After some activists protested a Jewish organization hosting the National LGBTQ Task Force’s opening reception for its annual Creating Change Conference this weekend, organizers abruptly cancelled the event.
But when other activists and groups protested that decision the Task Force quickly reversed course and un-cancelled the event.
“I have decided to reverse our decision to cancel the ‘Beyond the Bridge’ reception hosted by A Wider Bridge with guest speakers from the Jerusalem Open House,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the Task Force. “It is our belief that when faced with choices, we should move towards our core value of inclusion and opportunities for constructive dialogue and canceling the reception was a mistake.”
But that’s not what Carey said the day before.
“We cancelled the reception when it became clear to us it would be intensely divisive rather than the community-building, social atmosphere which is the norm for Friday night at the conference,” wrote Carey, in a prepared statement. “While we welcome robust discourse and political action, given the complexity and deep passions on all sides, we concluded the event wouldn’t be productive or meet the stated goals of its organizers. We also have the overarching responsibility to ensure that Creating Change is a safe space for attendees.”
SFGN sought clarification on what the organization meant by “safe space.” The Task Force did not respond.
A Wider Bridge blasted the initial decision.
“…it is both sad and disgraceful that the organizers of Creating Change decided that there is no place for us in this significant gathering of LGBT leaders from around the U.S. and the world. The Israeli LGBTQ community has something important to add to the global conversation about LGBTQ rights,” wrote Arthur Slepian, Executive Director of AWB. “We are saddened by what appears to be capitulation to the intimidation of a small number of anti-Israel extremists who want to shut down the voices of those who don’t adhere to their rigid and exclusive party line. As LGBTQ people, we are all too familiar with being oppressed through shaming, the closet, and imposed silence, and we see great danger in allowing this kind of censorship and blatant double standard to become the norm in our community.”
The Task Force has deep roots in South Florida being the hosts of the annual Winter Party that takes place in March in Miami. Last year, for the first time in its 22-year history, the event raised more than $1 million, with reportedly 13,000 people attending.
Hava Holzhauer, the Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, commended the Task Force’s reversal.
“We’re very pleased to see they reversed their course and took responsibility for the decision in the first place. We really have to commend task force leadership engaging in this process to change their mind,” Holzhauer told SFGN. “This is a reminder of what makes the Task Force a very important partner [in the fight for] for full freedom and justice for all in the LGBTQ community.”
Tarab NYC, an LGBT Middle Eastern group in the New York City area, was one of the major groups that called for the initial cancellation of the of the opening reception. But that’s not all they wanted. They’ve updated their demands since the reversal.
- The Creating Change conference re-cancel the reception, and release a public statement attesting to why the reception hosted by A Wider Bridge should be cancelled (specifically, as a move to counter pinkwashing and Zionist efforts in solidarity with the Palestinian people).
- The Creating Change conference commit to opposing future efforts that promote Zionism and pinkwashing of the illegal occupation of Palestine–whether those efforts appear in workshops, caucuses, plenaries, organizational sponsorships, and more.
- The National LGBTQ Task Force publicly endorse the Palestinian right of return and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Pinkwashing” is a term describing a public relations strategy that uses Israel's good record on LGBT rights to deflect from its treatment of the Palestinians.
The Creating Change Conference takes place January 20-24 in Chicago and is sponsored by and organized by the Task Force. The annual event, now in its 28th year, is described on its website as “the pre-eminent political, leadership and skills-building conference for the LGBT social justice movement.”
This isn’t the first cancellation of this year’s conference. Last week the Task Force cancelled a panel that included representatives of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the Washington Blade they were scheduled to speak about the detention of LGBT immigrants.
“We know the decision to accept a proposal from ICE for a session at our Creating Change Conference was the wrong decision and that it has caused hurt and pain to communities and individuals we deeply care about. The decision also could have created a situation where the conference would not have felt like a safe space — a vitally important component of what makes the conference special — for undocumented immigrants, immigration activists and allies,” Carey wrote in a prepared statement. “Our commitment to immigrant rights and reform has never wavered, but we know community trust in our commitment has been damaged. We appreciate being held accountable and look forward to continuing this work with immigrant rights colleagues and activists.”
At last year’s event Denver Mayor Michael Hancock cancelled his appearance after a group stormed the stage in protest of a recent police shooting that killed a trans teenager. The mayor’s office told media outlets "protesters were unlikely to let Mayor Hancock deliver his speech."