‘They’d kill you!’: Islamophobic campaign aims to diminish queer support for Gaza
Photo via BDS Movement

Palestine is a homophobic place that queer people should never defend. That’s the argument many supporters of Israel’s war try to use on social media to dissuade LGBTQ people from speaking out on behalf of Gaza.

“They’d kill you there!” is invariably the response from those who try to paint Palestine with a broad homophobic brush—usually while pinkwashing the State of Israel as some enlightened and liberal haven for queers.

Some may ask in bad faith, “Isn’t Islam homophobic? Transphobic?” People’s World asked Emaan, a 21-year-old pansexual Palestinian woman born in the U.S. about whether the Islamic religion that most Arabs practice is discriminatory towards LGBTQ people.

“The Abrahamic religions all have questionable texts when it comes to LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, slavery, etc.,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s fair to make assumptions about all Muslims today based on those texts, as it’s really up to interpretation,” Emman continued. “Your average Muslim is not out to get LGBTQ people just as your average Christian isn’t.”

Emman’s father moved to the United States after he was forcibly displaced from his village, Yalu, in Palestine in the 1970s. Yalu has now been renamed “Canada Park,” as its establishment was funded by Canada’s Jewish National Fund in 1972.

Forced from their home, Emaan’s family walked to Jordan, but her father eventually left and met her mother in the United States. Born in Indian, Emman currentlylives in Texas, where she helps her mother raise her siblings.

The history of anti-queer legislation in Palestine is long and complex. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I, the British took control of the region and imposed their own colonial laws. Even though the British are long gone, many of their old laws are still on the books, a common situation in many former British colonies around the world.

“Same-sex relations for men are not legal in Gaza under the British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance of 1936,” Emaan told People’s World when asked about relevant legislation in Palestine.

“Although legally, LGBTQ rights may not be recognized in Palestine, I know of Palestinian advocacy groups who are working towards that goal,” she said. “AlQaws is one of those groups, offering support and counseling, community building, and inspiring social and cultural change in the holy land.”

According to Human Dignity Trust, the anti-gay law carried over from colonial times is not actively or regularly enforced in Gaza. In the West Bank, it is no longer valid.

Modern Britain has significantly improved rights for LGBTQ people, with anti-discrimination laws in place and most ways of transitioning having legal protection. Victorian-era homophobia lives on in the legal systems its former colonies inherited, though, and recent transphobic jokes by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggest that even the old imperial rulers are not as enlightened as they might seem.

Western countries are often thought to be a beacon of progress for the LGBTQ community, but in several places, like the United States, the situation appears to be moving backwards.

“I don’t believe queer people in Texas have their full rights,” Emaan argued. “There are constant attacks on queer/trans rights and women’s rights. And as a woman in Texas, our right to our own bodies for abortion was recently banned.”

There are over 300 anti-trans bills currently being proposed in legislatures across the U.S. Many  of these proposals are already becoming law; Emaan’s current home state of Texas banned hormone blockers for minors in 2023.

In Indiana, there are four anti-LGBTQ bills currently proposed. One, HB 1291, erases the idea of gender and creates a trigger law that strips away marriage rights for gay and trans people if Obergefell v. Hodges is overturned by the right wing-dominated Supreme Court.

Eradicating the idea of gender could block transgender people from acquiring gender-affirming health care, which is proven to be life-saving. Currently, a person has to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria to access surgery. To acquire hormones, one must often have a gender doctor prescribe them and monitor their progress.

The Indiana bill aims to invalidate gender-affirming care, and doctors would be forced to move or only provide their services to people outside the state. If that were to happen, Indiana would be left with a void, with many people unable to access care. About 0.5% of Hoosiers are transgender, and although not all require gender-affirming care, that’s still approximately 34,000 people thrust into possible life-threatening conditions.

“In general, since transitioning, I’ve become more afraid of getting pulled over, and being treated poorly because of being trans,” Jacqueline, a transgender Indiana resident told People’s World. “It has definitely made me weary of the state on a personal level.”

Asked how bills targeting gender non-conforming people affect them, Jacqueline said: “I want to change my birth certificate name, and gender stuff. But I’m kind of scared to go through with it because I don’t know if I’ll get on the radar of some nutbag Republican officials with access to legal data.”

In addition to the strain on mental well-being, without proper protections, gender non-conforming people face additional hurdles in finding employment and myriad forms of harassment.

“I’m sort of in a waiting phase where I’m unsure of what to do next. I currently work as a caregiver for the elderly and disabled. But I am barely making it with the cost of things,” Jacqueline said.

As for Emaan, she says it’s tough to focus on pursuing her own future right now amidst the war in Gaza; she keeps busy helping care for her younger siblings. Unlike tens of thousands of Palestinians her age in Gaza and the West Bank, she has not had to face the brutality of Israeli occupation in person, fortunately. But even from a distance, she feels the pain and suffering.

“Honestly, it’s difficult to think about my dreams when my people, the Palestinians, have to worry about when their next meal will be or if they’ll soon be another number on the death toll,” she said. “The only dream I see clearly now is a free Palestine, to one day be able to return to my homeland.”

In the U.S., LGBTQ people, Palestinians, and everyone who supports peace are organizing themselves. Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine have faced repression in many areas, with protest bans being issued by universities and several state legislatures considering bills to limit free speech. A number of state lawmakers, including in Indiana, along with some in the U.S. Congress, are looking to equate racism and anti-Zionism as they attempt to redefine what counts as anti-Semitism.

Just as the fight for justice in Palestine goes on, so too does the fight for justice for queer people in the U.S. In Indiana, the American Civil Liberties Union, Gender Nexus, and Indiana’s Youth Group are all resisting the transphobic and homophobic bills in the streets and in the courts.

“I was at the statehouse with the ACLU, and other organizations four times last year,” Gender Nexus’ President Ben told People’s World. Since 2014, Gender Nexus has served Indiana as a safe, inclusive space for gender-diverse people and their loved ones to find the support they need.

If you are in Indiana and looking to get involved in the fight for LGBTQ rights, or the fight for peace in Palestine, please write to IndianaCPUSA1@gmail.com. Or check out organizations doing work around these issues in the state, such as; Indiana Jewish Voice for Peace, Gender Nexus, and Indiana Youth Group

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article represents the views of its author.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Nico GrayPicerno
Nico GrayPicerno

Nico GrayPicerno is a queer transgender writer based in Indiana.