By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours
JERUSALEM, May 24 2013 (IPS) – Public discussions about sexuality and gender diversity are difficult to start in many places. But a new multimedia project that is garnering buzz in Palestine aims to reverse this trend and open up dialogue within Palestinian society around these historically taboo issues.
“We want to start an honest conversation that can also raise…limitations and tough questions,” explained Haneen Maikey, director of the Jerusalem-based Al Qaws Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian society. “It’s not to be accepted, but rather to bring the society to a safe place that we can discuss these issues.”
Al Qaws is behind a new project called Singing Sexuality, or “ghanni a’an taa’rif” in Arabic, launching May 25 in Haifa after nearly two years of preparation and the work of about 80 volunteers.
Combining photographs, videos, music and written testimonials and information, the project aims to educate young Palestinians about gender diversity, sexuality, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The goal is to initiate conversations between friends, family members and society in general throughout all of historic Palestine.
“We just want to make a dialogue. We just want to say that this issue is here.”— Alaa, an Al Qaws volunteer from Haifa
Activists launched an interactive website with information about these issues earlier this week, while three short videos and an entire music album, featuring the work of local Palestinian musicians and writers, were also posted online.
“This project was able to push [the artists] even farther, to touch more taboo questions and to play on sexuality, sexual minorities and gender in a new way,” Maikey explained, about the creative process.
By including different genres of music, from rock to traditional Arabic songs, and using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to share material, the project also has the potential to reach Palestinian youth directly.
“This project in my opinion is unique because it uses music to reach out to people, and I don’t think that we could reach out to them before,” explained Alaa, an Al Qaws volunteer from Haifa who has worked on the Singing Sexuality project from the very beginning and gave IPS only his first name.
“That’s why this project is very, very important; it’s on the Internet [and] everyone can see it,” he explained. “If we made some people think about it and rethink about it, I think we reached [the goal of] this project. We are not aiming to change peoples’ minds; we just want to make a dialogue. We just want to say that this issue is here.”
Safa Tamish is director of Muntada, the Arab Forum for Sexuality, Education and Health. She explained that while sexuality in general and LGBT rights in particular and are not openly talked about, Palestinian society has seen an increased willingness to discuss these issues in recent years.
“I think there has been a shift in peoples’ perception. I’m not saying that Palestinian society is so pro-gay rights. I cannot say that, but I can say that it is more and more acceptable. The fact is that we know of many, many families that accepted their children,” Tamish told IPS.
“Within Palestinian society, I see that there is a real transformation in the last four or five years.”
She explained that the evolution of the LGBT and queer struggles in Palestine is similar to what has happened in other countries, insomuch as these movements are more visible in modern Palestinian cities, like Ramallah or Haifa, than in smaller towns or villages, where society is generally more conservative.
“Sexual liberation is part of our national liberation. It has to be in parallel,” Tranish said. “My struggle is to contribute to the building of the civil society in Palestine, and part of that building is working on sexual rights.”
Al Qaws’ Haneen Maikey also sees the Singing Sexuality project as part of the larger Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, colonialism and discrimination, both inside Israel proper and the occupied Palestinian territories.
“Part of how I see and understand resistance is that when we decolonise Palestine, I will have a society that I can rely on, a society that is ready to [respond to] different social and political processes, that can respect the Other, [and] have openness about different sexuality and behaviour,” she explained.
“Our contribution to building a more open Palestinian society is part of an anti-colonial struggle.”