When a near-violent protest shut down a planned reception for LGBT Israeli group A Wider Bridge at the Creating Change conference last month, everyone involved lost.
The accordion walls were shaking as I feared for my safety, while trying to keep others calm. Were that hotel conference room not so stressful in the moment, it would have felt surreal.
I was among the hundred people who attended the Friday night reception hosted by A Wider Bridge at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference held in Chicago last month. An intentionally safe forum for dialogue was repeatedly breached by intolerance and fear-mongering — the same realities the queer and transgender movements once arose to overcome.
There are plenty of accounts around the cancellation and restoration of A Wider Bridge’s reception featuring leaders from the LGBTQ center, Jerusalem Open House, amid accusations that the National LGBTQ Task Force was endorsing “pinkwashing,” a term which suggests the purposeful deflection of attention from alleged human rights abuses by Israel with positive stories of its vibrant LGBTQ life and inclusion. While numerous attempts were made to expand spaces for peaceful discussion, anti-Israel activists chose not to respect these boundaries.
More than two hundred protesters, many of whom were trans or nonbinary, crowded hallways, banging drums and waving banners, to actively impede other conference participants from entering A Wider Bridge’s reception, or even reaching unrelated programs elsewhere on that hotel floor. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” they chanted, calling for the destruction of Israel, rather than addressing liberation of the occupied territories.