Op-Ed: On Supporting a Free Palestine as a Queer, Rural Kentuckian

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I am from the hills of western Kentucky, and I grew up going to Southern Baptist church every Sunday. I have had to actively unlearn much of what I was raised on, but I have held on to a few things.

I have held that there is nothing more important than taking care of the people around us. I have held that morality is subjective, and that with the right framing, most of us can believe anything if we are taught that it is “good.” I have held that community will triumph over empire.

For me, these holdings directly translate to fighting for liberation, in Palestine and everywhere. The dominant conversation about the history of occupation in Palestine has been that the “conflict” is “complicated,” and while there are complicated feelings around personal identities that fit into what is happening, referring to what is happening as either a conflict or as complicated is a gross function of imperialist propaganda. This is to say that there is a David and a Goliath, and as Americans living in the imperial core, we sure as hell ain’t David. 

Growing up in rural Kentucky culture, it is customary to fight for yours before you fight for others. There is a culture of scarcity, of being willing to let “the other” suffer in the name of prolonging your lineage. This culture is rooted in racial contempt, an intentionally fabricated social culture created by the ruling elite, where poor whites are targeted with a divide-and-conquer class strategy in the name of preventing solidarity between poor white people and Black people. This further oppresses Black communities and keeps white communities disconnected from community organizing that actually benefits and sustains those who will come after us. While this may seem out of context in talking about Palestine, I bring this up to illustrate that our culture, our everyday, our everything: it is constructed by those in power, for those in power, at all of our expenses. 

Growing up in a predominantly white and rural area of Kentucky, I grew up in a culture of scarcity, but it is important to note why. There is enough for all of us, and there always was. The scarcity was and is fabricated as a function of racial capitalism. The resources that could go to better housing, healthcare, and education have been funneled into international military occupation and therefore imperialism. According to U.S. News, “The United States has sent more than $260 billion in combined military and economic aid since World War II, plus about $10 billion more in contributions for missile defense systems like the Iron Dome.” People I grew up around would give a stranger the shirt off their back, but they’d also be susceptible to the narratives that justify our military spending and imperial conquests. I hardly consider this a failing on them, but rather an invitation for all of us to bring our neighbors into unlearning the constructed narratives that hold all of us back. 

Israel is a country that has existed for less than a century, with the United States and the Soviet Union first recognizing it as an established country in 1948. The United States as a colonial and imperial power has not only helped Israel as a colonial power, but foundationally invested in its sustainment as an entity whose existence has always depended on violent erasure of Palestinians. The United States functions as a parent corporation, with Israel functioning as a “watchdog state for imperialism in the Middle East.” 

Past this, as illustrated by the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Kentucky gives $25,508,008 to Israel per year. Alone, Louisville gives $9,430,420. Reckoning that these resources have been drained from our community and put toward violence of another community is two-fold. Part of this reckoning is tied to seeing and knowing what all of that money could have gone toward in keeping us as healthy and comfortable as we deserve to be as Kentuckians. The other part of this reckoning is tied to how our money is what is funding the continued genocide of Palestinians. This is to say that we have a direct responsibility as Americans, and more specifically as Kentuckians, to denounce and fight what is happening. 

We should care about protecting land and community regardless of what it costs us, and regardless of what our personal identities are. What we allow to happen to any of us is what we allow to happen to all of us. But, I know that our liberation is tied: as workin’ folk, as country folk, as Queer folk, as living and breathing beings who are in relation with every breath in and out. 

I made a video that went viral, and in it I read a poem I wrote on supporting Palestine as a Queer Kentuckian. This was to a video of me decorating a cake decorated as a watermelon – as an ode to the censored version of the Palestinian flag. This video was met with an outpouring of love from folks, namely from rural areas and Appalachia, who have shared that the message deeply resonated. Among this support has been a few comments about how Palestinians would have me dead because I am Queer – a common narrative rooted in settler colonialism that is used to justify violence toward Palestinians. This is called “pinkwashing,” a term coined by Palestinian activists to describe, “an Israeli government propaganda strategy that cynically exploits LGBTQIA+ rights to project a progressive image while concealing Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies oppressing Palestinians.” This divide-and-conquer narrative harms Palestinians and serves the overall empire in improving marketing for the settler colonial state of Israel. But, as insight to the often erased Queer Palestinian culture, @BabaSubeaux shared on Twitter.com, 

“What do any of you know of my Palestine? Of the late night Queer parties in Ramallah? 

Of raves held in biblically aged buildings? Of lesbians in hijabs, of gay men in hoop earrings, of trans Palestinians dancing with joyful abandon? (1 / 3)

We fear Israel first, before our families, always. We’re 100 times more likely to die at the hands of an Israeli gun or bomb than by western propagandized ideas of honor killings. I’ve seen white Christian Americans wish their child be dead rather than gay. (2 / 3)

Israel is the one that weaponizes the homophobia that Queer people all over the world of all religions experience to justify murdering Palestinians of all kinds, young and old, Christian and Muslim, Queer and Straight. (3 / 3)”

As discussed earlier through the lens of racial contempt, social attitudes and general culture are influenced by the political and legal policies instituted by those in power. Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments are sewn in American culture as a divide-and-conquer tactic, and not without harm.  A review study published in 2018 by JAMA Pediatrics looked at how many LGBTQ+ people die by suicide each year versus what percentage of transgender people die by suicide. It was found that LGBTQ+ youth were, “3.5 times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.” As well, “rates of attempting suicide among transgender teens were 5.87 times higher than the average among all teens.” According to the Trevor Project, “LGBTQ+ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.”

There were 508 bills introduced last year that violently targeted LGBTQ+ Americans, 11 of which were in Kentucky, aiming to further divide and conquer us through harmfully framed narratives around queer people. These bills served to stigmatize, vilify, and bring harm to LGBTQ+ communities – namely LGBTQ+ youth. This is to say that we should not fight for others only in our name, but in the name of fighting for all of us – because our “liberation is bound” together. 

The imperial core might be built on centuries of power, but there is a power they will never be able to touch – the power of the people. It runs through all of us, and we have the opportunity to build more power every single day. Our power, our community, will inevitably last beyond empire– built on a shaky foundation of extraction, exploitation, violence, and divide-and-conquer tactics. Queer people who dare to exist beyond the social constructs that exist to divide us need to understand this more than ever. 

We can do a lot with a sling and a rock: with sustainment, with love, with intention, with organizing, and most of all, with each other. We have so much more power than they want us to believe. We have a new world to create with every breath in and out – one beyond empire, beyond manmade division, beyond all of this. 

Below are a few resources to organize and keep up with what is happening: 

Instagrams: @psl.louisville, @lex4palestine, @lou4palestine, @louisvillesjpOrganizations: PSL National/ Louisville, Louisville Students for Justice in Palestine, Queer Artist For Palestine