What it's like to be queer and Palestinian amid Israel's war on Gaza

Amina and Ranin discuss what it feels like to be part of the LGBTQ+ community as a Palestinian.

Photo of queer people carrying Pride flags and Palestinian flags
Image: GCN

Through their first-hand experiences, Amina and Ranin discuss what it’s like to be queer and Palestinian in light of the ongoing war and Israel’s pinkwashing strategy.

In November of 2023, images of an Israeli soldier holding a rainbow flag while standing over the rubble of a destroyed area in Gaza circulated all over social media. On the flag itself were the words “in the name of love” written in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, which were written in response to the soldier seeing “Bismillah” (Arabic for “In the name of God”) on the walls of Palestinian houses. The images, which portray a blatant show of pinkwashing, have quickly sparked criticisms.

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) website defines pinkwashing as “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”.

Queer Arab singer and activist Hamed Sinno took to his Instagram account to condemn the image, noting that images like these make his and other activists’ work “infinitely harder” because of the way they equate being queer with being an “imperial implant” in the Middle East.



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Now, I want you to take a step back. Away from politics, activism, and big words. I want you to imagine what this picture means for me, and every other queer Palestinian. Where our phones flash back to us a flag that supposedly represents us, being raised atop the ruins of a destroyed city, atop bodies of people who look like us and speak our language.

The popular response most people have to this idea is a sense of pity. Many see us queer Palestinians as faced with a choice. Are we queer? Or are we Palestinian? Do we support that raised rainbow flag or the “bismillah” that inspired it? A choice I never felt represented me, not today, not during the Al-Aqsa attacks in 2023, nor the attacks on Sheikh Jarrah in 2021, or the 2014 war on Gaza.

I don’t make this choice not because I am protesting it, but because it is simply not a choice any queer Palestinian has ever conceptualized into existence. You see, queer Palestinians have never questioned whether or not they should be there, signs in hand, protesting at every turn.

Queer Palestinians were there protesting illegal Palestinian house demolitions, they were there protesting wrongful convictions of kids like Ahmad Manasra, and they were there shedding tears at the grave of the journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh.


Despite all this, and more, we were not in the limelight, not the subject of media and bravos from the world, we were simply brown terrorist Arabs. Popular media did not care to interview us, to represent us, or to hear us. We did not satisfy their idea of what a queer person looks like, no, in those moments, our “Palestinian-ness” was screaming too loud for any queerness to show.

Today, however, we are shoved back into the conversation by the very institution that bombs Palestinians, queer or not, and we are implicitly told to make the choice, between those who hold up that rainbow flag or the rubble on which they stood to do so.

This narrative of choice is the result of the recently popularized (and heavily Islamophobic) argument that “if you were queer in Gaza, you’d be dead by now” which, to many, is treated as the ultimate reason why a Palestinian should no longer attend protests or speak up when their brothers and sisters in Gaza are piling their family members’ organs into plastic bags.

Forgetting that if a queer Palestinian were in Gaza, they indeed would be dead, for being a Palestinian in Gaza. It is exactly this reason that made my last trip to Jerusalem, Palestine, so jarring. I have never known safety since I grew up there, and I was not expecting to feel safe during my visit, but this time was different. Seeing people openly carry weaponry out in public made me feel that being Palestinian was the last thing I wanted to show, I didn’t even dare speak Arabic.

It is integral to note that a lot of this narrative of ‘choice’ does not come from those who are active in the queer community, quite the opposite, protests all around the world have included multitudes of queer activists from all backgrounds showing up in support of a free Palestine.

Projects like Queering the Map and The Dyke Project pushed queer Palestinian narratives to the forefront. Even in Ireland, movements such as Trans & Intersex Pride Dublin have made it a point to show up at every pro-Palestine rally and have hung posters of solidarity with queer Palestinians during Trans Day of Remembrance.


Indeed, the amount of queer solidarity around the world has been astounding and evokes the same history of solidarity that grassroots queer movements have always had (let us all remember the “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” alliance). If anything, this narrative is mostly driven by those who wish to pigeonhole what queerness looks like and benefit from the manipulation of the queer experience and image to fit whatever agenda they want to serve.

In reality, being a queer Palestinian means whatever I want it to mean, it is not a choice I ever make within myself. Where I have felt targeted for being Palestinian, I have also felt targeted for being queer, and many times, I have felt targeted for both.

Safety is not something I feel is meant for someone like me, I have always walked through life trying to decrease the likelihood of danger, but always learning to live with the ever-present possibility of it. That being said, I can say that my life in Dublin so far has made that sense of danger decrease exponentially.

The road ahead for tangible high-level change is long, but what more can be said about unity, than seeing that rainbow flag raised high at a Pro-Palestine rally?  No words, just unspoken solidarity. Flying high and proud, always there, to accept you whole.

This article was originally published in UCD’s University Observer.

© 2024 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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