Responding to Israel Flap, LGBT Center Announces Mar. 13 Community Forum

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | In the wake of an emotional debate pitting the LGBT Community Center and defenders of Israel against critics of the Jewish state’s treatment of Palestinians living in the territory it controls and other community members concerned about the cancellation of a fundraising party those critics had planned at the West 13th Street facility, the Center is now planning a “Community Forum” on Sunday, March 13 at 5 p.m.

The event, which a Center statement described as “a chance to talk, listen, and be heard,” will be hosted by executive director Glennda Testone and other senior staff.

The controversy emerged on February 22 when the Center announced it would not allow Siege Busters, a group raising funds for a new flotilla to challenge the Israeli navy’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in conjunction with Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an internationally coordinated protest, to hold an event originally scheduled for March 5. Testone also stated the group would no longer be given meeting space at the Center, as it had regularly since last summer.

Dispute over pro-Palestinian event cancellation continues, Jewish state’s critics plan Mar. 5 protest on W. 13th St.

A statement from Testone explained that opposition to the March 5 fundraiser had begun “to distract from our core mission” and that Siege Busters and the event were not “LGBT-focused.”

The role of Michael Lucas, an adult gay video producer with a history of inflammatory statements regarding Muslims, in threatening a donor boycott of the Center raised particular ire among Siege Busters members and supporters.

As of the morning of March 4, roughly 1,500 people had signed an online petition criticizing the Center’s cancellation decision –– attributing it to “pressure from wealthy supporters of Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies,” demanding the event be reinstated, and zeroing in on what they called Lucas’ “odious lie” that its organizers are anti-Semitic.

The debate that blew up over the past ten days has spawned charges not only of anti-Semiticism, but also Islamophobia, censorship, and abandonment of the Center’s long-standing tradition of inclusivity.

The Center’s announcement of the March 13 forum followed by one day failed negotiations between its top staff and representatives of Siege Busters about the possibility of holding a town hall meeting the evening of March 5 at the time the IAW fundraiser had initially been planned.

According to Brad Taylor of Siege Busters, the Center initially proposed that the meeting bar the use of video cameras and recording devices by participants, though both he and Cindi Creager, a Center spokeswoman, said that point remained negotiable when talks between the two sides broke off.

Creager explained the proposed bar on electronic recording devices was aimed at creating an environment where the LGBT “family” could come together for a frank discussion.

The March 13 event will include no limitations on videotaping, photography, or reporting. Media representatives in attendance, however, are asked to register with the Center prior to the start of the forum.

Taylor said Siege Busters and other groups affiliated with IAW would not endorse the forum or formally attend in their organizational capacities, though he added individual members would certainly be on hand.

Siege Busters, he said, concluded that the March 2 negotiations were fruitless once his group realized the Center would not agree to reinstate the March 5 event or provide clarification of what ground rules the Center will apply going forward in allowing access to the facilities there.

Taylor said Siege Busters is demanding that the March 5 be rescheduled immediately and that the group be guaranteed meeting space going forward as the Center works to formalize its access policies.

He charged that Center staff at the March 2 negotiation betrayed a “demeanor” indicating they knew they had made a mistake, but were clearly unwilling to acknowledge so publicly.

“They need to apologize,” Taylor said, “but will not do so now.”

Siege Busters has announced plans for a protest outside the Center at 6:30 p.m. on March 5, when the fundraiser had originally been scheduled.