By NEELA GHOSHAL | Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), enacted on May 30 by President Yoweri Museveni, enshrines discrimination in Ugandan law. The AHA includes the death sentence for some consensual same-sex acts, prohibits organizations from “normalizing” sexual diversity through inclusive programming and requires everyone in Uganda, including health workers, to report people who might be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) to the police.
Can Ugandan LGBTQ people still access medical care and other basic services?
The Ministry of Health would like donors to think so. In a June 5 circular, posted briefly online, shared with donors in PDF form, and then removed from the internet, the health ministry says its policy is to provide health services “to all people in Uganda in their diversity without any form of discrimination,” “not to discriminate or stigmatize any individual who seeks health care services, for any reason — gender, religion, tribe, economic status, social status or sexual orientation” and to uphold “confidentiality, privacy [and] patient safety as stipulated in the Patient’s Charter.”
Pleasing words, but the law trumps health policies, even if they were enacted in earnest. Uganda’s Patients’ Charter is clear: “Information concerning one’s health, including information regarding treatment, may only be disclosed with informed consent, except when required by law.” Because the law, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023, states that anyone who has information that a person has committed or intends to commit an offense “shall report the matter to the police for appropriate action,” health providers are still required by law to turn in LGBTQ patients. There is no client-provider privilege enshrined in the AHA for health providers.
The circular from the Ministry of Health is part of a pattern of two-faced communications from the government of Uganda regarding what the law actually states and how it will be implemented. On June 7, during his State of the Nation address, President Yoweri Museveni reiterated the claims in the health circular: “Therefore, those who say that the homosexuals will be arrested if they go for medical care, etc., are wrong. The law now says that a homosexual will not be criminalized for merely being so if he/she keeps the being to oneself.” What does this really mean in practice? If no one in the world ever finds out you are LGBTQ, including your health provider, you might be able to safely access health care, as long as that health care does not address any specific needs related to your sexual orientation or gender identity.
Meanwhile, during its University Periodic Review (UPR) process at the U.N. Human Rights Council in June, when questioned about the Anti-Homosexuality Act and the human rights violations it prescribes, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Uganda to the U.N. Office in Geneva, Arthur Kafeero, claimed that the act was a response to “a widespread campaign to promote homosexuality amongst children in schools was discovered” and that “its methods and content too difficult and graphic to explain.” He added that the government had “simply expanded the coverage of the [current] law to protect children.”
These statements make clear that the government of Uganda is not an honest broker in its engagement with the international community around the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Ugandan parliament members’ intentions were clear and are reflected in the letter of the law. The Anti-Homosexuality Act is discriminatory on face value; worse, it seeks to erase the existence of queer Ugandans.
We’ve been through this before. In July 2014, five months after the enactment of the previous Anti-Homosexuality Act, Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a similar statement intended to appease donors. While not specific to health, it asserted that the AHA was “misinterpreted” by development partners, that it only intended to prevent the “open promotion of homosexuality, especially among children and vulnerable groups”; that “no activities of individuals, groups, companies or organizations” would be affected by the AHA; and that the government was committed to the provision of services to all in Uganda, without discrimination.
I was part of a Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International team that investigated violence and discrimination in the wake of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. We found that LGBTIQ people were facing arbitrary arrests, police abuse and extortion, loss of employment, evictions, homelessness, forced displacement, violence and denial of health services. The organization Sexual Minorities Uganda, which has now been forcibly shuttered by the government, wrote, at that time, “the full force of the State, particularly the legislative and executive branches of government, is being used to hunt down, expose, demean and suppress Uganda’s LGBTI people.”
Similarly, the Ugandan non-governmental organization Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, in the month following the law’s enactment on May 30, has already documented, through its direct engagement with LGBTQ individuals seeking legal aid, 23 cases involving violence or threats of violence affecting 23 individuals; 19 cases of evictions from rented property affecting 20 individuals; and four cases of arrests on sexuality-related cases, affecting seven persons. HRAPF’s report is a litany of suffering inflicted on queer Ugandans as a result of the AHA: Police are actively responding to complaints from members of the public and arresting LGBTQ people, and they are being beaten, threatened with rape and lynching and rendered homeless by their landlords, families and local council members. Health care, housing and employment are all in the balance, as illustrated by these three cases:
• June 10: Following the arrest of two gay men in his area, the client, who is a [key populations] coordinator at a government health facility, was threatened with violence by their colleagues at work and people in the community, who said he was responsible for the actions of the two who had been arrested because he was always the one supporting them and giving them treatment.
• June 12: The client was outed as a lesbian when a friend of her partner wrote letters threatening to beat her and pinned them at her door as well as delivering a copy to her workplace. She was immediately terminated from employment and forced to move after the neighbors started insulting and threatening her.
• June 14: A lesbian woman was attacked in her home and beaten by two men she did not know. This happened after she was warned to leave the village in May 2023 for her safety and was formally evicted by her landlord, but she had not yet left because she did not have the resources to afford the move. She suffered several cuts and bruises from the assault.
The true impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act is clear. Development partners are only “misinterpreting” the Anti-Homosexuality Act if they take seriously the government’s assurances that the law will not be a vehicle for discrimination. Accessing health care, renting a room, and holding a job: these basic activities essential to life and livelihoods all carry the risk of being outed and facing imprisonment and death. There is no protection against this. Could anything be more discriminatory?
Neela Ghoshal (any pronouns) is Outright International’s Senior Director of Law, Policy and Research, based in Washington, D.C. Neela oversees Outright’s United Nations, Global Trans Rights, LBQ Connect, Queer Legal Futures, and Research programs, develops organizational priorities concerning legal and policy change, and ensures Outright’s work aligns with international human rights law. She is the author of Outright’s report on LGBTQ Lives in Conflict and Crisis and frequently speaks and writes about issues including repressive legislation, gender liberation, and peace, security and accountability for LGBTIQ people. Before joining Outright in 2021, Neela served as Associate LGBT Rights Director at Human Rights Watch, leading global initiatives on LGBTIQ rights and conducting research and advocacy on rights violations related to sexual orientation and gender identity around the world. She was also a researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, based in Burundi and Kenya, where she covered political repression, police abuse, justice sector reform and transitional justice. Neela previously worked with the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, the Bronx Defenders, and the New York City public schools. Neela enjoys gardening, debating local and global politics and raising two feminist kids. Neela holds a bachelor’s degree in social justice studies from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in international relations from Yale University.
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The one word that always brings Congress together, AIDS
MAGA Republicans in Congress are determined to undo the bipartisan track record of compassion and lives saved over the past two decades
By Dr. Jirair Ratevosian | BURBANK – Our country’s history is marked by moments of immense social change, when brave individuals have stood up against prejudice and discrimination to demand their rightful place in America and the right to pursue their own American dream.
The HIV movement is one such chapter in our story, a chapter filled with resilience, courage, and the unwavering pursuit of justice and love for all people. On this World AIDS Day, I am reminded of the one word that always brings Republicans, Democrats and Independents together: AIDS.
Indeed, the fight against HIV/AIDS has resulted in strange bedfellows thanks to robust activism and bipartisan support. In 2003, we saw an unlikely pairing of polar opposites when ultra conservative Senator Jesse Helms and rock superstar Bono came together with President George W. Bush and Congresswoman Barbara Lee to create the U.S. Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Over the last two decades, the unprecedented cross government effort and federal resources saved 25 million lives and supported more than 5 million infants born HIV-free across 55 countries served by PEPFAR.
The fight against HIV/AIDS brought together the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States under President Barack Obama and Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic (EHA) program under President Donald Trump. Together, the increased federal resources and precise targeting of impacted jurisdictions is helping put more people on treatment and preventing new infections across America.
The fight against HIV/AIDS also revolutionized the fight for health care and supercharged the struggle for equality, acceptance, and justice for the LGBTQ community. Over the past few decades, HIV and LGBTQ+ activists, allies, and countless individuals have fought tirelessly to break down barriers and challenge the status quo. The progress reflects the power of grassroots activism and the resilience of a community that has refused to be silenced.
Yes, miracles are possible in Washington. Even with all its dysfunction, I am not cynical about Congress. I have seen these miracles personally. As a former congressional aide, I am proud of the role I played in helping to create the first ever bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, uniting Democrat and Republican members of Congress from Oakland to Miami to support more funding for HIV programs, expanding anti-discrimination protections, and repealing discriminatory policies. As a former State Department official, I saw firsthand the goodwill and soft power generated by our US foreign assistance programs, most notably PEPFAR.
Today, MAGA Republicans in Congress are determined to undo the bipartisan track record of compassion and lives saved over the past two decades. They have proposed dangerous cuts to HIV programs that support medicine and housing for people living in the United States. Further, they have placed unprecedented holds on PEPFAR reauthorization, eroding U.S. diplomacy and creating funding delays that will strain programs and personnel across 55 countries. Outside Washington, MAGA Republicans have more anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state houses this year than in each of the previous five years. The newest forms of attack are known as “Erasure Bills,” which strip away legal protections and rights for LGBTQ+ people.
MAGA Republicans are triggered by phrases like “human rights” and their objections center on terms relating to abortion, transgender people, and sex workers. This so-called moral crusade is misguided and hurts so many innocent people – not to mention it costs lives. What’s more, the promotion of ultra-conservative Congressman Mike Johnson to Speaker of the House demonstrates just how far Republicans are willing to go to attack the queer community. He is known for his anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and for proactively enacting laws that target LGBTQ+ Americans making him a dangerous and powerful voice that will be heard throughout state and local governments.
All this is happening when the fight against HIV is far from over, and the struggle for equality is unfinished. We need to come together against MAGA Republicans who are targeting the LGBTQ+ community and creating wedge issues to rile up voters and distract them from policies and programs that really matter.
Striving for a more equitable and inclusive future means electing Representatives nationally that put compassion ahead of politics to support lifesaving programs like PEPFAR, and support the acceleration of HIV prevention programs in the US. It also means electing Representatives that believe that all people should be able to pursue their dreams and ambitions without fear of discrimination or prejudice.
This World AIDS Day, let us affirm that love deserves to flourish without fear or hindrance.
Dr. Jirair Ratevosian is a former legislative director to Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Ratevosian, 42, was born in Hollywood, CA, to a Lebanese mother and an Armenian father. He grew up in Sun Valley. Awarded a Johns Hopkins University post-graduate doctoral degree with concentration in public health policy
Ratevosian served as a Senior Advisor for Health Equity Policy at the U.S. Department of State and worked for the Office of U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy.
World AIDS Day: Mobilizing LA with PrEP & PEP against HIV
As a Nurse Practitioner who interacts with patients navigating the complexities of HIV, I experience firsthand the deep-seated anxiety
By Kara James | LOS ANGELES – As we observe the 35th World AIDS Day on December 1, it is an opportunity to reflect on the progress made since the early days of the epidemic and the work that remains.
Significant advances in HIV therapy have made it possible for people to live and enjoy full lives despite their HIV diagnosis. However, stigma still surrounds the virus, leaving major obstacles to people receiving the care and prevention strategies they deserve.
As a Planned Parenthood Nurse Practitioner who interacts with patients navigating the complexities of HIV, I experience firsthand the deep-seated anxiety that lingers despite how far we have come.
Several interrelated aspects must be considered to comprehend the fear and anxiety my patients feel. Persistent prejudice against those who live with HIV and misconceptions about the virus continue to perpetuate discriminatory attitudes despite decades of educational initiatives.
There is also still a lot of stigma around HIV since many people equate it with immorality, promiscuity and judgments about one’s lifestyle. But perhaps most importantly, the past, in which an HIV diagnosis meant a virtual death sentence, casts a long shadow over the present.
These factors can make talking about the virus challenging, even with health care providers, leaving tangible consequences. Just recently, the 2022 Los Angeles County Annual HIV Surveillance Report shared that Los Angeles County is set to fall short of its goals in the Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE), a federal plan launched in 2020 that aims to reduce new HIV infections in the U.S.
To achieve the EHE’s goals, Los Angeles County must reduce new HIV diagnoses to 450 by 2025. The County’s monitoring found that 1,518 people received a new diagnosis of HIV in 2021, more than three times the number of diagnoses for the 2025 goal.
Against these numbers, I want to highlight two of the most important tools we have to help protect people from HIV, empowering them to not only survive but thrive and live life as they choose without fear or anxiety. PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a proactive method of avoiding the spread of HIV because it allows people to manage their own sexual health. It’s encouraging to see people taking responsibility for their health by choosing to use a technology that cuts their HIV risk by 99%.
Conversely, PEP is an interim measure for potential viral exposure. PEP, if given in time, can prevent HIV infection from taking hold, turning a potential crisis into an opening for action. A comprehensive plan to stop the spread of HIV must include these drugs.
Not only are these medications effective, but they are accessible and affordable. PrEP and PEP are covered by most insurance plans, including Medi-Cal, Medicare, and private employer plans. For those without insurance, financial assistance may be available to those who qualify. Planned Parenthood Los Angeles’ 24 health centers offer both PrEP and PEP, HIV testing, and counseling about treatment options in a confidential and supportive setting. PPLA’s dedicated team is ready to be a health care partner, answering questions without judgment while guiding people toward the patient-centered care they need – including PrEP and PEP.
PEP and PrEP have been a revolution in HIV prevention for my patients, as well as in the reassurance and comfort I provide to them. My goal as a Nurse Practitioner goes beyond simply dispensing pills; I want to foster an atmosphere where patients feel at ease opening up about their thoughts and feelings. By providing people with the facts about HIV and how to prevent it, education is a valuable tool in combating stigma and misunderstanding, allowing us to make necessary advancements in stopping this virus.
I encourage anyone at risk of HIV exposure to engage in a discussion with their healthcare provider about PrEP or PEP. On this World AIDS Day, let’s commit to becoming informed advocates for our own health and the health of our communities. Together, we can turn the tide against HIV in Los Angeles.
To find an appointment at a Planned Parenthood health center, please visit https://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center.
Kara James is a Nurse Practitioner with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, and has provided direct clinical care to patients since 2014. As an evidenced-based clinician and activist, Kara’s work is framed through racial equity and anti-racism. She also played a vital role in creating the Black Health Initiative in 2020 to promote holistic well-being and health in Los Angeles’ Black communities.
LGBTQ+ community in Kharkiv braces for another winter at war
The LGBTQ+ community in Kharkiv, Ukraine, braces for another winter at war. The city is 30 miles from Russia
By Brian Dooley | KHARKIV, Ukraine — Only 30 miles from the Russian border, Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second biggest city and was a key target of Russia’s invasion in February last year, when it was almost encircled.
I have been reporting regularly from Kharkiv since last year’s full-scale invasion, and the city is still often bombed by Russian missiles. United States government officials rarely come here because of the security situation. As temperatures plummet, Russia is targeting Ukraine’s heating infrastructure.
It hopes to make life unbearable for people in Ukraine’s cities and force another wave of mass movement out of Ukraine and into Poland and other European countries.
Attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid have begun, and some communities in the city have been particularly vulnerable since Russia’s invasion last year, and are facing a difficult winter.
Vasyl Malikov of the Kharkiv-based LGBTQI NGOs Alliance.Global and Spectrum Kharkiv has been distributing packages of hygiene goods, food and vouchers for humanitarian aid since last year. He helped to set up a new shelter for LGBTQI people and their relatives in the city.
“There are government shelters, and the authorities say they don’t discriminate against who uses them, but we know from lived experience that these official shelters aren’t always welcoming places for LGBTQI people. They feel vulnerable and are harassed there,” Malikov said. “We thought about setting up a shelter last year, but the situation seemed too uncertain and it wasn’t that easy to find premises, but we have gone ahead now and we can offer accommodation for up to 16 people to stay for up to three months.”
Some of those in the shelter are fleeing areas of conflict on the front lines, others have fled domestic violence, and others have been driven away by families who refuse to accept them. Some people, in Kharkiv for medical appointments, stay for days, others stay for weeks or months.
The shelter is a large apartment that has a kitchen and a large room where workshops and social events are held. It is on a block near a metro station which, Malikov says, is a useful place to run to in case of heavy bombardments.
Crucially, a new generator has arrived, which should heat the shelter during power outages. It’s a dual fuel model that can run on diesel or gas and costs around $2,000.
“This is a safe place for LGBTQI people and their families,” explains Malikov. “We shouldn’t have to set up our own facilities, the authorities should be doing this work, but we have to because they don’t.”
Other NGOs are also filling gaps that local authorities are failing to provide. The NGO Sphere has, since 2006 “been uniting women of Kharkiv, including lesbian and bisexual women.”
Tucked in a small office near the city center, some of Sphere’s activists described how their work has adapted to meet the challenges of the war.
“We’ve been providing aid for those forced to flee their homes because of the war,” says Yevheniia Ilinska, a long-standing member of the organization. “We’ve raised money from abroad — including from LGBTQ+ groups — to distribute basic supplies. We’ve been handing out clothes, including socks, and have provided some to our military.”
Sphere’s activists say that beyond its obvious damage and destruction to the city, the war is causing “a social revolution:” many men are away from their homes fighting in the military, and many family dynamics are changing dramatically.
“The full-scale war significantly aggravates some of the problems that existed before, including gender-based domestic and sexual violence, and discrimination at work,” Sphere notes on its website.
The war has also helped change some attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine. Last September, when the dangers from rocket attacks made an open-air parade impossible, Sphere helped organize a successful Pride event in the city’s metro system.
“We dressed wearing national symbols and LGBT flags,” says Ilinska. “And the public reception was very positive.”
The reaction is more evidence of a positive shift since last year’s invasion in public attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people, in part because the community’s contribution to the war effort is increasingly seen and valued. Hopes are high that Ukraine will soon legalize same-sex civic partnerships, and eventually same-sex marriages.
But for now, the cold is an immediate challenge. Sphere is raising funds to offer locals a safe place so that “in the event of rocket attacks and power outages, LGBTQ+ people will be able to stay warm indoors, have a hot drink, take a shower, and do laundry,” says Ilinska.
“We’re constantly adapting our work,” says Ilinska. “Adapting our advocacy and our public events, and our projects on targeting humanitarian aid. Kharkiv is changing and so are we, we have to react to this dramatic crisis, to the invasion, and we’re proving that we and our community can resist,” she said.
For more, see Human Rights First’s new report, Ukraine’s Winter War, written by Maya Fernandez-Powell and myself.
Brian J. Dooley is an Irish human rights activist and author. He is Senior Advisor at Washington DC-based NGO Human Rights First. He is a visiting scholar at University College, London (UCL). He is also a prominent human rights voice on Twitter (@dooley_dooley).
From April 2020 to March 2023 he was Senior Advisor to Mary Lawlor, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. He served for eight years as an advisory board member of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and was a visiting scholar at John Jay College, City University of New York 2022-2023, and at Fordham University Law School in New York 2019–2020
Queer Activists: “I told you so” as DeSantis escalates queer erasure
“It is time to recognize the situation in Florida as the ticking time bomb that it is, because I am tired of saying I told you so….”
By Cameron Driggers | GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In a shocking escalation for too many, and a somber expectation for too few, the Florida legislature will soon consider legislation to effectively disband measures to facilitate tolerance for LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace.
In addition, the proposed law would effectively force the closure of many LGBTQ+ and progressive organizations that have led the opposition to DeSantis’ administration. Specifically, HB-599 mandates that: employees can not be required to use a person’s preferred pronouns, employees can not provide their preferred pronouns and employers cannot exert discipline over homophobia/transphobia.
Most chillingly, the bill would not allow state-funded charities to require employees to undergo any “training, instruction or other activities” relating to gender or sexualities. The implications of these regulations are transparently authoritarian.
As I alluded to before, this development has been received with a puzzling degree of surprise. Evidently, such has been the case following nearly every new outrageous headline summoned by DeSantis’ administration. However, these hysterical reactions are becoming decreasingly indicative of a changing tide in public opinion and more so of an irritating obliviousness among those of us who have been ringing the alarm bells since the very start of DeSantis’ all-consuming battle against “wokeism” in Florida.
Take the infamous “Don’t Say Gay Bill” for example, which served as the catalyst for the current queer resistance to DeSantis in earnest. That legislation prohibited discussion of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade classrooms. Many were content to dismiss concern, taking the law at face value and assuming it would be confined to K-3 , but even then many of us on the ground knew it was just the first step before Queer erasure was expanded through 12th grade, and we were right.
At the same time, DeSantis initiated a hostile takeover of many public universities, and put in place measures to censor resources and education serving students of color and LBGTQ+ students on college campuses as well.
LGBTQ+ erasure (also known as queer erasure) refers to the tendency to remove lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual and queer groups or people (i.e. the LGBTQ+ community) intentionally or unintentionally from record, or to dismiss or downplay their significance.
Now, with their heinous agenda successfully forced upon Florida’s public school system, HB-599 suggests that Florida Republicans are prepared to expand the scope of their anti-LGBTQ+ regulations ten-fold.
Ironically, supporters of laws like “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop WOKE,” who rejected being labeled a homophobe by asserting their simple desire “to keep that stuff away from kids,” have allowed their fixation on a faux slippery slope to advance one that is actually real.
Upon HB-599’s implementation, not even grown adults would be expected to recognize and respect the existence of queer people in their workplace.
But as per usual, the queer community in Florida does not even have the luxury of agonizing over just this bill here and now, because we know that the next one will be even worse. Will they extend the ban on gender-affirming care to all adults? How long until adoption rights for queer couples are on the chopping block? Are we at the point where Ron DeSantis, in his quest to out-fascist Trump, embraces nullification and disregards all federally protected rights for minority groups?
As they have proved over and over again, Florida Republicans never cared about merely protecting the innocence of children. In reality, this goal was always a cheap gimmick to assuage so many useful idiots of their complicity in a full-scale war to eradicate the dignified existence of marginalized communities.
While it is decidedly more pleasant to hope for the best that this latest attack on queer people will finally be the last, it is painfully naive in reality. We know exactly how this culture war ends, and it is that of how similarly reactionary movements have concluded throughout history: with total rollbacks in the rights of the targeted minority group at hand.
Thus, it is time to recognize the situation in Florida as the ticking time bomb that it is, which demands unignorable direct action in conjunction with federal intervention to hold Governor DeSantis accountable to the Constitution he so flagrantly tramples upon. However, with such a rigid institutionalist like Joe Biden at the helm, the latter unfortunately seems unlikely.
The former, conversely, is very achievable. I should know, because I founded an organization that is doing exactly that: giving young people the resources they need to resist DeSantis’ brand of politics in their own communities.
Ultimately, whether you take action to support our movement or not, just make sure the reason you didn’t was not that you thought it wouldn’t get any worse, because I am tired of saying I told you so.
Cameron Driggers is progressive student activist attending the University of Florida. As a highschooler, Cameron led state-wide campaigns to resist anti-queer measures, such as the Don’t Say Gay School Walkouts of 2022.
Presently, Cameron continues to advocate for empowerment of young people to make change as an Organizing Fellow for People Power For Florida.
In her own words: Somali singer IDMAN on queerness & family
Musical artist, IDMAN, creates a sonic tableau of hybrid R&B that explores the highs and lows of navigating relationships & life
Toronto native and musical artist, IDMAN, creates a sonic tableau of hybrid R&B that explores the highs and lows of navigating relationships and life. Shaped by her Somali heritage and a deep interest in social activism, IDMAN is a burgeoning singer/songwriter who began honing her skill set in childhood, immersing herself in American pop culture, learning English as a result. Her signature sound is credited to blending both North-American and Somali culture and music, alongside the support of her music collective, Golly Geng, Now, in a personal essay IDMAN is sharing a different kind of tune: her truth.
LOS ANGELES – Imagine that I was a stranger who knocked on your door on a random afternoon and asked: “Who are you when no one’s watching?”
What would you say?
Would I even deserve an answer?
This question will make sense by the end of this letter, but first, I want to tell you a story.
In 2015, I went on a road trip to Miami for the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Trans Justice Miami Power Summit with some close friends and organizer homies. Two of us were hijabis who’d signed up to support our queer/trans family as allies (Talk Valentina).
A few years before, I was involved in activism where I made some friends while volunteering for a couple of marriage campaigns that ultimately won Mainers the right to same-sex marriage.
Only a select few people knew what I was working on, a family member of mine, her friends, and her father.
It was then that my eyes were opened.
Her father was really supportive and truly understood MLK’s words: ”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Her father saw me and I respected him dearly for it. He will never know how the nuance and compassion he showed me every time we spoke did so much to counter the narratives I’d been taught about who was or could be tolerant.
The first queer person in my life was my mom’s cousin.
I called her Auntie Guruhbadan, which means beautiful (it was a name I gave her not only to protect her identity but because I couldn’t pronounce her actual name as a five-year-old). I mention her because she made flyers for her wedding and it was the first instance where my father and I had explicitly talked about queerness.
It was awkward and a bit clumsy but I understood two things: my father was trying to come from a place of respect and was talking from his heart.
A good sign.
The second queer person I knew and loved was my cousin, a trans woman.
She lived in the same building as my grandparents and would come over for meals. She presented as femme and wore traditional Somali dresses, hair coverings, and people honored TF outta her pronouns.
They rationalized the use of her pronouns and transition as the result of a head injury from an accident that would make her fight you if you didn’t use the right pronouns.
Yeah…mmmkay. She had them spooked and it was marvelous.
It never felt confusing or out of the ordinary.
They were some of the only adults I truly felt safe around as a kid. It went against everything I’d heard in the West about back home with issues around queerness and gender.
Later that year, I attended my first Pride as an ally.
It was during a speech when a close friend of mine, a Black Muslim woman, came out and referenced Surah Ar Rahman. She related it to our friendship and our presence there together. And it was at that moment that I truly felt the power of the queer community and the importance of family.
“Queer community and family is something different. It is a favor from God that I cannot deny,” she said.
To my friends Rana, Edric, Benn, Del Mar, and Samaa, I thank you for being the exact right people at the right time, with open hearts enough to care and say something.
Their presence in my life has allowed me to embrace my true self without reservation – a great gift that I came to know. It’s led me to a life full of so much pride and honor that has revealed a rich history and legacy.
Growing up I’d been led to believe that hiding your true self from people not equipped to hold or honor you, meant you were ashamed or embarrassed.
Out-culture has always been something I’ve felt like I’ve had to contend with.
I know there are folks out there who feel that silent, personal protest (the rainbow flag in their bag/under their bed) is sometimes the only safe way to feel connected or affirmed.
I feel as though out-culture has set up a dynamic that pressures young people to choose between access to resources like housing, food, security, and feeling valid or authentic to their identity. I hate the parts of out-culture that tugs at the integrity of those already at the bottom of the totem pole. It has always felt wack to me honestly.
I believe that everyone has the right to choose how and when to disclose their personal identity.
No one should feel pressured to explain their desires or preferences. It’s essential to nurture a culture of respect and care, focusing on things that truly matter, such as providing resources, safety, and community support. I wish we told queer and trans youth more often that there is no standard within which to measure the authenticity of one’s identity, and that they’re valid whether they decide to come out or not. That the world’s reactions to their truths are not their fault, and that they are no less valid in their identities for deciding to withhold it from those they believe cannot honor them.
Statistics show that LGBTQ+ youth, especially those of color, are disproportionately affected by homelessness.
Out-culture has often perpetuated anti-black, xenophobic, and Islamophobic attitudes. It’s crucial to challenge the idea that queer and trans people owe intimate details of their lives to others.
Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to decide whom they trust with their identities. It’s okay if someone doesn’t get to know all aspects of who we are. We must prioritize personal boundaries and respect for one another.
I believe in the agency to decide who we share what with, and my circles feel warm and they see me wholly. They get the benefit and gift of getting to experience all of me unabashedly and fully disarmed in some cases because they have demonstrated the ability to see and accept my agency.
It’s a shame, it’s a stain and it should be the regret of a lifetime for someone to deny themselves the love of a queer or trans person because they can’t see beyond their own projection.
What a flop.
It is always their loss.
I wrote this letter today not out of a need to validate who I am.
I’m not more legit in my queerness for writing this letter.
I’m here to say that you are no less valid for choosing not to deal with all that may come with these choices.
It is just that: a choice.
I’ve been me, and I’ve been galavanting in my truth for years.
It’s just always been with and around those who could honor that much.
And if this letter is vague, I’m sorry that I couldn’t be more unapologetic. I hope everyone who hears me loud and clear knows this much: I love you, I love us.
There are no comments, no DMs, no culturally enforced shame, and nothing that could deter me from being able to say that much.
I wrote this because I could, and I felt safe enough to..
My folks understood me and I believe in my family enough to love them enough to give them the gift and honor of learning to love me as I am in this lifetime.
I think they got it.
And I know I’ve got the necessary after-care in place if they don’t. I’ve got a community of support to lean on, a career that offers the financial independence to be okay without the support of family and pathways to medical resources to support mental health help and gender affirming care. Because of this access, not only do I feel safer in coming out, I also feel a responsibility to amplify our voices and affirm the many of us who can’t or might not be able to. It feels that much more important to affirm the validity of those who have been made to feel otherwise. Because I know queerness is universal (it should go without saying) and I know our liberation is bound together. From Palestine to Ferguson, Tigray to Toronto we exist as we always have and our freedom is tied together.
Truthfully, this all started with a friend, a pronoun, and the first line of a song, and it felt necessary to tell the story I want to tell artistically with the proper context. By the time my work is done, it’ll all be there. I hope it makes sense to you then.
I hope you understand that I’ll probably never address questions about what I like, who I like, or why I like whatever it is that I do like.
Personally, I don’t know you like that and it’s rude, tuh. I think the world would be a better place if we cared less about surveillance and policing one another and more about the things that matter – if folks are eating, if they feel safe, if they’ve got a roof over their head or solid community and real friendship around them.
So again, when it’s the middle of the night and someone randomly comes knocking at the doors of your boundaries with questions, remember you actually don’t have to answer them and that this is your house!!!
May our hearts remain inaccessible to the untrained or unopened heart, I love you 🤍
The preceding essay was previously published by GLAAD and is republished with permission. The essay was edited by Black queer filmmaker and screenwriter, Sabaah Folayan.
IDMAN’s current singles “Down For It”, “Good Life”, “Look At What I’m Doing To You” and “Hate” have garnered coverage from outlets such as COMPLEX, The Fader, V Magazine, PAPER, Ladygunn, and have generated over 7 million streams.
Recently crowned one of Amazon’s Breakthrough Artists in 2023 and coming off support slots for both Sampa The Great and Ella Mai, IDMAN’s debut EP Risk arrived this summer. Subsequently, a deluxe version, Risk: Reloaded, was released in August and anchored by a remix of Hate featuring Lojay and Highlyy.
Trans community demands lawmakers end onslaught of attacks
Black and Brown trans people should be able to live as their most authentic self without fear of transphobic violence and discrimination
By Bria Nelson | Lawrence, KS. – I enjoy living in Kansas. Specifically, Lawrence, Kansas, where I can attend a watercolor painting class at the local plant shop on Wednesday, the weekly drag show on Thursday, and a vintage clothing pop-up on Friday. But despite the beauty of the rolling Flint Hills, there is something ugly happening in the place I call home. Growing hostility towards the transgender and non-binary community is being codified through policies and perpetuated through violence that threatens our basic human rights.
Rights activists see such rollbacks of hard-fought progress spreading across the US, and we’re bracing for new attacks that will test the country’s purported commitment to equality. The fight is the most grueling for those of us who are from Black and other marginalized communities.
In the last year, violence claimed the lives of at least 25 transgender and gender non-conforming people in the US, with violence disproportionately affecting Black transgender women. These numbers are most likely underrepresented, as attacks against the LGBTQ+ community often go undocumented.
Black and Brown trans people should be able to live as their most authentic self without fear of transphobic violence and discrimination.
To add to the growing animus, some states chose to attack transgender rights through legislation rather than protect them. This past June, the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, declared a state of emergency after more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in 41 states. Hundreds of these bills specifically targeted transgender people.
Some of these anti-LGBTQ+ bills would limit the ability to update gender information on identity documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates, weaken nondiscrimination laws and protections in employment, and restrict free speech and expression through book and drag performance bans. State bills also attempt to restrict access to medically necessary health care including bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth, prohibit access to public accommodations like public bathrooms, and prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports. While introducing a bill doesn’t mean it will pass, 84 of these draconian measures made it out of committee and have been signed into law.
Even the introduction of these bills perpetuates harmful stigmas and allows misinformation to spread. I have witnessed how harmful the introduction of these bills has been on members of the trans community I am a part of. In Kansas, 14 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced and four were passed into law in the last legislative session. During that time, my trans friends and peers pleaded with conservative lawmakers to respect their dignity and protect their autonomy over their own bodies. Medical experts testified that the mere act of introducing these bills causes great harm to the mental health of transgender people across the state.
One bill, misnamed the Women’s Bill of Rights though it limits protections for transgender women, passed and went into effect on July 1st. In response, LGBTQ+ activists in Lawrence refused to rest until the City Commission enacted a sanctuary city ordinance, increasing protections for trans people. Despite the immense fear transgender people were feeling in this moment, their message rang loud and clear: LGBTQ+ people have the right to live without fear, and we are not going anywhere.
Make no mistake, allowing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to be passed sends a message that legitimizes homophobic and transphobic sentiment.
There are some hopeful signs. Legislation to outlaw the LGBTQ+ panic defense was introduced in nine states as well as in the US House and Senate this year. Under that defense, people charged with violent crime against LGBTQ+ people can get a reduced sentence or evade criminal liability by stating that the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity prompted the violent act.
As violence against the LGBTQ+ community continues to increase, it is important now more than ever for lawmakers in statehouses across the country and for the federal government to strengthen protections for trans people and especially for the most vulnerable members of this community—Black and Brown trans women. Lawmakers should be recognizing and protecting LGBTQ+ people’s equal dignity under the law. Legislators should support active efforts to quell discrimination, like Kansas’s HB 2178, and codify LGBTQ+ protections. The US Government should also meet its human rights obligations to respond to foreseeable threats to life and bodily integrity, and to address patterns of violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
While activists continue to fight for LGBTQ+ liberation, I am reminded to celebrate the small wins. I remain hopeful when I see young LGBTQ+ people organizing and exercising their right to protest in the name of egalitarianism. They remind me that pride is not something solely limited to the month of June, but a badge of honor we always carry with us.
Bria Nelson is a Researcher and Advocate on Racial Justice and Equity Issues with the Human Rights Watch U.S. Program. Bria is an attorney and concentrates their research on racial justice and equity issues across the U.S., with a particular focus on reparations for enslavement and its legacies.
As a movement lawyer, Bria has also worked to mobilize response and advocacy after the public murder of George Floyd, including undergoing an intensive fellowship training program with Law for Black Lives, an organization focused on grounding movements in Black queer feminism, abolition, and anticapitalism.
Now the trans erasure police are coming after theater kids
There is no sane or logical way to rationalize this move. Gender has been completely irrelevant in theater dating to ancient Greece
HOLLYWOOD – A dad’s open letter….
Let’s face it. With transphobic people, it is never “about” what they say it is about. With trans girls participating in sports, they said it was about the inherent physical superiority of male biology to female biology. They said they cared about the “threat” against girls’ sports. They said it was about how creatively ambitious boys were about to take them over. “The women’s issue of our time is the idea that we have biological boys playing in girls sports,” Nikki Haley wailed.
“We wonder why a third of our teen girls seriously contemplated suicide last year,” she then brainlessly pondered over an issue that had nothing to do with trans girls effect.
It is estimated there are about fifty transgender women in college sports, and less than a hundred in all other public education sports. There are approximately 8 million women in college, and 26 million girls in elementary and high school. Do the math. There is literally no problem even if trans women and girls dominated every sport in which they participated, which they don’t.
This is about a concerted effort at erasure. They want trans kids to be invisible, to be not in existence. They are starting with sports, but they are not stopping there.
“First they came for the trans athletes, and I did not speak out…” Now they are coming for… wait for it… the trans theater kids.
In a Los Angeles Blade story Monday, which has since gone viral, it was reported that a Sherman, Texas high schooler has been removed from a production of Oklahoma for being trans. The statement by the Sherman Independent School District is as nonsensical as it is outrageous. “It was brought to the District’s attention that the current production contained mature adult themes, profane language, and sexual content.”
Oklahoma. Rogers and Hammerstein. Rated G everywhere from Australia, to Japan, to the US. Winds howling down the plains, and in full disclosure, “a girl who can’t say no.”
It is about as “adult themed” as trans women are a threat to teen girls, which is to say, not at all. Clearly the only issue Sherman Independent cares about is the casting of the young trans man.
There is no sane or logical way to rationalize this move. Gender has been completely irrelevant in theater dating to ancient Greece, through the Shakespearean era to modern day. Play a drinking game and take a shot over every actor or actress that has played a part other than ones that match their gender “assigned at birth” and you’ll be drunk before you finish reading this article.
Sherman Independent is so blatantly discriminatory that they do not even feign ignorance of this cultural norm. They specifically state that they are only using it as an excuse in this instance. “Because the nature and subject matter of productions vary, the District is not inclined to apply this criteria to all future productions.” Translation: if a cisgender girl wants to play a male part, that is ok. If a transgender boy wants to play a male part, that is forbidden.
Here is my open letter to the administrators of the Sherman Independent School District:
Dear Sherman Independent,
I write this as the dad of two sons already through high school. I write this as a parent who advocated for his kids for 12 years and fought tooth and nail for them to be able to excel and become educated within the freedom to be the best versions of themselves. I know firsthand that trying to educate a child in a way that is foreign to who they are, is a fruitless, and often unwinnable uphill battle.
Speaking as a parent for all parents, I ask this sincerely, please write a new letter to replace the statement you released. This letter can be very simple, and concise. Just write:
“Dear parents. We the administration resign. We are not fit to be trusted with your kids. Not the transgender kids, not the cisgender ones either.”
As a former theater kid myself, I can tell you that participating in one’s high school theater production can be an absolute gift. It can teach you to put yourself in the shoes of another being who is not you. It can teach you empathy. It can teach you to look at the world through someone else’s eyes. Through that experience to explore character, it can teach you who you are.
In high school I played a sailor who dies at sea, I played a villain, and I played Carl Sandburg. I was assigned none of those things at birth. And no one asked to look into my underpants as a condition of my casting.
Clearly, learning empathy, or an ability to look at the world through another’s eyes are lessons you yourself never learned. This alone makes you unqualified to teach kids.
We need to have kids who care about others, who celebrate differences, and thrive on diversity. You cannot teach what you do not know.
You appear to only know how to cave to your own fear. You encounter something new and you seek to erase it. The problem is, too many like you have done that to trans kids, and those kids suffer and end up literally erasing themselves.
They are beautiful, and we cannot have you doing that to them. So, please, go.
Before you go, you might want to catch a rehearsal of the show you cancelled and hear them say this line, “Resilience is woven deeply into the fabric of Oklahoma. Throw us an obstacle, and we grow stronger.”
When you hear it, just know, the same thing can be said of Queer Kids and their allies.
We grow stronger.
Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.
He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.
He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.
He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected]
LGBTQ+ & progressive communities have a Palestine problem
Freedom, equality and dignity are indivisible human rights — they cannot be upheld and protected willy-nilly
By Dorgham Abusalim | WASHINGTON – For 11 excruciating days now, I have been in tears and terrified for the safety of my blind mother, paralyzed father and two siblings in the Gaza Strip.
For 11 days, I have been watching horrific Israeli violence defying humanity while being fully supported by the U.S. — liberals and conservatives alike — with the stated intent of destroying the lives of more than two million people, including my family and loved ones. This intent and the magnitude of the destruction and loss of life make a textbook example of genocide, defined as:
Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
On top of the horror of it all, I have watched dehumanizing misinformation about people in the Gaza Strip being spread like wildfire, only to be debunked and proven false. This includes misinformation spread on social media by several LGBTQIA+ individuals in my social circles here in the District — I thought we were friends, until I saw their Instagram posts cheering on Israel’s violence and the threat it poses to my family.
How could they be so quick to judge? How could they be so quick to throw their progressive values out the window and embrace mass murder of women, men and babies — civilians from all walks of life? What goes through their mind when they consciously choose to propagate the wicked and indiscriminate murder of people so casually?
These and a million other questions have been racing through my mind.
Unlike those morally bankrupt people who are using the tragedy unfolding in the region for fleeting validation and personal gain on social media, those of us most impacted by what’s happening are not playing political football and “gotcha” with the lives of our loved ones. We know and recognize that no one in their right mind would relish this violence. In fact, besides the tragic loss of human life, the other tragedy is that this entire situation was preventable, easily and peacefully preventable. Anyone who has been paying attention to the reality of Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestine — specifically its years-long siege of the Gaza Strip — knows this.
Yet, here we are, at a bloody juncture because of choices made over the course of decades, including the choices of successive administrations here in the U.S. to support and turn a blind eye to Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights and the apartheid regime it imposes on Palestine.
Sadly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, this context is absent from the content dehumanizing Palestinians that many LGBTQIA+ individuals are thoughtlessly sharing on social media.
Worse yet, is the knee-jerk reaction of some LGTBQIA+ people to grossly generalize and reduce the tragedy we are witnessing to plainly stupid points such as: Israel has Tel Aviv Pride. Hamas hates gays. I, therefore, stand with Israel. Points like this makes no sense.
Homophobia in the Gaza Strip, and Palestine generally, is a problem, just like it is a problem in many parts of the U.S. and many countries around the world. It is not a Hamas problem. Meanwhile, the cause of how and why we got to this horrific violence is squarely an Israeli problem: The brutal military occupation and apartheid regime.
Just because Israel hosts an annual Pride parade, it does not mean Israel is a haven for LGBTQIA+ people — certainly not for LGBTQIA+ Palestinians, and certainly not when the Israeli government’s own laws regarding LGBTQIA+ matters is mixed at best. After all, Pride parades are not a measure of a country’s human rights record, which in the case of Israel is abysmal when considering its actions toward Palestine.
LGBTQIA+ posts standing with Israel based on believing in freedom, equality and dignity miss the mark and fail to make any sense when the same freedom, equality, and dignity are not consistently applied and extended to human beings everywhere, including Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The only way such posts could make sense is by completely removing the humanity of Palestinians — a hateful and repugnant offense.
Freedom, equality and dignity are indivisible human rights — they cannot be upheld and protected willy-nilly, unless the intent is to discriminate and dehumanize. One is either for them or against them — there is no middle ground or cherry picking.
So, if you are reading this and have shared content supporting Israel and stripping Palestinians of their humanity over the past 11 days, which can very well harm my family, I ask that you stop and remember, at the end of the day, as LGBTQIA+ people, we know what it’s like to feel unsafe in our own skin, to be stripped of our humanity for no other reason than existing as we are. That’s what Palestinians like me and my family are experiencing now and have been enduring for years and years.
It is, therefore, incumbent on all of us to make sure that humanity — the same humanity we fight for in the advocacy for our rights and safety as LGBTQIA+ people — prevails so that we can see better days ahead.
Anything less would be a betrayal of our humanity and a blatant display of hypocrisy and warmongering.
If you cannot find it in your heart to simply stop and think before blindly signing up for genocide with an “I stand with Israel” post, your hatred, ignorance and unwillingness are part of the problem that got us to this horrific violence to begin with.
Dorgham Abusalim is a writer and communications professional based in Washington D.C.. Originally from the Gaza Strip, Palestine, Abusalim completed his high school education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by earning his bachelor’s degree from the College of Idaho here in the U.S. and his master’s degree from the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland.
Time to end progressive LGBTQ+ organizations’ hypocrisy against Israel
Palestinian aggression cannot stand
BY LIOR HALABI | I went back to Israel, my birthplace, to be with family and walked into a nightmare. The ruthless slaughter of over 1,200 Israelis by the Hamas terror group left an indelible mark that intertwines with my decade-long journey as an LGBTQ activist. Being face-to-face with such brutal conflict brings up a lot of feelings and makes me think hard about the tough position of fighting for human rights while surrounded by suffering and war.
We must stand up for our freedom, across every country, echoing as a desperate call among the pain and chaos flooding Israel. I won’t travel to Arabic or anti-LGBTQ countries like Jamaica or Lebanon, and not a penny of my money earned as a gay activist will go to them. I expect the same understanding from U.S. LGBTQ activists: Recognizing that extremist Islam is a big threat to our rights. Moreover, I can’t stand by our community acting against a light of LGBTQ freedom in a region often against such freedoms, especially when recent attacks have shown us the harsh truth of Palestinian aggression against Israel.
Despite the dark situation for gay Palestinians who face legal and social abuse and even murder by Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, some U.S. left-wing and LGBTQ groups bizarrely still support the Free Palestine group. This group, while calling for Israel’s destruction, allows the abuse of its own LGBTQ people.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard LGBTQ advocates draw parallels between the rights of Palestinians and LGBTQ rights. This hypocrisy needs to end today! I will personally make sure from now on that no LGBTQ organization will associate LGBTQ rights with the geopolitical intricacies between Israel and Palestine.
Moving ahead, I expect LGBTQ rights organizations to clearly support Israel and also push for the progress and protection of LGBTQ rights within its borders.
Support for Israel and the Jewish nation should happen without stirring up hatred toward Palestinians. Those against Israel, using propaganda that echoes Nazi messages, spread a dangerous and historically heavy discussion and must be met with strong opposition. Our advocacy must stay fair, informed and away from fake Palestinian stories that sow hatred.
What we saw this week are the terrible outcomes of a war that the Palestinians and their terror groups started against our democratic country. Israel will win this war. It is also crucial that LGBTQ organizations rethink and reshape their agenda, understanding the many layers of geopolitical fights and ensuring their advocacy stays informed, fair and truly represents the justice and equality principles they claim to stand for.
Lior Halabi is an experienced entrepreneur with a potent blend of political communications and marketing expertise who is deeply committed to community building and creating impactful change. After his service in the Israeli military and substantial contributions to Israeli politics, particularly in advocating for LGBTQ rights, He transitioned to Miami and established Share Media, a successful PR and marketing agency. His adept skills in management and marketing, as well as his dedication to uplifting and unifying communities, drove his candidacy to represent District 2 on the Miami City Commission in 2023.
With his Jewish heritage; Israeli background and immigrant experience, Lior aims to empower and unite minority groups, utilizing his rich experiences in both the political and entrepreneurial realms.
Amid unspeakable violence, silence isn’t an option
Hamas militants launched surprise attack on Israel on Saturday
Most mornings, we wake from our dreams. But on Oct. 7, Israelis and all who support them awoke to a nightmare. Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, viciously attacked Israel by land, sea and air, on the Sabbath and a Jewish holiday. Hundreds of Israelis have been murdered, thousands more are injured, and many others have been taken hostage. This horrifying act of violence is personal to all Israelis, and to many other Americans, including me.
The very real issues that have caused division recently seem distant today — and even trivial — while our friends in Israel are locked in safe rooms, listening to sirens blaring and rockets exploding overhead.
Hamas’s attack was brutal, calculated and designed to inflict the maximum physical harm to the maximum number of innocent civilians. There is devastating emotional harm to ordinary Israelis. Hamas murdered elderly people in the street. They pulled families from their homes, including young children, and are keeping them hostage. They paraded young people and the elderly, dead and alive, through the streets of Gaza. The echoes of the past are deafening.
Dear friends of ours are in deep trauma right now. Funerals are happening. The injured are suffering. We are all distraught with worry about those who have been abducted. Their pictures fill our social media feed.
Please hear the pain that our friends and family are experiencing. And do something.
Many of us have condemned atrocities in Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar, Iran and elsewhere. We have taken action, lobbied and posted our opinions online. While this may feel like just another hopeless horror in the world, please don’t be silent now. This is not a “both sides” situation.
Whatever the grievances of Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, this is an unprovoked act of war that will cause boundless suffering and devastation to everyone involved. There is no calculation by which this terror brings us any closer to peace or justice.
Sadly, this type of escalation and violence isn’t new. Since its founding, Israel has never known a day without threats to its very existence.
I know that many around the world look at Israel as a powerful player. Those who know Israelis well, and I hope every reader has had the opportunity to know some Israelis, recognize a different calculus. Israelis may be grateful for military strength, but they’ve always known that very powerful forces are aligned against it. Israelis feel that keenly right now. And those who connect with Israel, who have visited, or have friends and family there feel that now as well.
Your voice matters — on social media, in articles and op-eds and in your everyday conversations. Many people who are close to Israel feel isolated and unsafe, including in the LGBTQ community.
I can just imagine the pain that college students must be feeling on campuses where their connection to Israel is used against them. The country they love, and perhaps loved ones who live there, are under attack. Will they feel safe to share their pain without inviting harm from others? Can they come to queer spaces to find support? I am thinking in particular about what happened recently at Rice University. The leading LGBTQ group there decided to boycott the school’s leading Jewish group. Rice PRIDE falsely branded Hillel International as hostile to Palestinians — and singled out the main Jewish group on campus, Rice Hillel, for a boycott. In effect, Rice PRIDE was acting out a version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using LGBTQ Jewish students as a proxy to demonstrate opposition to the Israeli government.
This discriminatory act, like many others on other campuses and across parts of the LGBTQ community, leaves LGBTQ Jews feeling they have to choose between their LGBTQ and their Jewish identities — especially since national identity and connection to Israel is so deeply woven into how many Jews experience our faith. Imagine the isolation they feel on that campus, having once had a close partnership between the Pride and Hillel groups. Now imagine this against the rising tide of antisemitism and LGBTQphobia in our broader society.
It’s a daunting situation for these students, made even more acute and devastating after this latest outbreak of violence in Israel.
Imagine instead how those same students and other LGBTQ Jews might feel knowing that there are LGBTQ people who stand with them? That the LGBTQ community recognizes that it is wrong to ask people to put a core part of their identity into a closet in order to be accepted for another part of their identity? None of us should be forced to choose like that.
Much of what happens around the world can feel out of our control, and it’s easy to feel like our actions can’t possibly make a difference. Now is the time to put one foot in front of the other and take action on the things we can change. Standing in solidarity with LGBTQ Jews is one concrete action we all can take together.
May the coming days bring peace, justice, and understanding to Israel, the region, and all of us around the world as we deal with this violent and dangerous moment.
Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization that builds a strong relationship between the LGBTQ communities in North America and Israel, advances LGBTQ inclusion in Israel, advocates for justice, counters LGBTQphobia and fights antisemitism and other forms of hatred.
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