LGBT conference organizers in the U.S. succumbed to political pressure and canceled the reception with representatives of the Jerusalem Open House that was planned as a part of the annual conference “Creating Change.” In response, the reception was moved out of the area of the conference.
LGBT rights organization The National LGBTQ Task Force which organized the “Creating Change” conference, caved in to the demands of anti-Israel extremists and announced the cancellation of the Israeli reception.
The reception, which was organized by A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel organization acting to build bridges between the LGBT communities of Israel and North America, was designed to enable conference participants to meet with representatives of the Jerusalem Open House, who were invited as guests.
Although planned in advance as part of the conference, to be held this weekend in Chicago, the conference’s organizers announced that the reception with the Israeli guests would not take place. In response, A Wider Bridge decided to hold the reception as planned, but move it out of the conference area and transfer it to hotel located nearby.
“It is both sad and disgraceful that the organizers of Creating Change decided that there is no place for us in this significant gathering of LGBT leaders from around the U.S. and the world,” said Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, “We are saddened by what appears to be capitulation to the intimidation of a small number of anti-Israel extremists who want to shut down the voices of those who don’t adhere to their rigid and exclusive party line. As LGBTQ people, we are all too familiar with being oppressed through shaming, the closet, and imposed silence, and we see great danger in allowing this kind of censorship and blatant double standard to become the norm in our community.”
In a Call-to-Action published by the organization on its website, the supporters of the organization are called to act against The Task Force’s decision by signing a petition, contacting the conference organizers and physically going to the reception at the new venue this weekend.
“The National LGBTQ Task Force seeks to ‘build a broad movement that supports all LGBTQ people, to express their leadership and transform our movement and our society,'” the website states. “Canceling A Wider Bridge’s reception is in direct conflict with the Taskforce’s strategic objective.”
Slepian commented on the actions taken by the Israeli and Jewish organizations to create change and build bridges between communities: ““A Wider Bridge is one of the leading LGBTQ organizations in the country, an advocate for LGBTQ rights here in North America, in Israel and around the world. We work to promote honest dialogue and collaboration and to present Israel to our program participants in all of its complexity. Our trips include visits to the West Bank, and our participants engage with Palestinians, Israeli Ethiopians, transgender leaders, and LGBTQ leaders from Israel’s religious communities. Our programs explore issues involving homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ultra-nationalism, and many other forms of bigotry — the very same issues being addressed at the Creating Change conference.”
Furthermore, added Slepian, this decision affects one of the most important LGBT organizations in the world. ” The Israeli LGBTQ community has something important to add to the global conversation about LGBTQ rights. Jerusalem Open House (JOH) is an organization that works tirelessly to build the LGBTQ community in a city with a very diverse population and a challenging environment. JOH organizes the annual Jerusalem Pride March that was the scene of horrific violence last summer that led to the death of one teenage girl, and JOH has been leading the effort to help the community recover from the trauma of that tragedy. We hope that the leaders of the LGBTQ community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, will come to meet these leaders and stand in solidarity with us at our alternative event.”
The Aguda, Israel’s National LGBT Task Force, which often works in collaboration with A Wider Bridge, also referred to the cancelation of the event.
“Boycott and exclusion are not the right way to promote values of equality and pluralism,” said Imri Kalmann, co-chairman of The Aguda. “We have a moral duty to provide conflicts with tools of dialogue and openness. The decision to exclude the Israeli delegation is wrong and does not contribute to the struggle for equality and the advancement of human rights, but deepens the divide and harms disadvantaged populations, such as the LGBT community in Israel.”
The Jerusalem Open House refused to comment on the cancelation of the reception, but explained that their participation in the conference remains the same. “The Open House is an LGBT Jerusalem organization that works for the rights of the community in the city and for the promotion of a pluralistic and tolerant environment. As its name states, the organization is open to all community members everywhere and aims to represent all of them,” said Sarah Kala, Executive Director of the Open House to the WDG website.” We welcome the opportunity to attend the conference and see it as an opportunity to talk about the community life in the city and in many other cities in Israel and the homophobia we suffer from, and hope that the dialogue and multiple activity in Israel and abroad will arouse awareness and positive change.”
Despite the cancellation of the reception, the conference does not intend to ignore the issue of the Jewish-Arab conflict, and will hold a panel on Jewish-Muslim dialogue. According to the organizers, the purpose of the panel is to allow LGBT people, Muslims and Jews, to meet each other, to listen and to share each other’s stories.