Leading up to this year’s June 23 Dyke March in Chicago, organizers left little ambiguity about their position on Israel.
The Chicago Dyke March Collective declared itself anti-Zionist, calling Zionism “an inherently white-supremacist ideology … based on the premise that Jewish people have a God-given entitlement to the lands of historic Palestine and the surrounding areas,” according to the Chicago Reader.
That put some Jewish LGBTQ activists in a difficult predicament. How can they march for equality when an important part of their identity is being condemned?
But some Jewish LGBTQ activists say that Dyke March organizers represent just a small — albeit vocal — minority of the queer community.
“Broadly speaking, the LGBTQ community has been extremely welcoming of the Jewish community,” said Ronit Bezalel, communications director of A Wider Bridge, which works to strengthen the queer communities in the United States and Israel. “It’s a small but vocal minority that seeks to exclude those who support Israel from the LGBTQ community without even engaging us in conversation.”
Bezalel said she’s attended the Dyke March for 20 years. But she feels marginalized by the organizers’ increasingly strident anti-Zionism position. Last year, three Jewish marchers were ejected for carrying rainbow Pride flags with Jewish stars. And the controversy only intensified when journalist Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who broke the story for a queer Chicago news outlet, was fired for her reporting.
Bezalel attended last month’s march. But the organizers’ declaration apparently had its intended effect: Bezalel did nothing to identify herself as a Jew or an Israel supporter. And she said she didn’t see any such signs from other marchers.
Dana Beyer, the executive director of transgender-rights group Gender Rights Maryland, said that the larger LGBTQ movement is generally accepting of Zionists. A number of Jewish groups, for example, attended the Capital Pride Parade in Washington June 9. And while anti-Zionist voices on the left have been growing louder, Beyer said that Zionist progressives in the LGBTQ community should not be cowed into silence.
“A few more radical people in a dyke march in Chicago don’t represent the queer community at large,” Beyer said. “I’m not saying we should ignore these things, but if they successfully intimidate people from showing up, then they win.”
One way to embolden Jewish queer activists, says A.J. Campbell, is for the Jewish community to help fund their groups. Campbell, a Takoma Park resident, is a former director of Nice Jewish Girls, a group for Jewish queer women in Washington. She also founded the Jacob’s Tent Project to mobilize Jewish groups at Pride events.
Getting funding for these groups has been difficult. Nice Jewish Girls doesn’t have any institutional backers, she said. And Jewish queer women’s groups don’t get the same amount of backing as men’s groups do.
If the Jewish community wants to combat anti-Zionist voices within the LGBTQ movement, she said, it needs to strengthen its presence in that community.
“Numbers and visibility matter, Campbell said. “And we need the support of the Jewish community to make that happen.”