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"Queers for Palestine" - The moral dilemma of intersecting identities

For the past few years, the interest which has been driving my research, and some of my personal actions and life changes, has revolved around challenges and conflicts of a moral nature. How can "doing the right thing" mean so many different things to different people? And what happens when people live or work in an environment where they cannot fully act on and embrace what they believe to be right, or have to actively try and make sense of behaviours and actions which go against their own beliefs?

The past five months have given me much to reflect on in that sense and put me in a deep sense of moral discomfort, which I have, to date, found difficult to articulate or discuss with others. The background is the same as for everyone else watching the news unfolding: the Hamas attacks on Israeli people on October the 7th taking well over 1,000 lives and hundreds of hostages, bringing despair to the affected families and communities. And then the relentless and systematic campaign by the Israeli government which has seen Israeli forces killing over 30,000 civilians and plunged Gaza into a horrific humanitarian crisis, with no signs of letting up. Of course, none of this started out of nowhere, there is deep, complex and traumatic history. One that involved the systematic killing of one community, which by a twist of history (and geopolitical dynamics) led to the displacement and sufferings of another, with stark echoes from colonial pasts around the world.

With an ever-growing death toll of innocent civilians in Gaza, images of children starving to death, and a defiant rhetoric from the occupying forces, the one and only right thing to do should be to provide, vocalise and act upon an unconditional support to the people of Palestine. Yet there is an additional few layers of complexity which have come into this reasoning and made it difficult for me to be more actively engaged. As a gay man, I feel deeply saddened and hurt by the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in many countries around the world, where systems of beliefs, and often laws, mean that people are persecuted, discriminated, even killed for being themselves, forced to live hidden lives, in constant fear, or pushed to exile, facing there too an uncertain fate. Sadly, Palestine and its closest allies have a reported culture and practices which are hostile to the LGBTQ+ community.

Still the complexity feeding into a sense of confusion and dilemma does not end there. Indeed, Israel has long made a very clear and public point around its progressive views of acceptance and support of the LGBTQ+ community. Something which should be welcomed and celebrated by the community. Except that this support has been widely used to illustrate Israel's position as a progressive state aligned with Western values (what this exactly means remains up for debate), and position it in clear opposition to the repressive stance of Palestine. A few months ago, in preparation for a panel discussion on "pinkwashing" (in corporate settings), I did a bit of research and found it interesting to see that the term appeared to have been coined to qualify how public support for the LGBTQ+ community had been used to help legitimise Israel's actions in Palestine in the last decades. One might ask: does it matter how LGBTQ+ acceptance is being used in the public discourse, if it means that it is a genuinely safe and supporting environment for the community? I would argue that it does. Genuine safety can only come from a place of genuine and unconditional support, which such discourse greatly risks to put into doubt.

In my ongoing efforts to try and reconcile the deeply troubling current events with my own identity, I came across the movement "Queers for Palestine". And as I did, I immediately came across articles condemning it as hypocritical or nonsensical (likening it to "chickens for KFC", which in itself is insulting on a number of different levels...). Even as I write, a video just emerged of a UK minister, identifying as a gay man, asking "on what planet" this movement thinks it is, inviting them to protest for gay rights on the streets of Gaza and face the consequences. Sadly, very little writing out there acknowledges the moral challenges which may face LGBTQ+ people when it comes to their response to the current atrocities, instead putting forward unequivocal positions of what, in their view, is unquestionably right.

With that said, reading from advocates of the "Queers for Palestine" movement helped me take my thinking forward, as did some of my recent conversations and reading on queer theory. At its heart, queerness is about radical acceptance and liberation, something it has in common with many other minorities. It is a fight against oppression, and call for all lives and stories to be valued. At one level, there is a natural solidarity which goes from the wide LGBTQ+ community towards the LGBTQ+ community of Palestine, in support of its own liberation, which right now involves a similar fight for survival than the rest of its population, knowing that it also maintains another fight for its own acceptance. At a higher level, despite the circumstances and challenges put upon our community, it shouldn't be inconceivable that queer people across the globe should position themselves against the indiscriminate killing and suffering of a population.

Some other critiques were quick to ask whether "Queers for Palestine" could envisage there being a "Palestinians for Queers" movement. I can't help thinking that this kind of "tit for tat" view of societal justice is bound to fail from the start. This isn't about letting people get away with maintaining a culture of oppression of the LGBTQ+ community. This is about fighting for all lives to be valued and respected, and not stopping until that has been achieved.


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