In the past I’ve written about the numerous international journalists and activists who have been brought to Philadelphia Gay News offices as part of an international diplomacy program. When they come to PGN they view how LGBT rights and freedom of the press work in the U.S. Many of those visits are through Citizens Diplomacy, whose mission is the grassroots of foreign relations. Traditional diplomacy takes place between states; public diplomacy involves person-to-person contact between citizens of different countries.
While my journey in LGBT activism is sometimes the topic of programs, at times I’m invited to other programs which the directors believe might be of interest. Recently they invited me to a conversation with Nagham Mohanna, a Palestinian journalist who works at the Gaza Center for Media Freedom and at an Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper. She has also written for The Times, The National and Reuters. It was a special treat since Nagham was one of those young journalists who visited PGN in the past.
And now she was doing the lecturing and she was zooming in directly from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. After the recent attacks between Gaza and Israel, Nagham must be admired simply for attempting to be an Islamic woman journalist in war torn Gaza.
After the initial interview where she said that she enjoys doing human interest stories, they opened the floor for questions, and as everyone expected there was one on my mind. It went like this: “Nagham, thanks for being with us. Have you ever thought about doing a Human Interest story on LGBT people living in either the West Bank or Gaza and the difficulty of their lives?” That great smile appeared and she said “you and I debated that before,” then added the obvious “it wouldn’t be accepted by the authorities or the people.” She was being honest and I certainly appreciated that, and I also realized that she’s speaking from Hamas-controlled Gaza and that meant that if she went any further on that topic it could endanger her, so I politely did not take it any further.
That’s what Citizens Diplomacy has taught me. To accept cultural differences, but to diplomatically bring up the subject regardless, since if done so diplomatically it does what it needs: shine a light and end invisibility of our LGBT community. I appreciate that change takes time, but be assured that conversation has begun. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority must end its harrassment of its LGBT citizens. And our community needs to speak up at any chance and loudly. LGBT lives count on it.