When the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission was founded in 1990, sodomy laws were prevalent. Amnesty International’s platform didn’t include LGBT rights. The United States wouldn’t grant asylum to refugees on the basis of sexual orientation.
The world’s changed since then, and so has IGLHRC. Since earning consultative status at the United Nations in 2010, the organization has been a powerful voice for sexual rights at the international body, often taking on governments with less-than-friendly policies toward LGBT citizens. It’s also become a ferocious watchdog on abuse on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, shining a spotlight on serial human-rights violators across the world.
IGLHRC was founded by a Jewish woman, Julie Dorf. This month, another Jewish woman takes over as executive director. Jessica Stern, 36, had been the organization’s program director, and played a pivotal role in its U.N. accreditation. A native of Setauket, Long Island, Stern lives in Brooklyn with her partner, CUNY Law School clinical-law professor Lisa Davis, whose mother “desperately hopes we’ll get married by a lesbian rabbi.”
The Forward caught up with Stern from her office up the street from the Forward’s still-flooded building on Maiden Lane in Manhattan.
IGLHRC’s been around for 22 years. Now that you’re executive director, what do you plan to change? What do you want to continue?
Last year, Israeli adult film star and newly-minted right wing activist Michael Lucas used his financial clout to bar an anti-Israel group from meeting at New York’s LGBT Center. I was one of many who protested: LGBT community centers are meant for the entire community, including groups with whom we may disagree.
But in case we needed a lesson that intolerance exists on the Left as well as the Right, a reciprocal outrage took place last week in Seattle. There, an anti-Israel LGBT activist pressured the city of Seattle’s LGBT Commission to cancel an event featuring three LGBT activists from Israel, scheduled for March 16 at City Hall. I write to protest this action as well. It is unconscionable, reprehensible, and ignorant. And the fact that it was undertaken in the name of fighting oppression, led by transgender activist Dean Spade, makes it even worse.
There are some differences between the two cases. First, the Seattle LGBT Commission’s meeting was in City Hall, not an LGBT community center, and thus conveys a higher level of endorsement of the program’s views. On the other hand, unlike the Siegebusters/Queers Against Israeli Apartheid meeting in New York, this program had absolutely nothing to do with the Israel/Palestine conflict. In fact, I happen to know some of the intended speakers personally, and they happen to hold quite left-wing views on that conflict. This program — one of many coordinated by the American organization A Wider Bridge, seeking to unite LGBT Jews and Israel — was purely about the struggles and successes LGBT people have faced inside green-line Israel.
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