Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Lesbian and Gay Movement and the State, edited by David Paternotte et al


While LGBT issues were long considered to be privileged issues associated with advanced democracies, they are now discussed throughout the world, reflecting an unprecedented globalization process of sexualities and sexual identities.

The Lesbian and Gay movement is newer, involves less people and is less-widely spread over the world than better established movements, such as the women's or the workers' movement.

Since the lesbian and gay movement is closely associated with intimacy and sexuality, its study may appear as shameful or one that risks questioning or disclosing the sexual preferences of researchers.

"...A challenge to the liberal conception of the political, LGBT/queer studies have expanded what politics is conceived to be both for liberal theory and for the discipline fo political science."

"Political science and theory have also often been descrbed as traditionally heteronormative."

"We try to discuss whether there is, empirically, a 'straight state' and whether it is the same everywhere, whether it varies through time and space and whether it is under increasing challenge."

"Most definitions of social movements emphasize the relationship to the state."

Social movements are 'a sustained series of interactions between the state and challenging groups' (1995: 5)

Newer understandings of social movements stress that social movements "nmay address other and/or multiple targets, such as economic interests, religious groups or beliefs and even cultural norms, insisting on strategies related to the construction of meaning, and can decide to concentrate on consciousness-raising, identity-building or self-help."

"The state is not always autonomous from civil society and major social cleavages, nor is it always secularly. Similarly, the state in a post-community, a post-colonial or a third world country does not necessarily take the same forms as in the Western world."

"The state is now almost systematically addressed by Western gay and lesbian activists, who often regard it as a key tool and an ally to change gender and sexual relationships through rights and policies."

"While not claiming a universal application, we decided that a focus on movements related to gay and lesbian identity categories would still be useful because these categories are so prevalent, not only in the west but also in a range of other countries."

Belgium: The Paradoxical Strength of Disunion

  • "Belgium was long considered as an overtly 'straight' and Catholic state opposed to the tolerant Netherlands and secular France.
  • "The specific culture of Belgian society, consociationalism, has helped lesbian and gay activists overcome the weaknesses ensuing from their internal divisions and their rather conservative environment."
  • "Consociationalism can be described as 'a particular style of consensual politics that is a response to the sociocultural background of heterogenous societies characterized by centrifugal tendencies'
  • "The notion of homophily itself, as a distinct and less sexualized concept than homosexuality, was in use until the mid-80s."
  • "Belgian queers may simultaneously advocate a queer politics and support claims such as same-sex marriage using a human rights framework."
  • "The linguistic division of the gay and lesbian movement mirrors the main cleavage of Belgian society in recent times."
  • In Belgium, argues Paternotte, the state and civil society are quite closely intertwined.
  • In France, for instance, both the state and political elites are more reluctant to accept advocacy groups in policy-making processes, and this country is characterized by a greater autonomy of the state, which relies on mechanisms such as the production of distinctive state elites, and the closure of the political system to civil society claims."
  • "We could wonder whether such [Belgian] processes are facilitating a neo-corporatization of gay and lesbian politics."
  • "For Belgian activists, change is more effective if it does not make noise, and often follows a gradual pace."
  • "In conclusion, while the state has shaped the movement in some ways, it has also been infleunced by a broader political and social context which it has had to adapt to and which has also impacted on the movement."

United Kingdom by Kelly Kollman and Matthew Waites
  • "Despitre recent policy successes the UK has lagged behind its West European neighbours both in terms of implementing legal protections and developing grassroots movement organizations."
  • "It is not surprising that the most prominent LGB rights organizations adopted somewhat elitist organizational styles, without mass memebrship, relyign on either informal access to like-minded policymakers or high profile personalities to gain influence."
  • "Analytically distinguishing NGOs from movements..."

Friday, 19 August 2011


The question of how to write about my experience in Hebron is an incredibly difficult one to answer. For this is the city that has led to the most psychological upset throughout my time in Israel and the Occupied Territories. It is deeply hard to express how much I want people to fully understand what is happening there, whilst at the same time I cannot pin down precisely why Hebron has been as traumatic a place to me as it has over the last few weeks. Needless to say it was not only me, Arthur felt similarly confused and upset and it is for this reason that we are writing this jointly. We are both Jewish and we both felt a profound alienation from the country that is supposed to represent that part of our identity.

 I went to Hebron twice, the first time with a tour, the second time with Arthur (on our own from Ramallah). In order to understand the situation there it is really necessary to give a brief history  Settlers came here after Israel occupied the West Bank and were drawn to the second holiest site in the Jewish religion: the tomb of the patriarchs and matriarchs, supposedly the place within which Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Sarah and other founders of Judaism (as well as Islam and Christianity) are buried. It is also supposedly the point where Adam and Eve lived when they left the Garden of Eden (according to the qu'ran). The settlers there refuse to leave, and despite the vast majority of the countries outrage (including modern orthodox outrage) at their presence, the government refuses to evict them, probably fearing the inevitable 'price tag' (as extremist settlers call revenge attacks on Palestinians).

Ignore whatever religious attachment you may have to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and read the strange situation that the settlers refusal to leave has led to. Due to the fact that the area is under Israeli occupation, the Palestinian population are under martial law (effectively the law of the gun) and Israeli citizens are under the law of the land. Due to this, the Israeli state requires itself to protect the lives of its own citizens rather than of those who it is occupying. Approximately 4000 soldiers actively protect approximately 500 settlers (or 86 families) in the city. Everything about the way the city is occupied is designed to protect those settlers. After Baruch Goldstein (an extremist religious settler) massacred 29 Muslims in the mosque there, the city was partitioned in two. Israelis are allowed only on side and Palestinians on the other. Despite this there is one road where the two meet and this is a segregated road. Palestinians walk on one, tiny, section of the road and Israelis walk on the other large section of the road. The entire city has now been designed so that Israelis and Palestinians only meet at that one point, and when they do they are guarded by soldiers.

The first time I went to Hebron I went with Yachad, a "pro-israel, pro-peace" British Jewish organisation that takes you to the city and to East Jerusalem. When there we learn of the strange legal systems that allow soldiers to protect settlers when they committed atrocities, but not to protect Palestinians from the soldiers themselves.  The Jewish side is a ghost town. Palestinians have mainly been forced out and the only people who really remain are the settlers, apart from a few Palestinians who decided to stay. These palestinians are terrorised on a daily basis by the settler population, and graffiti such as "gas the arabs" can  be seen all over town, in English and in Hebrew. As we make our way through the Jewish quarter we learn of the suicide bombings and murders committed by Palestinians against the settler population and the atrocities committed against Palestinians by the settlers. As we walk further into town, we see settlers building illegally (under international law) new houses in the area:

Walking post them, the leader of our group, a religious man, takes pictures in order to take back to his office. The settlers on the other side of the road shout "traitor" in Hebrew and throw stones which are more like small boulders as well as eggs at us. At first we think it is a joke, but eventually we run in realization and one of our group was hit by an egg.


One week later, Artur

3 weeks later

So I stopped blogging after gay pride. Things got a bit crazy in that I was travelling backwards and forwards between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a new found love who I met at a queer palestinian party and who distracted me from actually updating this. In the mean time I have been to East Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. I wish I had written about each of these at the time (Ive now been to Hebron and Ramallah twice respectively) but that's easier said in hindsight.

The first time I entered the occupied territories was with Yachad to Hebron. The situation there was quite clearly more complex than I had ever imagined and also more oppressive in a basic sense: Israelis and Palestinians are under completely different legal systems.

East Jerusalem was also shocking in the sense that the residents there are just that: residents, NOT citizens, as commonly believed. They are entitled to less (including basic resources such as water and electricity) and they pay more taxes.

Ramallah was a complete mind fuck. So close and yet so far is the only way it can be described. A beautiful city with kind and hospitable residents. A city that is quite clearly more secular than I ever imagined and pumping with considerable nightlife in the evening.

We were 2 of the only white people in Nablus, and this was incredibly strange. The city is very very conservative but bustling with people, and martyr posters adorn the walls. We eat in the toilet as it is Ramadan. Despite this Conservatism even Nablus is not living in a time warp. Coca Cola is sold, a large shopping mall sells the latest palestinian fashions and children constantly ask you: "Do you support Real Madrid or Barcelona?!" Life goes on in a city that is largely seen to be synonymous with "intifada"

In Bethlehem we meet Salim, a Palestinian whose parents converted from Christianity to Islam. He tells us about the importance of Mathematics in his society, his (slightly cheesy) love for all religions and peoples, but, perhaps inevitably, his hatred for Zionism. He was imprisoned for 2 months by the Israeli authorities for singing nationalist anthems near a checkpoint and shows us his scars from being beaten at a recent journey through a nearby checkpoint.

This brings me to the checkpoint experience. Everything that I experienced at the checkpoints in the occupied territories (note that in total I only went through 3, you don't go through any on the way there, only on the way back) could be described as cliche. I saw everything I expected to see: unnecessary intimidation towards Palestinians  (particularly the elderly and the young) by the Israeli authorities and racial profiling in its most extreme sense. Qalandiya is an example.

Palestinian society is fractured like Israeli society. It is at the same time secular and religious, rich and poor, left wing and right wing. In general however, I only encountered the kindest of people and all my stereotypes have been turned to dust.

The most surprising thing about this whole experience? How easy it is to get there. All you need to do is get on a bus from Jerusalem to Ramallah. It takes 45 minutes. No check points, no security checks, just 7 shekels, and you are there. Unfortunately however, it feels just like crossing the Berlin wall to so many people. It isn't. Just take your passport, and get on a bus.

Palestinian radio:"Rachel Weisz"

Friday, 29 July 2011

Jerusalem Pride 2


Jerusalem Pride

Stay in youth hostel and meet german guy and british girl.
Go round old city.
Meet karim, charlie, benji, tel and artist at yitzhak rabin murderers trial before marching down to knesset in boiling heat. people clapping. diapers thrown. dirty looks
get to knesset and drag show
meet emma and friends
go to queer club
kiss israeli boy
meet audrey and roxy
hang with audrey and roxy
back to tel aviv at 6am after hearing about yeshiva underground
wake up at 3pm. meet lotke
to queer palestinian party.
day 4

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Jerusalem Open House

Jerusalem Open House is the hub of Jerusalem's lgbt 'community'. I enter Jerusalem and make my way to the said address of JOH. It is at number 4. I can see number 2 and number 6, and a rainbow flag where number 4 should be, but no door. Just a furniture shop. This has happened to me before, I have NEVER been able to work out how to get into this place.

Eventually I realise that I have to enter the door to number 2, go up two flights of stairs as if I am entering an apartment, and then I can reach number 4. Once there, my bags are searched by a security guard and I enter a room splattered with colours and a library full of everything possibly queer.  I sit down to a group of around 10 people. There are arabs, jews, christians, you name it. We are discussing whether the LGBT community should embrace the word 'queer' and therefore see its project as openly political. Should it join with the struggle for palestinian rights?

Karim tells us about growing up as a Muslim in a strictly orthodox family. He moved away 8 years ago because he "decided to become bisexual". He now lives in the old city of Jerusalem. He is about 60 years old. How can we understand his situation without realising how oppression works on more than one level? How it articulates itself upon more than  one identity?

I wish I had time to describe the conversations that we had and the people I encountered and the very slow slipping away of my Israeli nationalism, but I only have 4 minutes left on my internet.

This country never fails to surprise me. In four hours I am going to Jerusalem pride. Possibly the most controversial gay pride event in the democratic world.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Tent City

Tel Aviv has erupted in protest against rising house prices and the serious inadequacies and anti-democratic tendencies of the current Likud government. This is a protest that has taken a form unlike that we would see in England (apart from, in a lesser form, at our universities). One woman began camping on one of the main streets in Tel Aviv and thousands of others followed suit, until what is being termed the largest social movement in the past 10 or so years in Tel Aviv emerged. It began as tens, then hundreds and two weeks later thousands of people are camping, and essentially occupying, a boulevard in the centre of Tel Aviv. This has become known as 'tent city'. This is much more than the (arguably) somewhat juvenile student occupations that have occurred in universities in the United Kingdom. Students and adults, teenagers and the middle aged are all involved. Above all the 'Rabin generation' (20-40) have come together in protest, aside from any particular institution, political party or social organization.
'Tent city' has received a large amount of skepticism from both left and right. Is it an occupation? If so, where are the demands? Is it a festival, if so, what does that have to do with politics? What began as a protest explicitly against rising house prices has certainly transformed into something rather organic and amorphous. I do not think that this is grounds to criticize it. It does not seem to be reducing the amount that the Israeli government is fearful of this movement. Yes, this is about house prices. However it is also about more, it is about a general antipathy towards the ruling government, a government that is profoundly anti-democratic. Politics in Israel has traditionally been along the lines of the Arab-Israeli conflict. You were either for or against the occupation. Now however, people are calling for a stronger welfare state, they are protesting domestic issues and they are making headway. Bibi Netanyahu knows he has to listen. 

With any luck, this will only be the start of a mass movement in Israel that will cause an upheaval in the political system. Domestic and external issues are closely intertwined, and nowhere can that be felt more strongly than when standing on Sderot Rothschild, faced with an avalanche of protest.  Tomorrow demonstrators will march through the streets of Jerusalem demanding equality for gays and lesbians and tolerance towards minorities (Jerusalem Pride). It is a week of serious political protest in Israel. Next week I will be in the West Bank. It will be interesting to see what Palestinians make of these incredibly significant events over the border.

To read more on 'tent city':