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Voices

Rauda Morcos

Rauda Morcos

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After she was outed by a national magazine, Rauda Morcos, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, became the most visible lesbian in both that country and in Palestine, where the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas recently took power. Morcos, a 32-year-old Haifa resident, cofounded Aswat ("Voices" in Arabic) in 2003 as a safe space for Palestinian lesbian women to meet and empower themselves. This month the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is honoring her work.

How difficult is it to be gay or lesbian in Palestine? Have you found any other place in the world which is easy to be gay and lesbian? [Laughs] Every time I think there is a place where to be gay is easy, something happens that shocks me how homophobic the world is. Not only homophobic but racist, chauvinistic, unfair, unjust. I'm so pessimistic right now. You called me [after] a demonstration where I almost cried, hearing slogans and seeing children running in the street, calling, "We want Palestine free." For a Palestinian person, the main threat is the Israeli army.

So the fact of occupation is more important than gay rights at the moment? For the West Bankers and Gaza Strip people, before even starting to deal with women's rights and gay rights, the first thing is human rights and the Israeli occupation. We're talking about a community that hasn't had a chance to develop themselves as a society. So for me, putting the issue of homosexuality on the Palestinian societal agenda was a huge step and a huge challenge. With my personal struggle and the collective struggle of Aswat, we have really succeeded to put that issue [there].

But still you must face many obstacles. Last month a woman told me, "But you know that Palestinians are considered really backward on the issue of homosexuality and women's rights." I told her, "What is backward? Backward to whom? Are we comparing the Middle East, the Arab community, to the Western world? This is not a fair comparison." She said, "Why?" I said, "Because you're comparing our scale to your scale without really taking into consideration if we have our own scale." I think that this is something that maybe Aswat is starting to do by creating our own language.

Is that your goal, to offer a sense of camaraderie and support, not to mention visibility? I want to reach every woman in our community and just tell her that she's not alone, that she's OK. I think for many gays and lesbians, sometimes they're living in a place where they think they're the only ones and they're probably freaks. That's the main goal for me: to be out, to be active, and to continue my own struggle and our collective struggle as Aswat. I will give you a simple example: Me and my partner, we have the radio always on one Arabic channel, and last week there was a youth program on and they were discussing homosexuality. The question was, "What if your brother or sister is gay, what would you do?" The people who were calling to respond were horrible, so I decided to call. I said what I had to say, not only as Aswat but just as a person. They of course recognized me and had a lot of questions to ask.

Being so well-known must be hard. I want to be nobody sometimes. But it's OK. I hope that something good comes out of it. Yesterday I was in Jerusalem, sitting with a friend of mine, and she said, "Well, I have to tell you, a guy that called to the Jerusalem Open House [an LGBT center], he heard you on the radio and he knew how to search for a place for him. He said he was thinking he was sick, and when he heard this [radio] program, he had the courage to call and to find the group that he can belong to."

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