The New York LGBT Center was thrust into national headlines in 2011 when it abruptly cancelled a scheduled End Israeli Apartheid meeting.
Pro-Israeli advocates (including porn producer Michael Lucas) insisted the series was anti-Semitic, while those supporting the event claimed the Center had caved to Lucas and influential pro-Israeli donors—and was guilty of “pinkwashing,” i.e. promoting Israel’s support of its gay community to distract from other human-rights violations.
As a result, the Center issued a “moratorium” on any events addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—from either side.
Well, someone didn’t get the memo: This week lesbian novelist-historian Sarah Schulman was scheduled to do a reading from her new book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International.
That is, until the center abruptly canceled the event.
Schulman (right) was not happy, to say the least. She told Buzzfeed:
It seems that they hold cliched and stereotyped beliefs about punitive rich Jews who will pull out their Jew-money if anyone criticizes Israel, and it was this misguided prejudice that lead them to defensively ban any criticism of Israel.
I know it sounds insane, but I honestly think that that is what happened. A weird kind of anti-Semitism combined with a profound lack of intelligence and integrity.
In the wake of even more public outcry, the Center has now lifted its ban. On Friday, Center director Glennda Testone released a statement that read, in part:
In 2011 the Center was thrust into a controversy involving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict about which we took no position, but were forced to expend significant resources to address. This controversy placed substantial strains on management resources and front line staff, and created an environment that interfered with our ability to assist those in our community who needed our services.
In response, we imposed a moratorium on renting space to groups that organize on all sides of this conflict, which, while itself controversial, allowed things to cool down and gave us time to rethink the Center’s space use policies.
Our resulting Space Use Guidelines, Terms and Conditions will govern the use of our space going forward, and, accordingly, the moratorium is no longer in effect. The Center does not endorse the views of any groups to which it rents space. We adamantly believe in and defend free speech and the open exchange of ideas, but we deplore the rhetoric of hate and bigotry.
The decision has left both sides unhappy: Supporters of Schulman and the Palestinian cause see the reversal as a lame attempt to save face. On the other side are those who felt an LGBT community center is not the place to get into a debate on international politics.
Their number include members of the New York City Council (including openly gay Speaker Christine Quinn) who issued a joint statement:
We categorically reject attempts by any organization to use the Center to delegitimize Israel and promote an anti-Israel agenda.
We adamantly oppose any and all efforts to inappropriately inject the Center into politics that are not the core of their important mission.
What do you think: Does an LGBT center have the obligation to vet who rents its space to make sure they’re on-message?