Whose Gay Middle East(.com)?
June 17, 2011
Cross-posted from MidEastYouth
“It’s raining pink today; Israel must be washing its laundry,” I remarked to a friend after reading the below tweet from Scott Piro, an Israeli-American publicist, and self-proclaimed “social media denizen”.
Most importantly, Piro is the publicist for Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, a campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism that seeks to market the city as a haven and top-line tourist destination for gays. This is in line with Israel’s strategy of exploiting queer rights to promote itself as “a lone outpost of freedom and openness in the Middle East”, while it continues to occupy Palestinians (painted as uncivilized homophobes) with impunity.
My initial alarm was over the tweet heralding the start of an even more aggressive pinkwashing campaign, but it wasn’t long before I began to harbour even greater concerns.
I was first introduced to Scott Piro through his work as a reporter and anchor forGayMiddleEast.com. Yes, the website that has been billed as the premier news source for all things gay in the Middle East.
While many were quick to regard GayMiddleEast.com as a credible and authoritative voice for LGBT issues in the Middle East, few have questioned the history of the site’s founding, and why a white British man is acting as its Editor and spokesperson.
GayMiddleEast.com was founded in 2002 by the Israeli Assaf Shabi Gatenio, and was until recently listed under an Israeli address. Its (overwhelmingly positive) coverage of Israel remains the most comprehensive – culminating in its coverage of the 2010 Tel Aviv Pride Parade, which was described as a “beacon of tolerance and acceptance”. The language of pinkwash.
Dan Littauer, the Managing Editor of GayMiddleEast.com and the media’s go-to-source for information on LGBT Arabs, is reportedly a dual British-Israeli citizen.
In a region where non-conformance (sexual and otherwise) is often regarded as a Western implant, even the least tenuous connection to Israel could lead to charges of treason. And herein lies the problem with GayMiddleEast.com; its refusal to be transparent.
Questions for GayMiddleEast.com
On a personal level, I take many issues with GayMiddleEast.com: its contribution to the narrative of hapless gays in need of saving, its scaremongering about the current uprisings in Arab countries, its fetishizing and exoticising of the LGBT identity – to name a few – but I do believe that the most pressing concerns that need to be addressed by GayMiddleEast.com are:
1) Why are activists not fully informed of GayMiddleEast.com’s Israel connection, so as to make informed choices about whether or not to get involved with the organisation?
2) Or better yet, why is the information not made publicly available on the website?
3) While GayMiddleEast.com claims to oppose pinkwashing, why have the grassroots campaigns by Palestinian queer activists to counter Israel’s pinkwashing been neither highlighted, nor endorsed?