This past Friday, November 9th, 2012, the UU-UNO presented the New York Premiere of a new documentary, “The Invisible Men”. The film follows three gay Palestinian young men who are forced to escape from persecution at home in Palestine and are hiding illegally in Israel. Each of these men are eventually granted legal asylum in Western Europe. The film explores issues of Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transgender asylum, LGBT life in the Middle East, and how gay people are affected in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The screening was followed by a panel discussion and a questions and answer session.
The Panel included Yariv Mozer, the film’s director; George Tenreiro, an immigration attorney specializing in LGBT asylum and Bruce Knotts, the UU-UNO Director and former Regional Refugee Coordinator for West Africa. Mordechai Levovitz, a social work intern at the UU-UNO moderated the Panel and Q & A. After the Panelists introduced themselves and shared their thoughts on the film, Mordechai read a letter from Sa’ed Atshan, an LGBT Palestinian advocate who was supposed to be on the panel but decided against it. The letter talked about the importance of Palestinian people framing their own narrative and not using an Israeli funded film as a centerpiece for this discussion. Sa’ed also accused the film of being part of a Pink Washing Campaign in which to juxtapose Israel’s good LGBT laws with Palestine’s poor record on LGBT issues.
The Panel responded to Sa’ed’s letter, with Mr Mozer explaining that all films in Israel receive some government financing, but films can be and often are very critical of Israeli policies. He felt that the film is quite critical of Israel’s laws on LGBT Palestinian refugees, and in no way is the film propaganda for Israel as a country. Mr Knotts added that the role of any diplomat is to accentuate the positive while minimizing the negative aspects of their countries policies. He followed that this is not unique to Israel, and such the pink washing accusations are unfair. All the panelists lamented that Sa’ed chose not to come and be on the panel, for they felt that his points of view would have expanded the narrative. Bruce announced that Sa’ed may be involved in a follow up panel about being LGBT in the Muslim world, to be presented at the UU-UNO spring seminar week in April.
There were close to thirty audience participants, including representatives from the Israeli and Swedish UN missions. Most of the participants were from United Nations consultative Non-Governmental Organization’s working in Human Rights. Questions from the audience ranged from Middle East issues, the process of LGBT asylum, US policies for LGBT refugees, Gay Cinema, information about filming the movie, and follow up about the film’s subjects. Mr. Tenreiro talked about the challenges that LGBT refugees face when applying for asylum in the US, and how these applicants prove that they are indeed persecuted in their homeland for being LGBT.
The program was successful in bringing the story and plight of this especially vulnerable population to the UN community. Being that the Israel-Palestinian issue is one that arouses divergent views, especially at the UN, It would have been helpful to have some healthy disagreement on the Panel. Being that Sa’ed or any voice of objection decided not to come, the panelists were mostly in agreement about things. Hopefully, we will be able to incorporate some respectful debate in our next event. This being said, the audience was visibly moved by the film, and seemed encouraged to think of ways to better help LGBT people seeking asylum. People wanted to continue this discussion and some voiced interest in returning to this subject matter during the UU-UNO Spring Seminar on LGBT international issues.