10. 20. 2023
All Out for Palestine: Against Queer Silence and Complicity
Tomorrow, on October 21, three demonstrations will converge on the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg, Treaty 1 Territory. Far-right activists are rallying against trans rights under the national banner of 1 Million March 4 Children. They will be opposed by a counter-protest, organized as part of the No Space for Hate movement against the rising far right in Canada. At Memorial Park, just across the street from these dueling demonstrations, an All Out For Palestine rally will call for an end to genocide, apartheid, and the death-siege on Gaza.
Silence = Palestinian Death
While Israeli bombs rain down on the people of Gaza, the No Space for Hate movement has remained effectively silent on Palestine. In Winnipeg, queer silence in the face of genocide is especially conspicuous given the No Space for Hate demonstration is being held at the same time and location as All Out For Palestine. Queer non-profit organizations, including Pride Winnipeg and Rainbow Resource Centre, are mobilizing their resources and networks for the former, while staying quiet about the Palestine solidarity demonstration.
As Israel commits unspeakable atrocities – bombing Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, deploying white phosphorous, threatening a ground invasion of Gaza, enabling settler violence in the West Bank – silence is complicity. Silence normalizes genocide, occupation, and apartheid. Silence equals death. This slogan, which has become almost a cliché, was hard-won by queers radicalized in the fight for their lives against HIV/AIDS and organized abandonment in the 1980s and ’90s. The slogan takes on new urgency today when refusing to speak up for Palestine serves to authorize Israeli war crimes and the Canadian state that funds apartheid abroad and suppresses dissent within its borders.
Queer non-profits are not unique in their refusal to support Palestinian life and liberation. Almost across the board, mainstream Canadian civil and political society has responded to the siege on Gaza with silence, genocide apologism, or outright bloodthirst. As the Israeli bombardment of Gaza kills one child every fifteen minutes, the Canadian government affirms “Israel’s right to defend itself” and refuses to call for a ceasefire. Palestine solidarity activists in Canada and across the West face harsh consequences for even the most cautious acts of resistance: they are censored and smeared, criminalized as “terrorists”; their careers are threatened, as are their lives. Palestinians in the West, whether or not they speak out, face horrifying violence.
Civil society support for Israeli atrocities can neither excuse nor explain queer silence. The marginalization of Palestinian resistance should push other marginalized people to come out more firmly in its defence. What stops queers in the West from breaking with consensus and standing with Palestine en masse?
In sharp contrast to the response to Palestine, Canadian civil and political society has lined up behind No Space for Hate. Non-profit organizations, labour unions, post-secondary institutions, public sector bodies, and government – all the way up to Prime Minister Trudeau – have made statements condemning the 1 Million March 4 Children. Many have contributed funding, resources, and staff hours to organize No Space for Hate counter-protests.
“Queer,” as a cross-class social group, has long held internal contradictions. In Canada today, a section of queers are well-represented among the urban middle class. They are tied to civil society and state institutions through their careers, salaries, reputations, and relationships, and are heavily invested in reforming those same institutions. On the other hand, there exist swaths of trans, Two-Spirit, and queer people who are radically excluded from civil society, exploited by capital, brutalized by the colonial state, and battered by imperialism. Unencumbered by the ties that hitch the middle class to a politics of reform, these queers have a clearer sightline and a better chance to see that their ultimate interests lie not in reform but in anti-imperialist, decolonial, and socialist revolution.
Contradictions between these two groups surfaced in New York City in 1969, when street youth, drag queens, and trans women of colour sparked the Stonewall riots. In the midst of the rebellion, leaders of the Mattachine Society, an assimilationist gay rights group, met with city and police officials, promising to help discourage further protest. The Mattachine Society then posted a sign on the window of the Stonewall Inn, reading, “We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the village.”
More often than not, class and colonial contradictions among queers remain submerged. Transphobia and homophobia press working-class trans, queer, and Two-Spirit people into a defensive alliance with middle-class queers, who are wedded to civil society and state institutions. While there are times when a cross-class united front against transphobia, homophobia, and fascism is necessary, queers oppressed by capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism must build their own independent power. Otherwise, when it comes time to break from the conservatism of the middle class – to riot in the streets against the pleas of the Mattachine Society or to scream out for Palestine despite the deafening silence of non-profit organizations such as Pride Winnipeg and Rainbow Resource Centre – we will have neither the strength nor the vision to advance our own emancipatory queer politics. We will be quiet when we should be at our loudest, and the moment will slip from our grasp.
Freedom for Palestine is Freedom for All
The Stonewall rioters prevailed against the Mattachine Society’s attempt to quiet their rebellion. The voice of 17-year-old Sylvia Rivera rang through the streets: “I’m not missing a minute of this – it’s the revolution!” (Sylvia Rivera would go on to co-found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Marsha P. Johnson in 1971.) Following socialist theorist Listen Chen, we can understand Rivera’s revolutionary cry as emblematic of a “subaltern queer politics.” In A Separate Star, Chen argues that queer assimilationist politics “[smooth] over the potential social ruptures that we must exploit to achieve our liberation.” In contrast, a subaltern queer politics takes as its goal “not the reform of the death machines of the US and Canada, but their abolition.”
It is the Palestinian people’s love of freedom – a love that cannot tolerate the constant whir of the Israeli death machine – that marks them for execution. For queers to assimilate is for queers to normalize and accept the genocide of Palestinians and other colonized peoples, the destruction of the earth by the forces of capital, and the violent repression of emancipatory movements. Palestinian resistance shows us all that it is possible to refuse the status quo, and for that reason, the Palestinian freedom struggle is universal. As the Beirut Institute for Critical Analysis and Research writes,
We stand with Palestine as a universal signifier of liberation from oppression; we stand with Palestine as a central site of struggle against the barbarism of capitalist domination and exploitation.
As Palestinians in Gaza face an urgent existential threat, this moment presents the possibility of rupture at a world-historic scale. What happens in the coming weeks will have repercussions for liberation movements around the world, including movements for gender and sexual freedom. Trans and queer people living within the colonial borders of Canada have a personal stake in the Palestinian freedom struggle.
But more than that, we have an obligation to act. One humble contribution queers in the West can make to the struggle is to raise our collective voice for Palestine and, in this way, undermine Israel’s strategy of “pinkwashing” its crimes through the cynical deployment of LGBTQ rights. We must not let another moment pass without using all means at our disposal to support Palestinian efforts to end the death-siege on Gaza and win freedom for Palestine.
Isabel Krupp is a member of Queers for Palestine – Winnipeg, an ad hoc group based on Treaty 1 Territory. She contributed to A Separate Star: Politics and Strategy for Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Colonial, and Anti-Imperialist Struggle and has published with The Volcano.