The Legacy Project and the Center on Halsted ( the Center ) kicked off the 2018 season of their joint Legacy LIVE series with "When They Go Low, We Go Haifa," an exploration of Haifa Communities' House ( HCH ) Muslim, Christian and Jewish LGBTQ History Project, March 26 at the Center.
A Wider Bridge ( AWB ), the presenting partner, assisted in the planning and execution of this event.
Chicago Commission on Human Relations ( CCHR ) Policy and Outreach Director Kelly Suzanne Saulsberry welcomed the approximately 50 people in attendance and explained the codes of conduct including no photography or video or audio recordings as well as the procedure for submitting audience questions via a QR code that was provided to every attendee.
Legacy Project Co-Founder/Executive Director Victor Salvo spoke about the international scope of the Legacy Project and how important it is for LGBTQ people, especially young people, to see themselves in history. Salvo said the need to understand LGBTQ history globally, combined with the interfaith nature of the Haifa LGBTQ History Project, was the reason he wanted to bring HCH's leaders to Chicago.
AWB Programs and Development National Director Shana Gee-Cohen expressed her gratitude to everyone attending the event as well as her hope that this would "hit the reset button" so important conversations could resumea reference to the controversy stemming from protests against AWB's participation in last year's Chicago Dyke March.
Heartland Human Care Services Executive Director David Sinski spoke about his organization's international arm and that they consider themselves human rights workers first and foremost. Sinski also spoke about his experience touring Israel last year through a program AWB sponsors. This tour gave him the opportunity to meet a diverse range of LGBTQ Jewish and Arab people.
Legacy Project Education Initiative Co-Director and Chicago State University Information Studies Professor Dr. Gabriel Gomez facilitated a conversation with HCH CEO Arnon Allouche.
They began by discussing that Haifa is Israel's third largest city and Allouche noted that HCH for Pride and Tolerancewhich opened its doors in Jan. 2017serves as a focus for local Jewish and Arab communities and LGBTQ culture by offering youth safe spaces, education and counseling on healthy lifestyles, families and relationships.
Gomez asked Allouche about the intention of the house's name which includes the word communities'. Allouche said HCH is the only place in Israel where five religions coexist in one space and where the name is written in Hebrew, Arabic and English. He said, at the moment, it is hard for them to partner with LGBTQ Arab groups in the city due to religious tensions. Allouche also noted that instead of tolerance he would like to change that part of the name to "inclusiveness." He said he would like to see the multicultural model of HCH help Haifa to rise in prominence for LGBTQ people so they do not leave for Tel Aviv.
As far as the day-to-day operations are concerned, Allouche said HCH is fully funded by the city although they get impact grants to expand their programming beyond could be done with government funding. An AWB impact grant is being used to help transgender women who gather at the monthly empowerment lunches among other initiatives. Allouche explained that, like other places in the world, transgender people struggle the most in Haifa so HCH helps them with a variety of resources. His whole goal is to create positive change for all LGBTQ people in Haifa.
Allouche added that Haifa is the birthplace of Israel's feminist movement and he became a feminist after becoming HCH's CEO. He noted that he still has a lot to learn about feminism. Allouche explained that most of the LGBTQ activists in Haifa are women and that he is a minority as a man within HCH's leadership ranks. Allouche explained that most of what they do at the house is feminist-oriented because women have been very vocal in helping to suggest HCH programming and services needs.
During the conversation with Gomez, Allouche also noted HCH Program Manager Adi Sadaka's work documenting and researching Haifa's LGBTQ history from Muslim, Christian and Jewish perspectives as the founder of Haifa's LGBTQ History Project.
Following Gomez and Allouche's conversation, Saulsberry moderated the Q&A session.
One person asked Allouche about "pinkwashing." He said he is not a political person so he could not fully address the larger issues suggested by the question. He explained that within Israel many local LGBTQ groups fought back against the government's ads promoting tourism during Tel Aviv's Pride Parade two years ago because the money would be better spent to help LGBTQ people in Israel. They won that fight.
Other questions touched on the Palestinian peace movement in Israel, programs that HCH offers that encompass all faiths, religious inclusiveness among HCH leadership ranks and his one and five year visions for the future.
Allouche said it is hard for him to get involved with the peace movement with all the other work he does. He noted that all of the HCH programs are open to anyone and do not really focus on religion. Allouche explained that so far, Arab LGBTQ people are reluctant to engage with HCH out of fear of backlash but they are working on changing that by having their Facebook page translated into Arabic. They hope this will help bridge the divide in the coming years by making it easier for Arab LGBTQ people to see the breadth of programming HCH offers.
Anticipating potential protestors, the Center employed a specialized check-in process on the first floor in front of the elevators, allowing only registered attendees up to the third floor. This included protestors who registered for the event. They, like the rest of the attendees, were expected to use the standardized submission process for questions to express their concerns. Several protestors stood during the Center's Community and Cultural Events Director Tamale Sepp's closing remarks to read scripted statements. These statements were inaudible to most of the attendees since they were not mic'd and they were talking over each other. The protestors were not asked to leave and the event ended peacefully.
See LegacyProjectChicago.org and awiderbridge.org/ for more information.
Note: Carrie Maxwell is also a volunteer with the Legacy Project.