Pinkwashing — Weaponization of LGBTQ Rights

By: Leela Cullity, Hesham Jarmankani, Ezgi Koc, Eshita Rahman, MPAC Policy Interns

No individual, regardless of their ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs, should ever be made to feel less than their peers. Sadly, this happens too often in countries that are strong and long-standing allies of the United States, and their blatant abuse of human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties goes unchecked, with no impact on the bilateral relationship.

These same social issues and human rights have ironically become weaponized to attack, militarily or financially, countries that are not in line with the United States. Most notably, religious freedom for Christians was one of the reasons why Sudan was split into two countries. Similarly, we saw this same playbook in Iraq, where the principle of religious freedom was used to justify crippling sanctions. In the latter, it had minimal impact on the regime. In both cases, religious freedom was weaponized to justify Western intervention. This pattern of intervention under the guise of helping a marginalized community or oppressed minority has repeated itself in South Asia and other parts of the world.

LGBTQ+ rights are now being weaponized against Muslims through a campaign called pinkwashing. Pinkwashing is a strategy used to demonstrate a progressive stance on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights to conceal human rights violations. Institutions have used pinkwashing to shield their track records on other human rights abuses by selectively promoting specific civil and human rights over others; a prominent example being the response following the Orlando Pulse shooting in 2016. Immediately following the attack, Donald Trump showed clear support for the LGBTQ+ community, despite supporting several homophobic policies, by using this devastating attack as a wedge issue against Muslims. His support for LGBTQ+ rights was a propaganda point used to re-up his promotion of the Muslim Ban and garner political support broadly through the use of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Relatedly, on the one year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub attack, MPAC along with 59 other organizations, signed a statement affirming the importance of coming together in solidarity with the community in Orlando and condemned this act of hate.

This type of weaponization exists in the Middle East as well. Isreal, by labeling themselves as the only “gay safe haven” in the Middle East and as a leader on progessive social issues, attempts to obscure its occupation and apartheid policies against Palestinians. This often perpetuates a cycle of Palestinian persecution, as LGBTQ individuals in Israel are meant to feel grateful for being allowed to live with their identities while remaining indebted to the Israeli state, therefore sacrificing their ability to speak out against the atrocities committed against Palestinians.

It is important to note that Israel’s apartheid marriage laws and ID system present obstacles to both straight and gay Palestinians who, as Arab citizens of Israel, are unable to extend citizenship or residency to their spouses in Occupied Palestinian Territories. As a result, Israel bars many Palestinians from the right to live with their spouses. Additionally, the restriction of movement Israel enforces via roadblocks and checkpoints in Occupied Palestinian Territories “limits the ability of queer [and trans] Palestinians to meet and organize together.”

Being supportive of LGBTQ+ rights while also criticizing pinkwashing is not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary of one another. Members of the LGBTQ+ community deserve to have their rights and freedoms protected unconditionally and not as a facade to promote a progressive image. Additionally, the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights requires the advancement of members of all marginalized groups since LGBTQ+ identities intersect with nearly every other identity that an individual exhibits; combatting Islamophobia is an LGBTQ+ issue because of the existence of Queer and/or Trans Muslims. Combatting Anti-Blackness is an LGBTQ+ issue because of the existence of Black Queer and/or Trans individuals.

Selectively promoting the LGBTQ+ rights of a certain individual to conceal the atrocities that are carried out against other individuals — some of whom, are Queer and/or Trans themselves — is antithetical to the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights. Finally, the LGBTQ+ community deserves better than to be tokenized and have their cause used to justify the exploitation and harm bestowed upon marginalized groups of people. Although the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights is something to be proud of, it is imperative that we observe what are the intentions behind such policies before lauding them unequivocally. Therefore, in order to end the continued oppression of Palestinians and other marginalized groups globally whose persecution has been minimized and obscured due to pinkwashing, we must recognize its deceptive nature and move forward by shifting our strategies of liberation.