More Sniping in the Gay Center’s Battle of Zion (Village Voice, 3.15.11)

More Sniping in the Gay Center’s Battle of Zion

By Steven Thrasher

Village Voice

15 March 2011

Michael Lucas, the pro-Zionist pornographer who led the successful effort to get the LGBT Center to cancel an anti-Zionist “Israeli Apartheid Week” event, once again dominated discussion at what was billed a “community forum” last weekend on who gets to use the Center.

The spirited, standing-room-only crowd, on the other hand, appeared to consist mostly of Lucas’s foes: supporters of Siege Busters, an activist group that was trying to put on the anti-Zionist event.

At the heart of the debate was the right to free speech for anyone renting space in the Center versus the right of donors to have their say about who gets to use the space. That argument is far from settled.

A large number of those present seemed to feel uncomfortable allowing the Center to decide what is or is not “too controversial” or “gay enough.” Some said they’d feel uncomfortable coming to a Center where a group using the words “Israeli Apartheid” was allowed to meet. But more said they had met at the Center for years around “non-gay” issues like war, the death penalty, and South African apartheid.

Some of the loudest applause of the night came when a speaker said they wanted a Center where both Michael Lucas could rent space to host an event to discuss his side of things, and Siege Busters could host an event to discuss their side.

Glennda Testone, the Center’s executive director, tried to mollify the crowd, explaining that Siege Busters, the sponsor of the planned “Party to End Apartheid,” was ejected because they were deemed too distracting from the Center’s “core mission” and that they were not “LGBT-focused.” She claimed that, for example, a queer Palestinian group — controversial politics and all — would be welcome at the Center, but even members of her board of directors who were at the meeting contradicted her on that.

Some speakers claimed that some groups, in light of the Siege Busters flap, no longer want to meet at the Center, which they said has long been under the control of white, wealthy people.

The restless audience also wanted know what Siege Busters had done to get kicked out after having had other meetings there over several months, and which other events had ever been canceled by Center officials. Testone said a handful of events had not been allowed at the Center over the years, including a NAMBLA event in 1989. But other speakers, including representatives of the Audre Lord Project, said that transgender causes have not always been welcome at the Center.

Reporter Andy Humm tried strongly to pin Testone down for a plan determining access to the Center, saying anything less would be a “tragedy.” But Testone wouldn’t be pinned down. She claimed that it would be presumptive of her to lay out a plan before she received “input” from the forum.

The weekend event had been billed as an open community forum, but Center officials made it very clear up front that it wouldn’t be open enough to allow people to vent about Palestine and politics. As transgender activist Pauline Park pointed out, the Center’s decision to cancel Siege Busters’ event was already a way of choosing sides.

A member of Siege Busters made a motion to read an opening statement, and though the audience voted to hear it, the Siege Busters rep was not allowed to speak until 80 minutes into the meeting. And, despite moderator Ann Northrup’s assurance that everyone in the room would be allowed to talk once before anyone spoke a second time, Michael Lucas spoke five or six times, more than anyone else in the room but Testone.

When Lucas spoke, he often riled everybody, most notably when he said that all Jews identify with Israel (which made Jewish members of Siege Busters boo) and when he provocatively asked, “What would you do without our money?” (which made even one of the staunchest Zionists in the crowd yell, “Michael, you’re not helping us!”)

Testone, downplaying the role of donors in the Center’s decision to cancel the event, tried to convince the crowd that she’d never spoken to Lucas until late last week. She kept reiterating that the cancellation wasn’t just due to controversy, but due to Siege Busters’ lack of LGBT focus.

But Tom Kirdahy, the board’s at-large member of the executive committee, said that he voted to cancel the event because he believed letting the group meet there would prove “unsafe” for vulnerable LGBT users of the center, such as those in recovery programs. Board President Mario Palumbo (who stressed that he’s half-Lebanese and that the board is not overwhelmed with Israel supporters) said that he voted to eject the group because they were not LGBT-focused and because they had used the word “apartheid” in their activity. This undercut Testone’s claims that a queer Palestinian group would be allowed to be controversial.

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