"I'm pretty much a flaming queen and my whole life has been inspired by the legacies of Edward Said [Palestinian American academic, political activist and literary critic] and Audre Lorde [Black, feminist, lesbian, activist poet]" is how Sa'ed Atshan, postdoctoral fellow in International Studies at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown and lecturer in Peace and Justice Studies at Tufts University, described himself during his lectureTel Aviv night clubs and West Bank check points: The politics of being fabulous in the Holy Landat Loyola University Dec. 3.
A recipient of four "distinction in teaching" awards and several advising and mentoring prizes from Harvard for his work as a head teaching fellow and resident tutor there, Atshan has been awarded multiple graduate fellowships; including from the National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, Woodrow Wilson National Foundation, Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. He is also the recipient of a Soros Fellowship for New Americans and a Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace.
Atshan holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University. He also received an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School and a BA Swarthmore College. A member of Al-Qawsan organization promoting LGBTQ Palestinian rightsAtshan has also worked for the American Civil Liberties Union, the UN High Commission on Refugees, Human Rights Watch, the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department, and the Government of Dubai.
Following words of welcome and introductions by Nadine D., president of Students for Justice in Palestine-Loyola, Atshan told the approximately 25 people gathered that coming out as gay was hard to do but coming out as Palestinian in the U.S. was even harder to do because there is a stigma that Palestinians face in this country.
Atshan shared that he grew up in Ramallah in the West Bank territory of Palestine and went to the Ramallah Friends School ( a sister school to Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C. ). He noted that his family is originally from Tel Aviv.
Atshan explained that he honors the legacies of Said and Lorde by embracing intersectionality. "What I mean by intersectionality is we have to up to all systems of oppression. Our fight against colonialism is linked to our fight against racism, classism, abelism, sexism, anti-LGBT sentiments and religious intolerance," said Atshan. "When we fight for social justice and human rights we need to fight for all human beings."
"As LGBT activists in the Middle East we have a number of challenges that we have to face," said Atshan. "One of them is the legacy of colonial homophobia that we inherited from the western world most especially from the British and the French. Homophobia is a western phenomenon. Another is the contemporary Middle East regional context i.e. foreign invasions of the Middle East. The role that religion and family plays in the lives of Middle Easterners are two other challenges as well as sexuality as a taboo no matter whether a person is straight or gay. Finally, there is the issue of global homophobia."
Atshan said that it's important to note that the U.S. provides Israel with more monetary aide than it does for all of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined. He also said that Israel has been illegally setting up settlements within the 1967 borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in the process cutting off Palestinians from roads, vital resources such as water and forcing them to go through time-consuming checkpoints just to go to work, school and run errands.
"Thirty percent of the Palestinian economy is derived from olive groves and Israel is taking away access to these groves by moving in and creating Israeli only settlements," said Atshan.
Atshan addressed the rise of Israeli "pinkwashing" which is defined as an effort by the Israeli government to use the country's mostly positive record on LGBTQ rights to distract attention from human rights abuses in Palestine. He noted that Israel targets liberal communities in the U.S. with various ad campaigns that say Israel is a gay haven while Palestine is a homophobic backwards country. "It's not as black and white as this," said Atshan.
There are LGBTQ organizations in Palestine, Astan explained. He specifically mentioned Al-Qaws, Aswat, Pinkwatching Israel and PQBDS.
Atshan shared images from Palestine, Israeli "pinkwashing" videos and maps comparing colonialism in the U.S. and Israel during his lecture.
During the Q&A session Atshan said that he got involved with LGBTQ Palestinian activism when got to the U.S. and went to college. He also noted that the Israeli intelligence services target the Palestinian LGBTQ community. When asked about marriage equality in Israel, Atshan shared that Israel hasn't legalized same-sex marriages.
Students For Justice in Palestine-Loyola and the Gay Liberation Network co-sponsored Atshan's lecture.