting for democracy or fighting for freedom of expression."

Emson told the audience Kyiv Pride was started as a protest responding to Russia's "gay propaganda" law in 2012. A dozen years later, Kyiv Pride remains a protest, she said.

"It's a lot to fight for in Ukraine right now," she said, explaining that Ukrainians are struggling to survive, and marginalized communities like the LGBTQ community — especially the transgender community — are "suffering the most."

Celebrating Pride during wartime "is a huge obstacle for us" because the LGBTQ community is in survival mode," added Emson. "Fighting for rights is a complicated issue."

Despite the challenges, queer organizations are continuing to advocate for LGBTQ rights through public actions and remaining visible.

"We have a lot of people who still have this capacity amidst the war to stand up, to build, and to fight for LGBTQI rights," Emson said. "I'm really proud of my community and my country."

The challenges El Salvadorian LGBTQ people are facing weren't going to stop them from marching for their community June 29.

"We're going to be thousands of Salvadorians on the street," Rodriguez said, "saying to everyone, 'We are here. We are queer, and we are many, and we don't leave this country. We make this country with you.'"

Liu said Shanghai Pride organizers and the city's LGBTQ community continue to gain inspiration from other Prides around the world, participating in discussions, like at the summit; and connecting with allies and other LGBTQ communities beyond China's borders.

"We're not giving up hope," Liu said about Shanghai Pride. "Somehow, we're going to work it out. Somehow, we're going to figure this out."

Supporting Prides globally

Celebrating Pride this year has been "very bittersweet," Thompson said.

"It's an opportunity to celebrate and be together and participate in some radically joyful moments and then it's also a reminder that there's so much work to do," noted Thompson, adding "then we also see that our Pride family around the world that we don't always get to celebrate the way that we want to or get to be as visible."

Thompson said InterPride was working to find ways to connect, educate, and recognize Prides' interconnectedness by filling the gap between Pride organizations in the United States and, for example, Pride groups or organizations in Africa and China.

"This is political. Pride is a protest. Get out. Be active. Let your voice be heard. Build community [however, you can build community]," Thompson said. "It is important that we find ways to stay connected.

"So that we can grow, be better, and be supported and support each other in a really transformative way," she continued.

At the same time, Thompson said it was important to "celebrate radical joy."

"It's so important that we find spaces and times to celebrate radical joy because that is just as important for our survival and mental health ... to be able to be celebrated," she said.

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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