There’s No Pride in Pinkwashing
What is pinkwashing?
In broad terms, ‘pinkwashing’ is a term used to describe when governments or corporations portray LGBTQ+ friendliness as a way of distracting from violent and oppressive policies and actions.
How does Size Doesn’t Matter participate in pinkwashing?
The Size Doesn’t Matter campaign promotes Israel as a tourist destination for LGBTQ+ people as part of the Brand Israel campaign by the Israeli state to rebrand itself as a “safe haven” for the LGBTQ+ community. This strategy operates to divert attention away from Israel’s systemic human rights abuses against Palestinians and breaches of international humanitarian law. While Israel does have some laws in place that benefit LGBTQ Israeli citizens, pinkwashing isn’t about promoting LGBTQ+ rights internationally. Pinkwashing is about trying to paint a picture of Israel as progressive in order to counter international criticism of the occupation of Palestine. In Halifax, the Atlantic Jewish Council works on: “supporting the democratic State of Israel and its long term viability”. Promoting tourism to the region is one way to distract from war crimes and human rights abuses. The AJC is helping to promote tourism to Tel Aviv again this year at Halifax Pride, despite years of community protest against it. Our position is not in opposition to queer Jewish people or the AJC itself, but to AJC’s use of its position as a local community group to promote LGBTQ tourism in Israel through the distribution of Size Doesn’t Matter materials. We’re asking Halifax Pride to take a stand against pinkwashing, as a practice, no matter who is doing it.
Why is this an issue for Pride?
Our local queer community is vibrant and diverse. We acknowledge that, as a community, we have issues with internal racism and want to work to create safer spaces for queer people from every region of the world. We are not against the State of Israel or Judaism- on the contrary- we value and appreciate the presence of queer Jewish people. We are, however, against foreign governments funding local lobby groups to do PR at our local Pride celebration. Pride is about us. It is about the character, texture and beauty of the community we weave in coming together. Given the complexity and tragedy of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, we simply don’t think that advertising tourism to the region as a way to sway public sentiment is just, or ethical. We are protesting the involvement of foreign governments (even through local lobby groups) in our Pride.
History of this Protest in Halifax
On July 2014, queer historian Gary Kinsmen wrote an open letter of complaint to Halifax Pride for allowing Size Doesn’t Matter at the Community Fair, and for censoring his attempt to engage in critical discourse about this issue. Kinsmen urged Halifax Pride to sign onto the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign called for by organizations and politicians around the world. During Pride 2014 other community groups and local activists attended to hand out brochures and pamphlets to the public to draw attention to the harm of Size Doesn’t Matter campaign materials and they were asked to leave Pride.
Anyone protesting Size Doesn’t Matter was removed from Pride. This issue was taken up by the Halifax Pride board to a community meeting that took place in August 2014, but, despite ongoing protest, there has been no movement on this.
This year, the Queer Arabs of Halifax were in touch with Halifax Pride to ask if Size Doesn’t Matter campaign materials were going to be present at the community fair. Pride confirmed that they would, despite concerns raised by the community over the past 3 years. In early June, Queer Arabs of Halifax drafted an official letter, requesting that they forego the inclusion of Size Doesn’t Matter materials. Many other LGBTQ+ organizations signed onto this letter and requested that the inappropriate presence of Size Doesn’t Matter be dropped this year. The letter was thoughtful, detailed and simply requested that, in favour of supporting queer people of colour, that Pride respond to community concerns. Pride declined, once again coming up with diplomatic, but ultimately dismissive, excuses as to why they couldn’t accommodate their request.
Organizations that signed onto the Queer Arabs of Halifax letter include: Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, South House Gender and Sexual Resource Centre, Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia, Halifax Bi-Pan Connection, Home Heirlooms Cooperative, BIPOCalypse Halifax, Unitarians for Social Justice.
But isn’t it wrong to ‘exclude’ someone from the community fair?
To date, the only folks who are excluded from the community fair are LGBTQ+ people who were trying to do public education on this issue. Queer Arab people remain some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We have a vibrant community of queer Arab people in Halifax who experience anti-muslim and anti-Arab racism in the city- including within the LGBTQ+ community. They have chosen to boycott Pride this year after being dismissed and ignored.
Pride chose to accommodate the presence of a foreign government over the presence of local LGBTQ+ people.
Since NSRAP has publicly expressed support for the Queer Arabs of Halifax campaign, we have faced a barrage of racist backlash and trolling. As an organization we believe that this represents deep roots of racism in our LGBTQ+ community and this brings great sadness- but also a strong resolve to try and fix it. We have received numerous anti-Arab messages to our Facebook page and email account.
This is not about Israel. This is about our local LGBTQ+ community and the ways in which LGBTQ+ people of colour are marginalized, dismissed and ultimately seen as unimportant by past and present boards of Halifax Pride.
Jewish Youth for Equality, “an emerging coalition of progressive, young Jews who affirm the humanity of Palestinians as equals” published this story recently in The Coast: We’re young Jews, and we Support Queer Arabs of Halifax
What can you do?
Sign onto the NSRAP petition to request that Halifax Pride make serious efforts to respond to an issue that has been going on for many years.
Educate yourself! Read up on pinkwashing. Read about the ways in which Pride celebrations have made space for addressing misogyny, transphobia and other forms of hatred inside our community! Pride CAN be a place to make space for each other and heal. It can be a place where we raise the bar for what a ‘safe space’ means and love each other in better ways.
If you are a queer person, start a conversation about racism and anti-Arab attitudes in the community.
We are grateful that Halifax Pride chose to acknowledge this protest publicly. They have made an official statement that says they are committed to discussing this further at their AGM. However, we have heard this before. Queer Arab people are a minority. With this upcoming vote at the AGM, queer people of colour may never see their concerns reflected in successful motions because they are outnumbered. Until such a time as there are many educated allies in the community, we don’t believe that this kind of process will make positive change. We want to see this action taken up at the level of the Board and we will continue to raise awareness until such time as the needs of our local LGBTQ+ people are put ahead of political organizations that are using Pride for PR and advertising.
Halifax Pride Society 2016 AGM
Halifax Pride will hold their AGM on Wednesday, October 5th from 6:30-8:30pm at the Halifax Harbourfront Marriott Hotel. Both NSRAP and Queer Arabs of Halifax will have resolutions to be discussed and voted on that address pinkwashing and ensuring that Pride sets specific guidelines for admission into festival events. You can view the Queer Arabs of Halifax resolution here. You can view the NSRAP resolution here.
If you are able to attend to support Queer Arabs of Halifax and NSRAP, please let us know via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are encouraging members to arrive at 6:00pm to ensure time to register for membership. Membership is free and allows individuals to vote at the AGM. Community members have offered to provide transportation to the event so please reach out if you are in need!
If you are unable to attend and looking for ways to offer support, please encourage your friends, family, and loved ones to attend. We need your help to ensure that we can make these important changes that will allow Queer Arabs of Halifax and our broader Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour LGBTQ+ community to be a valued and included part of our Pride festivities.