Sherry Wolf: The Ruckus Over Israeli Apartheid Week, the Gay Center, and a Porn Star
Sherry Wolf is a member of the Siege Busters Working Group, which was planning a "Party to End Apartheid!" for Israeli Apartheid Week at the LGBT Center, where they'd met regularly since last summer.
Wolf, a long-time and well-known activist for both gay rights and socialism, talks to Runnin' Scared about her 23 years of being active at the Center, now being labeled an anti-Semitic Jew, and having her group kicked out without so much as a phone call.
Part of what enrages Wolf is that the Center didn't even bother to contact the group. (The Center said in a statement, "When one group's meetings or activities interfere with the Center's focus on our core mission, we reserve the right to ask this group to move." The Center didn't mention that it had played host to an Israeli Apartheid Week event in 2008.)
Runnin' Scared: Did it hurt to have a pornographer call Siege Busters a hate group?
Sherry Wolf: Yes, especially since the charges were so stinging! More than half of [Siege Busters] is Jewish, and the others are mostly Arabs, and they call us anti-Semitic? Isn't the center a place where different people are supposed to meet and discuss? Shouldn't Jews and Arabs, gay and lesbian and transgender, working together towards peace be something that is celebrated? We cannot allow a wealthy porn entrepreneur to dictate what kind of speech is allowed, at a center whose very mission is to represent the oppressed and the marginalized!
RS: When did Siege Busters start meeting at the Center?
Wolf: In late August of last year. We've been meeting sometimes weekly, sometimes every other week.
RS: Why did you meet at the LGBT Center? Were there many gay or lesbian members, or did one person know of it just as a place to meet?
Wolf: Many of us are gay and lesbian, but it's never been a condition, since my ACT-UP days, that you had to be gay or meet about a sexuality issue to meet at the Center.
RS: When did you first start going to the Center?
Wolf: In 1988, when I moved back to the city and got involved with ACT-UP.
RS: Are you are of aware, for lack of a better term, of other "non-gay" groups meeting at the Center?
Wolf: Oh, yes! We've had anti-death penalty meetings, anti-war events, a whole spectrum of political and non-political meetings there. There's a group that meets there of straight people who are into spanking! It's always been a place where people with nowhere else to go could be. It's atrocious that after 28 years, it's becoming yet another occupied, homogenized space that only powerful and, frankly, white people dominate. That's not the mission of the Center.
RS: Are you aware of any controversial events you've been a part of ever being cancelled before?
Wolf: An event cancelled? Never. The LGBT Center is the quintessential queer space, in which people who resist all forms of oppression have gathered to find support. I'm an author, of Sexuality and Socialism, and I had my book launch there. What if someone had a problem with socialists? Will we cave to that? The community has to embrace that our identity as LGBT people cannot be narrowly defined by a wealthy porn entrepreneur! I am a lesbian, a socialist, and an internationalist. As a citizen of the world, I have a responsibility and a right to organize with my Palestinian brothers and sisters, particularly because I am a Jewish anti-Zionist. I see no reason why the Center should shut itself down on this issue because of one porn entreprenuer with a platform in the Advocate.
RS: How did you find out your event had been cancelled?
Wolf: Informally, at first. I heard about four o'clock on Tuesday. Interestingly enough, I reached out to [Center Executive Director] Glennda Testone immediately. I hope she eventually returns my call. I tried reaching her. I saw an email that there was a press release and a call-in campaign [from Lucas]. Then, an hour, an hour and a half later, I heard that the event was cancelled, and Siege Busters was barred from meeting there.
RS: So they never even spoke to you before making the decision?
Wolf: No. There was no attempt to the contact the organizers, meet with the group, or even speak with us.
RS: It's not just the fundraising party that was ended?
Wolf: No. We are not supposed to meet there anymore. You know, I can remember a time, and it wasn't even that long ago, when people who were transgender were smeared upon, even by people in the gay and lesbian community. Should they be banned? . . . The Center has always been a home to controversy and free speech, and it needs to remain that. This is about saving the Center.
RS: Do you hope to meet again at the Center?
Wolf: We have no hostility towards the Center! But we are fighting for it. If radical people can't meet there, then it just becomes another occupied space for wealthy bigots. This should not be a place where people defend the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. It's an attempt to whitewash and pinkwash over the crimes people do not agree with. The Center should stand with the oppression of LGBT people all over the world. If this were Uganda, there would be no problem. But because we're talking about our Palestinian gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, it's an issue.