■ Peter Tatchell in Moscow's
Red Square last month
By Peter Tatchell
LONDON, June 19, 2006 – On careful reflection, the
queer human rights group OutRage! believes a boycott would be a big
mistake. While supporting justice for the Palestinian people, we oppose
calls for a boycott of World Pride, which is being held in Jerusalem from
August 6-12, 2006.
Successfully staging World Pride in Jerusalem will be a
huge defeat for the Christian, Judaist and Muslim fundamentalists who want
it banned and who believe lesbian and gay people should be jailed, flogged
or executed. Through news coverage, the event will have the positive effect
of increasing queer visibility and promoting public debate about queer
issues in homophobic Middle Eastern countries and beyond. It will give
comfort and hope to isolated, downcast queers throughout the Arab world.
A cancellation or boycott of World Pride would be a major
victory for the religious and political bigots who are wrecking the lives of
queers in the Middle East and across the globe. They will rejoice and be
uplifted if World Pride fails to go ahead as planned. It will encourage and
embolden their homophobia.
World Pride is in solidarity with the queer liberation
struggles in Israel, Palestine and worldwide. A boycott would be a tragic
betrayal of this global quest for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)
While a boycott would not advance the Palestinian cause
one iota, it would give comfort to the oppressors of lesbians and gays and
undermine a genuine attempt at global solidarity against homophobia.
If World Pride was organised by the Israeli state, I
would support a boycott. But the organisers are Jerusalem Open House (JOH),
the LGBT social, welfare and human rights organisation which serves both
Israeli and Palestinian LGBTs.
The holding of World Pride in Jerusalem is supported by
the Palestinian members of JOH, and by many LGBT Palestinians living in
Palestine. Most of the opposition to World Pride is coming from groups
based in western countries.
OutRage! supports a boycott of oppressive Israeli
institutions, but not of events like World Pride that are an expression of
the international struggle for LGBT liberation. Although well intended,
boycotting a celebration of queer life, culture and human rights is a
reactionary stance that plays into the hands of homophobes.
OutRage! would prefer World Pride to be held in the
Palestinian city of Ramallah – not Jerusalem – but the homophobic
Palestinian Authority will not allow it. Indeed, no Arab or Muslim city
will permit World Pride. Why aren’t the critics who oppose holding World
Pride in Jerusalem protesting about that?
Staging World Pride in Jerusalem is not an endorsement of
Israel’s annexation and occupation of Palestinian territory. It is an
affirmation of LGBT identity and culture in defiance of the denunciations
and threats of religious and political homophobes.
Far from colluding with the Israeli state, World Pride’s
theme – Love Without Borders – is an implicit attack on Israel’s oppressive
security wall and on its denial of free movement to the Palestinian people.
I speak as someone who has supported the Palestinian
freedom struggle for 35 years. Together with the actress Vanessa Redgrave
and others, in the early 1970s I campaigned for a unified, democratic,
federal, secular state of Palestine, where Jews and Arabs could live
together in peace, equality and justice. I still believe in that dream.
Over 30 years ago, I was one of the first people to
propose a boycott and sanctions against Israel, including an economic, arms,
trade and tourism embargo to pressure Israel to withdraw from the occupied
Palestinian territories and to respect Palestinian human rights. I stand by
the call to isolate the oppressive Israeli state.
Since World Pride is not organised by the government of
Israel and since its purpose is not the glorification of Israel and its
occupation of Palestine, I fail to understand how a boycott can be ethically
justified or how it will help the Palestinians.
OutRage! is in favour of boycotts that challenge
injustice, but we do not support indiscriminate boycotts that penalise
people and movements campaigning for democracy, social justice and human
rights, such as World Pride.
Our organisation is modelled on Gandhi’s methods of
non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, which used boycotts to
advance the cause of Indian independence.
Many of our members boycotted South Africa during the
apartheid era and Chile in the period of Pinochet’s dictatorship. But we
did not boycott people, campaigns and events in South Africa and Chile that
sought to advance the cause of freedom in those countries.
In the 1990s, OutRage! organised boycott campaigns
against countries like Romania in support of their LGBT and human rights
struggles. So we have no aversion to boycotts per se.
Boycotts can be an effective and ethical tactic when
appropriately targeted. But we cannot see how a boycott of World Pride in
Jerusalem will achieve anything to advance either the LGBT or Palestinian
Boycotting World Pride will not unnerve the Israeli state
or cause it any significant financial loss. It will not win LGBT people
support and respect among homophobic orthodox Jews or among Palestinians in
the often violently homophobic streets of Gaza and the West Bank.
A successful boycott would, however, bring joy to
homophobes of all faiths and none. It would achieve what they cannot: the
failure of World Pride.
Despite their different motives, the boycotters and the
homophobes have the same objective: stop World Pride in Jerusalem.
Although we cannot accept the Israeli occupation of
Palestinian lands, OutRage! believes there are strong reasons for supporting
World Pride in Jerusalem.
We need to look at this issue strategically: what are
positive consequences that could flow from World Pride going ahead as
Holding World Pride in Jerusalem will be a powerful
challenge to religious fundamentalists, provoking them to react and thereby
exposing their homophobia. It is the perfect trap that will help show the
world the hatred and threat posed by fundamentalism.
The religious opposition to World Pride will generate
huge media coverage throughout the Middle East and beyond. This will, by
default, bring the message of LGBT liberation to the people of the whole
For young LGBTs in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Yemen and
elsewhere, it might be the first time they have heard of the existence of
the global movement for queer emancipation. Imagine the hope and confidence
such news will give to isolated, vulnerable LGBT people across the Middle
Even the homophobes recognise this. Although not
specifically referring to World Pride, the Muslim fundamentalist cleric, Dr
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, told Al Jazeera TV in June that the increased reportage
and discussion of gay issues in the Middle East is a “calamity.” If a bigot
like Qaradawi wants to suppress queer visibility, then that is good enough
reason to support any event that will increase it. The more public
discussion of LGBT issues the better. World Pride will help facilitate this
I speak from experience. Media coverage of my LGBT
liberation protest in communist East Berlin in 1973 had a similar positive
impact. It helped bring the message of LGBT emancipation to people in the
Soviet-bloc, and was a catalyst for the formation of the first underground
LGBT movements in communist Eastern Europe.
OutRage! believes that news coverage of World Pride will
raise awareness of LGBT issues across the Middle East and be psychologically
and emotionally empowering for LGBT people throughout the region. It might
help trigger the creation of LGBT movements in repressive, homophobic Middle
Eastern states, including Palestine.
These are exciting possibilities, worth encouraging.
They are compelling reasons to support World Pride in Jerusalem in August