Pinkwashing accusations toward Israeli speakers shake up LGBTQ conference

When Israel and LGBTQ rights meet, accusations of pinkwashing often follow. (Photo from Flickr by
(Photo from Flickr by

Two Israeli LGBT rights advocates will be speaking this year at The National LGBTQ Task Force’s Chicago conference after all, in spite of accusations from a Seattle advocate that the conference was “pinkwashing” the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

LGBT rights advocates Sarah Kala-Meir and Tom Canning of Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance had seen their speaking engagements at the reception for the Creating Change Conference canceled last Friday.

The intended cancellation came after criticisms shared in part by last week by Dean Spade, an associate professor of law at Seattle University who is a self-described Jewish trans activist. Spade is the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a nonprofit law collective that provides free legal aid to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are of low-income and or people of color.

Spade’s original blog post asserted that the Israeli government’s efforts to ingratiate itself in the eyes of the worldwide gay community were being made at the expense of overlooking its own role in the decades-long conflict with the Palestinian people on Israel’s West Bank.

The Task Force is one of the most prominent gay rights organizations in the U.S. and their yearly conference brings together thousands of community members for advocacy trainings. The conference runs from January 22nd to the 25th, with the reception in question planned for this Friday.

The reception will continue to be supported by its sponsor, A Wider Bridge, whose goals are described as building a “meaningful and thoughtful connection with Israel and LGBT Israelis,” through travel, education, and advocacy, among other means.

Spade’s accusations echo similar sentiments expressed earlier this summer concerning Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s trip to Israel as a closing keynote speaker at 40 Years of Pride in Tel Aviv. Murray’s participation was seen by LGBT rights groups, particularly Spade’s Queers Against Israeli Apartheid Seattle, as an inappropriate endorsement of the Israeli government’s human rights record.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray delivered the closing keynote at Tel Aviv's 40th anniversary pride celebration last year. (Photo from Flickr by Flavio)
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray delivered the closing keynote at Tel Aviv’s 40th anniversary pride celebration last year. (Photo from Flickr by Flavio)

The LGBT Task Force had also cancelled a scheduled panel featuring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, after GetEQUAL co-director Angela Peoples raised objections over ICE’s general treatment of LGBT immigrants. That panel remains cancelled.

“As LGBTQ people, we are all too familiar with being oppressed through shaming, the closet, and imposed silence,” A Wider Bridge founder and executive director Arthur Slepian told the Washington Blade. “We see great danger in allowing this kind of censorship and blatant double standard to become the norm in our community.”

Spade, however, disagreed.

“Creating Change’s programming staff are not censoring A Wider Bridge or ICE by canceling their programmed activities,” Spade originally told the Washington Blade. “The conference is curated — they decide what programming to include or not include and that is not censorship, it is discernment.”

Dark Matter, a self-described “trans south Asian performance art duo,” further criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force’s reception on Twitter, citing it as a pinkwashing Palestinian rights.

Tuesday the LGBT Task Force announced in a statement. that they were reinstating the Israeli speakers from A Wider Bridge.

“We are aware that our original decision made it appear we were taking sides in a complex and long-standing conflict, which was not the intention, and that in canceling the reception we deeply offended many people, and our reversal will offend others,” the statement from Communication Officer Mark Daley read.

“In reversing the decision today, we want to make it quite clear that the Creating Change Conference will always be a safe space for inclusion and dialogue for people with often widely different views,” it elaborated further. “It was not at all our intention to censor representatives of the Jerusalem Open House or A Wider Bridge at Creating Change and I apologize that our actions left people feeling silenced.”

Professor Spade could not be reached for comment.