East End Gay Pride Cancelled

The East End Gay Pride has been cancelled after revelations of its involvement with the English Defense League.

for more information see: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2011/03/15/east-end-pride-organiser-resigns-after-english-defence-league-past-is-revealed/


Cancel East End Gay Pride

I want to express my support to the Safra Project’s and Bent Bars Collective’s
call for a cancellation of the upcoming East End Gay Pride. Organizers of this Pride event – to be held in East End, London – are supporting the presence of the English Defense League. This organization is well known for its islamophobic, violent and racist agenda. Last year, the English Defense League organized a march in Amsterdam to show their support for the leader of the Dutch PVV, Geert Wilders, who is on trial for hate speech and inciting violence against Muslims. This racist, islamophobic and nationalist politician is gaining more and more support, also within the white Dutch LGTB community. This complicity is a form of violence that not only becomes apparent through the alignments with the EDL or the PVV, but also other forms of queer and LGTB organizing.

When the EDL came to Amsterdam last year, Amsterdam’s communities marched against its presence. They were not welcome then and should not be welcomed and integrated in this Gay Pride Event. And next to that, speaking out against other gentrifying, violent and exclusive shapes and faces of Pride Events is all the more needed.

I applaud the Safra Project, Decolonize Queer Collective and the Bent Bars Collectives’ important call for cancellation and their ongoing work in addressing and creating opportunities for cross community work. Show your support at  http://www.safraproject.org/index.html and http://www.co-re.org/joomla/index.php/bent-bars-news and http://www.decolonizequeer.org/?page_id=2) and leave a comment

Start With Amsterdam!

 Start With Amsterdam!

An Alternative Statement on the Sexual Nationalisms Conference

27-28 February 2011

By Mikki Stelder

The Opening Panel

“This is the most fucked up conference I have ever been to,” says Professor Jasbir K. Puar at the closing panel of the conference Sexual Nationalisms, held at the University of Amsterdam on the 27th and the 28th of January 2011. She responds to the way which the conference is revealing of many problematic trends in academia concerning the politics of speech, silence, and representation. The aim of the conference was to discuss “current” configurations of Lesbian-Gay-Trans-Bisexual (LGTB) politics in relation to interconnecting realities of globalization, neocolonialisms and increasing nationalisms. The critique of sexual nationalisms, or rather homonationalism, as Puar coined it, is “not a synonym for gay racism and conservatism,” it is intertwined with a critique of broader structures of racism, neoliberalism and class exclusion that are at the core of these homonationalist configurations. Homonationalism is often set aside as a synonym for gay racism and a conservative politics, but taking an interest in reading Puar’s work it becomes clear that homonationalism and nationalism are no longer categories that belong to the political right. Homonationalism has found its way into a liberal queer politics that espouses a skewed version of liberation that depends on the continued exclusion of racialized-queered others.

The decision for the conference title sexual nationalism and not homonationalism was very revealing of the way in which the conference implicitly appropriated the work of Puar. The opening remarks at the conference assigned the concept of sexual nationalism, and in extension homonationalism itself to one of its PhD Candidates. The choice of renaming this concept and presenting it as a new invention, without revealing the purposes, erases previous labor by predominantly queer and feminist scholars and activists of color invested. The term “sexual nationalism” was heralded as an invention by a PhD-student from the University of Amsterdam, Paul Mepschen, who is one of the organizers of the conference. It was therefore embarrassing that the person who coined the term, Jasbir Puar, was actually sitting next to Mepschen during the opening comments. The concept of “sexual nationalism” already in the first five minutes of the conference, was wrongly introduced, while the person who developed the concept was present at the conference.

Language and Structure

A large part of the conference copied the same structures of exclusion it purported to lay bare. Not only was it dominated by white men from the European Union, the United States or Israel (which I will get back to later), moreover this academic conference seems to have forgotten that this stream of thought has been developed inside activist circles and emerged as a queer of color critique (both in the academia and in activist circles). The politics of the microphone revealed that people of color and white people who looked too “activist-like,” were told to keep it brief, while most space for speech was reserved for the established academics and middle aged, white, (gay) men and (although in smaller proportions) women. When the organizers were critiqued by the scholars who were tokenized by the conference to enhance its image of “diversity,” the organizers were quick enough to blame those same scholars for the lack of diversity by stating: “we wanted to be more diverse, but they did not show up.” There was a lot of third person speech that was not carefully evaluated by the people using this speech; trans people were almost always referred to in the third person, leaving no room for first person accounts; and, sex workers were being reduced to one objective category of interrogation independent of where, what, how and who was being referred to. Africa remained in the speech of some white scholars a huge, elusive “country”, reifying the chain of connecting negative features to this “country” that apparently needs to be rescued by an imperialist force, implying that this “country” is less progressive and modern than its Western counterparts. Questions on methodology were refuted by responses such as “but I am in the middle of it all,” performing the spectacle of neutrality and claiming the position of the distant observer common in certain strands of Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam.

The Closing Panel

The closing panel of the conference was marked by the absence of two scholars, Jin Haritaworn and Fatima El Tayeb, who in the morning panel made a very critical intervention about the organization of this conference and the structural racism encountered within academia. Jasbir Puar was asked to briefly explain why they did not want to attend. Instead of starting with her explanation, the audience first had to listen to the assigned brief key notes by Didier Eribon, Lisa Duggan, Gert Hekma and Joan Scott, and had to commemorate the death of David Kato, an activist in Uganda, who was murdered the day before. Notwithstanding the horror of the murder, and the necessity to mourn the loss of Kato, this spectacle of commemoration was complicit to what was critiqued over the last two days. The commemoration became, again, a spectacle of sexual exceptionalism and consensus over a politics of belonging. Although most attendants of the conference had previously iterated an agreement over the problematic of Western spectacles of commemoration as the right response to the murder of LGTBs in the Global South; the same spectacle repeated itself. Congruently, this spectacle of mourning in an attempt to foster feelings of sexual solidarity without justice, overshadowed the critique made by Haritaworn and El Tayeb.

The only panelist who repeated the problematic described above and developed by thinkers such as Haritaworn and El Tayeb, was Lisa Duggan, who herself, already in the beginning of the nineties addressed the liberal rights discourses claimed by LGTB and queer activists and pointed to the scary balance between queer subversion and gay assimilationist politics.

The most embarrassing part of this conference (at least for some) has been the figure of Gert Hekma. He was asked to be on the closing panel to respond to the conference. Already a week in advance, Hekma devised his critique of the conference to quickly continue with his own agenda concerning the need for what he calls “more sexual perversion.” In an email sent to his fellow panelists before the conference, and at the final session, Hekma’s speech catered to the insidious gay racism and homonationalism in Dutch society (and other places). Perpetuating his mainstream and racist views, Hekma’s speech crystalized what was implicitly present at the conference.  He construed a position of victimhood for himself when he stated: “I prefer a defense of these white secular ideas above a muslim ideology that has no good record when it comes to these rights – not in Holland, Europe or the Middle East. According to me, a greater problem with this white ideology (than its anti-muslim focus) is its very rhetorical quality with few practical consequences. The support for gay and lesbian and women’s rights hides continuing – white and muslim and other ethnic minority – abjection of gays (more than lesbians) and women who take sexual subject positions (sluts), and this abjection focuses on issues of gender (f.e. gay men are sissies and faggots, so unmasculine, and too visible) and sexuality (public sex, promiscuity, pederasty, women who refuse to be only sexual objects).”

Hekma’s speech is situated within a larger xenophobic project of mainstream LGBT organizing, where gay people are (willingly) assimilated into the nation and align themselves explicitly to its violent practices and neoliberal ideology. Hekma’s Islamophobic, anti-Arab, and racist remarks in the pre-conference email, “I prefer these white secular ideas above a muslim ideology,” is repeated later at the conference itself. Furthermore, the problem of white ideology, according to Hekma, is not so much its racist, anti-immigration, neoliberal and xenophobic politics, but rather the problem lies in the abjection of gender nonconforming and perverted queers under the nomer of gay and women right’s. Apparently, white ideology has a rhetorical quality, according to Hekma, which is gay and women rights. The only violence Hekma seems to recognize is homophobia, which he sticks to the body of any Muslim by transforming it the pathology of “Muslim ideology.” He furthermore espouses how (white) gay men are victims of abjection “more than lesbians.”

To much disdain from a part of the audience, Hekma made an even bigger caricature of himself when he proclaimed “As we all know, all Muslims are pedophiles” (especially considering allegations of pedophilia made against Hekma years prior). He then continued to state that sometimes “black people just want to be slaves during S&M games.” A part of the audience responded with fury, while another part responded with enthusiasm when they applauded his speech. Although a member in the audience claimed that Hekma only had 30 seconds left to speak and a part of the audience quickly started a countdown, a bigger part of the audience violently repressed this political moment, by returning the platform to Hekma and aggressively muting those who spoke up under the banner of “free (academic) speech”

It were not only the claims made by Gert Hekma, but also his own politics of silencing that he kept putting to the fore that made a part of the audience start the countdown. The majority saw this as a silencing of Hekma’s “free speech” without questioning why Hekma was given this platform. This attested to the larger problem of the conference where there was a refusal to see how Hekma and others had taken up space throughout the conference at the expense of others. One wonders if Hekma even listened to the panels he had attended over the last two days.

Another remarkable thing was the arrogant reaction of some audience members and the fact that Hekma still got a large round of applause. Joan Scott, who directly followed Hekma with her comments, remained indifferent to what had just happened and read out her notes without engaging with the event.

Critical Interventions

The most important panel of the conference was that of scholars and activists Jin Haritaworn, Fatima El Tayeb, Suhraiya Jivraj and Jennifer Petzen. Their panel was called “homonationalism, homo-neoliberalism, homo-neo-colonialism: crisis and travels, Europe and beyond.” Four interesting presentations were prepared, but never given. Instead, the panelists changed the format of the session into a roundtable discussion. This roundtable proved necessary after one day of conferencing where all four panelist, and (some) audience members, felt the ancient workings of exclusion and white privilege (if not: supremacy). First, they addressed that they refused to be instrumentalized by this conference as queer people of color, and next to that, opposed the instrumentalization of queers (and) academics of color in general. The fantasy of inclusion, as El Tayeb mentioned, was again created through active structural exclusion where the queer of color was used as a nominal and not an academic presence. This became apparent when the audience could ask questions. All the white academics were addressed with their last name or/and academic title and the queer academics of color were addressed with their first name only.

Jin Haritaworn discussed the ongoing citational violence found in academic writing. They asked the question of what can become theoretical and when, and which bodies get lost along the way. They were not only referring to quotes or footnotes, but to citational practices both relying on and fostering stardom of some academics thereby silencing other academics. We have to ask ourselves what the power structures behind stardom and citation are before we start writing.

El Tayeb explained that she would have rather presented the paper she had worked on, but felt unable to do so. She commented that every time a conference invitation came along there was hardly any space for her prepared presentations. She experienced a perpetual mental fatigue in repeating again and again the same struggle with no reward. It was not up to this panel, she explained, to take responsibility time and again for the academic violence exercised consciously or unwittingly, but always structurally towards academics, and moreover queer academics of color. What she pointed to, was that it was not this panel’s responsibility to critique the conference structure, but rather the task of the conference organizers and attendants to take responsibility for the structure of the conference.

Suhraiya Jivraj included a discussion of Dutch LGTB politics and the workings of the COC (the self-proclaimed and most powerful representative of the Dutch LGTB-community). She addressed the monopoly on funds and included class within the discussion. She asked the very important question of why queer people of color cannot organize in a grassroots way in the Netherlands. Instead of coming to the superficial conclusion that there are no groups willing to organize, she addressed the problem of funding and the assimilationist and neoliberal politics of the COC. Groups who want to organize are forced to adopt a large part of the COC’s agenda before they are eligible for funding. Jivraj argues that “the public” needs to be problematized if we want to understand what the public sphere is and how this is contrasted with the private. She concludes that “the anti-racist paradigm needs to be back at the center” of the debate.

Jennifer Petzen, from a white anti-racist perspective, closed with a discussion of the “we” in this conference. She asked how this subject position was invoked and argues that these are no viable politics for both academic and ally work. She addressed the email sent around by Hekma to the people who would be on his last panel and the fact that no-one besides queer academics of color responded to this email. The audience seemed to be more shocked that this was used “against him,” than by the content of this particular email.

I was completely unsettled and undone after these interventions. Surprisingly, the discussion afterwards started with a search for excuses, reductions and exclusions that had just been so carefully deconstructed. The panelists were, again, overtly addressed by their first names in an attempt to undo their academic credibility. The microphone was distributed with great unease: some audience members received little time to speak, and every white, cis-male asking for the mic was given extensive and expansive space. One of these attendants, who claimed to be a white ally, referred to his black “friend” in the audience, embarrassingly mistaking his last name with the last name of an activist who died years ago.

In this setting it took some time to be able to speak and there was no space to gather speech together and be able to carefully construct a sentence. How is exclusion performed by those who can still speak towards those who cannot at that moment. It is no longer a question of who has the best performance, but rather whose speech is being overshadowed by the ignorant performance of those who had the privilege to be well trained and those who refuse to be undone in an act of bad faith?

After the delicate and generous efforts of the panelists to explain the audience the continuous practices of (racialized) exclusion, these attempts were quickly done away with by audience members who thought white shame and guilt would be sufficient modes of redress. Responsibility and justice were the baby thrown away with the bathwater. Trans was displaced and referred to in the third person. Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) became a children’s tradition and was therefore okay. Sex workers could only be victims. And Gert Hekma became the biggest victim of all, because his agenda was “unrightfully” revealed.

Although the conference room reserved for this 9 am panel was large, most of the conference participants were sitting on the floor and on each other’s laps in another large conference room, attending presentations that were chaired by Judith Butler. Our conference room counted about 50 people. One is reminded of Haritaworn’s remark on stardom, where they carefully set out to deconstruct the uses of citation in the academia. This gesture of the conference organizers to host these two panels: one with an academic rockstar as modertor, and the other with a lot of academic rockstars, albeit only well known in smaller circles, contributed to the under-attending of the most important panel of the conference. Although presumably an attempt to split audience flows equally, this misfired on the organization.

The Statement

This panel and the closing panel fostered intense debate after the conference. In response to the controversy the organizers of the conference decided to write a statement “After Amsterdam.” This statement is not about taking responsibility for the mishaps in the organization, but rather became a means to negate important contributions made at the conference and after. In the statement the organizers claim that they first wanted to organize a small conference, but to their great surprise this topic appeared big business, both for academic resumes and on a more political plane. They write: “We soon realized that the issues we raised were crucial not just for us, but more broadly for the fields of gender and sexuality studies, in their intersections with issues of race, immigration, religion, and nation” (Statement Sexual Nationalisms). Furthermore, in their statement, the conference organizers who were predominantly white and male claim that they tried to be as “diverse” as possible. However, this conference teaches that “diversity” cannot act as a stand-in for justice, and only functions as a quick-fix politics that hides the systemic and structural exclusions on which it is based.

The organizers reinforced a very strange image of geographical Europe. They write: “Our definition of Europe was very inclusive (contributions extended from Western and Southern to Eastern Europe, including Russia, Israel, and especially Turkey)” (idem). What does the re-alignment of Israel with geographical Europe do here, especially considering Israel’s pinkwashing campaign that structurally negates the existence of Palestine and Palestinians? Why is the only paper presented on Israel, by Israeli legal scholar Aeyal Gross, aimed at critiquing the term “pinkwashing,” coined by Palestinian (queer) activist to address the relationship between sexual politics and Zionist ideology in Israel? His main argument is that although Israel uses gay rights to divert attention from the occupation it is still important to celebrate Israel’s gay rights achievements. What gay rights are we actually celebrating, and how are they embedded in the continued dispossession of Palestinians? By arguing that pinkwashing is the wrong term to use, because there are gay rights in Israel, Gross continues to negate attempts for Palestinian self-determination.  Furthermore, why especially Turkey? What is already so special about this place, and not for example Germany? This statement  caters to maintaining an orientalist and imperialist trope of Turkey as that country on the outskirts of Europe, a little bit Islamic, a little bit secular, but definitely in need of European salvation.

The organizers also mention that after inviting a whole list of scholars, they realized that this work has been done for a long time already by queer academics of color and go on to describe how they tried to increase the diversity of their conference. They refute their own responsibility for the disgraceful last panel by displacing the blame on these queer academics of color when they write

“However, we still want to express our regret with this decision by two of our guests. While we acknowledge that the list we had first published in July manifested real political shortcomings, we believe that the final list of invited scholars, as well as the overall conference program, did not eventually justify such a perception of marginalization… In our view, it is useful to hold such conversations, even if it means hearing harsh criticism – as we did from them” (idem). Apparently it is alright to be criticized, but the critical voices are still critiqued for being too critical and that is where matters end. The above quote also entertains a liberal perception of dialogue that misunderstands the power dynamics behind any dialogue, and frames the absence of the two scholars as an unwillingness to engage, rather than understands their absence as a resistant political act.

Although in the statement the organizers do mention that they were wrong in inviting Hekma, they innocently reproduce the argument of “controversy for controversy’s” sake, by pointing out that they invited him “in good faith” (idem), hoping for a stimulating discussion, which already after Hekma’s email could have proved pointless. They take on the position of the victim of Hekma’s harmful speech.

They close by saying: “We (the organizers) are engaged in the fight against sexual nationalism. We believe we have learned from these academic tensions; but they should not detract from common political and intellectual goals” (idem). Here they argue that we have common political goals, and critique should not distract from these common goals. As if these “academic tensions” are separated from “our common goals.” But what becomes clear is that there is a mis – (if not wrong) understanding of these “common” goals. Who gets to decide what these goals are and how they can be articulated?

Although the organizers try to articulate a response to the rightfully critical reactions, they displace the blame and remove the anti-racist debate from the center of the critique. Instead of catering to the critique and taking it seriously, the organizers take on the position of the innocent victim, instead of creating the space for the important political and intellectual goals they claim to seek and represent. The critique of the conference could have been a space to create some “commonality” or at least discussion of these “common” goals, especially in the Netherlands, but the statement obliterates the conditions of possibility for this space to emerge.

Start With Amsterdam!

This was not a bad conference after all. And I thank the organizers for making an effort in organizing this conference and presenting it as an open and free conference, making it in thought accessible to everyone, even though we are in strong disagreement over the organizational structures. It was a “fucked-up” conference (and statement) that hurt many people. It was rather skewed learning experience to attend an academic conference as a young MA-student set in one of the most homonationalist countries in Europe that did not seem to practice what it preached and even that which was preached were hijacked words and discourses. There were some very strong panels, especially the one discussed at length here. From every corner there were cries to decentralize Europe and move away from and destabilize Western and white privilege. Before the conference, I still had the naïve and vague fantasy of academic freedom, but after I had a wakeup call that I’d been heavily duped. In a highly skewed way, the conference woke me up from a long, “innocent,” ignorant, and naive slumber. The carefully crafted critical interventions of some participants have left a lasting imprint emotionally-intellectually-politically on me. These critiques need to be continuously brought to the forefront of the debate, to challenge the explicit and implicit practices of exclusion that are all too often silently reproduced and endorsed. Let’s not fool ourselves by thinking “After Amsterdam,” but let us start with it. Start With Amsterdam!

Works Cited

Statement Sexual Nationalisms. “Sexual Nationalisms: European Sexual and Racial Politics through the Academic Prism.” 2 February 2011. Web. http://www.sexualnationalisms.org/statement-february-2nd-2011.php