Don’t let them take our Pride away

Ethan Felson, executive director of A Wider Bridge.
Ethan Felson, executive director of A Wider Bridge.
Ethan Felson

The right to peaceably assemble is guaranteed in the US Constitution. Having organized and participated in many protests over the years, I cherish this right to come together and call attention to injustice and human rights violations around the globe, from violations of LGBTQ rights, hate crimes, poverty and reproductive freedom, to HIV/AIDS. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I appreciate that the right to protest has long been at the core of our movement narrative. But there are lines, and today, they are being crossed.

Many of the protests against Israel are veering from constitutionally-protected speech to criminal activity — much of which is deliberately intended to intimidate and terrorize.

The vandalism at the homes of the director and several board members of the Brooklyn Museum put this campaign into full view. First, anti-Israel protesters stormed the museum, forcing its closure for an hour and depriving the public of access to this treasured institution. There were numerous arrests for assaulting staff and police, as well as for damaging art and other museum property. The museum felt it had no option other than to bring in law enforcement when protestors refused to disperse. They needed to protect their precious collection and reopen their building to the public.

Their punishment for calling the police? Five masked vandals spray-painted vile and threatening graffiti on the homes of four museum leaders. This is akin to putting a horsehead in each of their beds.

Community institutions are being told they must condemn Israeli “genocide,” divest from Israel, end partnerships, remove Jews from leadership in connected to our homeland, and reject “suspect” sponsors and contributors, or face consequences. As we’ve seen, consequences can include a museum being invaded, a Pride march interrupted, a graduation protested, a theater performance disrupted, a building blockaded.

And if they don’t allow the disruption and vandalism, their leaders will be targeted where they live — where their families sleep. It’s a threatening sign to them, and to anyone else who does not capitulate to their demands that their homes and families will be targeted..

We need to call out this behavior — which goes far beyond protesting — and stop it before it engulfs our civil society in fear and chaos.

I feel a personal stake in the attack on the museum director. We grew up together, and our mothers and grandmothers were very close friends. I know her to be a highly skilled curator and leader. Importing the war in Gaza to bring personal harm to her is an act of vile intimidation against her as an individual, and also against any civic leader who does not accede to the demands of those who feel they can substitute their hatred of Jews and Israel for the values of seasoned communal leaders. It is also an effort to terrorize every civic leader, who now must fear their homes and families will be subject to vandalism and even violence if they do not toe the line drawn by protestors.

Many of those coordinating protests now instruct their followers to wear masks so their faces cannot be captured on video, enabling them to evade arrest for their criminal behavior. This is being promoted under the pretext of COVID protection.

Not every person who attends a protest or advances a list of demands endorses this appalling behavior. Most don’t. But the vast majority of protesters stand in silence as people of good will and the fine institutions they serve are attacked for not caving into demands.

We are halfway through Pride Month. Already, a few Pride parades have been blocked by protests. Jews at Pride events have been taunted. Pride organizations have been pressured to condemn Israel, with an explicit or implicit threat of consequences.

As LGBTQ people, we already have much to deal with. Pride season is supposed to be a time to celebrate the rich diversity of LGBTQ identities and communities. All this comes at a time when our trans family is being forced back into the closet by legislation and demonization, when the insulting term “groomer” has been normalized to brand LGBTQ people as pedophiles, when certain Supreme Court justices appear to be setting the stage for eliminating our right to marry whomever we love.

Against this backdrop, the effort to hijack — yes, hijack — Pride events is an outrage. People with a passion for helping Palestinians should carry signs that express that concern using a language of love and not hate. They should press their demands with elected officials and others. But they should also reject criminal pressure tactics that take Pride away from all of us.

Shutting down a parade, party, or other Pride event takes something away from all of us.

Don’t let them take our Pride away!

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge