The Creating Change conference has a special place in my heart. Presented by the National LGBTQ Task Force, Creating Change is the largest annual gathering of LGBTQ activists, leaders, and organizers in the country. It’s a space where LGBTQ people can rejoice in our common identities, celebrate our diversity, find refuge from the homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia of the world, strategize with and learn from each other, and recharge ourselves to continue the fight for equality. Creating Change is a place that nourishes the soul, and I’ve loved it ever since I attended my first conference many years ago.
That’s why it so deeply hurt my heart to see this year’s Creating Change conference being hijacked by anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
On Thursday, January 24 in Detroit, a group of disruptors stormed the stage at Creating Change during the opening plenary and held it for 15 uninterrupted minutes, voicing anti-Semitic tropes and chanting “from the river to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” a dog whistle calling for the elimination of the Jewish state. And sadly, this isn’t even the first time that this happened: at the 2016 Creating Change conference in Chicago, protestors chanting the same hateful, anti-Semitic things shut down a reception hosted by the LGBTQ pro-Israel organization A Wider Bridge. In both cases the Task Force made no effort to stop the protests, push back on the dangerous falsehoods being spread by the protesters, sufficiently acknowledge the pain and breach of safety that they caused for many Jewish LGBTQ attendees and their allies, or take meaningful steps to prevent such incidents from happening again.
It hurts to see this conference, which strives to be welcoming to all members of our LGBTQ community, look the other way at prejudice against certain members of our community.
It’s sad to see the Task Force, an organization that I have long supported and held in high esteem, fail to live up to their professed values of diversity and inclusion. As progressives, that commitment to diversity and inclusion cannot have exceptions. It must cover all members of our community, including our Jewish and Israeli siblings, or that commitment is worthless — lip service and nothing more.
Anti-Semitism is creeping into progressive communities, and it’s high time for all of us to stand up to it. We can’t minimize it, we can’t sweep it under the rug, and we can’t look the other way. We must confront it head-on and resolutely declare that there is no place for this kind of prejudice in the progressive movement, in the LGBTQ community or anywhere else. Anti-Jewish bigotry, like every form of bigotry, is a cancer that must be excised from our midst. Explicitly repudiating it, and all who espouse it, shouldn't be difficult. In fact, we have a fundamental obligation to do so.
To the Task Force: stemming this rising tide of anti-Semitism is part of the change we need to create. I challenge you to do better.
First, the Task Force needs to offer a full public apology. Second, the Israeli/Palestinian content ban, which was implemented after the anti-Semitic incident at the 2016 Creating Change conference, needs to revisited. (It is creating more pressure and silencing rather than mitigating the conflict.) Third, the Task Force needs to recognize that it’s one thing to oppose the actions of the Israeli government, but entirely another to oppose Israel’s fundamental right to exist. Whether or not one supports the Israeli government at any given time, the state of Israel itself is inextricable from the Jewish people. Language that calls for the elimination of the Jewish state must be unequivocally condemned, and steps must be taken so that all LGBTQ Jews feel welcomed and included at Creating Change.
To my fellow progressive activists: this incident at Creating Change should serve as a wake-up call that we cannot sit idly by while anti-Semitism infects our communities. Even if you’re personally opposed to anti-Semitism, if you're not actively speaking out and pushing back against it, you are not doing enough — because silence equals consent. And we cannot afford to be silent any longer.
JOHN BECKER is an LGBT activist, writer, and blogger.
Task Force executive director Rea Carey released the following statement to The Advocate:
“We are aware that some have expressed concerns about protests at Creating Change, including the protest on Thursday regarding Israel and Palestine.
As we have before, the National LGBTQ Task Force firmly condemns anti-Semitism. We firmly condemn Islamophobia. We firmly condemn attacks on each other’s humanity. The perpetuation of white supremacy is harmful to all. There are a number of misunderstandings and misinformation being thrown around. As Kierra said Thursday night, we want and appreciate all feedback, and part of being in community together means holding each other as we evolve. We are committed to staying in respectful conversation as we move forward towards Creating Change 2020. For your feedback, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.”