Transgender Activist Janet Mock Cancels Brown U Talk After Anti-Israel Activists Reject Hillel Co-Sponsorship
A leading activist for queer and transgender rights has cancelled an upcoming appearance at Brown University, The Algemeiner has learned, due to a controversy surrounding the campus Hillel’s co-sponsorship of her visit.
Janet Mock, a black, native Hawaiian trans woman and activist, announced Wednesday that she had canceled her March 21 talk, “Redefining Realness,” based on her 2014 bestselling book of the same name. According to a statement posted on the Facebook page of Moral Voices, a Brown student group co-sponsoring her visit, Mock’s representatives said:
We feel the focus of Janet’s work was lost leading up to the proposed event, and her visit was received with controversy and resistance rather than open dialogue and discussion about the issues closest to Janet’s work in movements for trans liberation, racial justice and intersectional feminism.
The controversy began when an online petition appeared two weeks ago, urging Mock to “Accept Brown Students’ Invitation, Not Hillel’s.” The petition, which had reached 160 signatures as of press time, argued that Hillel “defends and even advocates for Israel’s policies of occupation and apartheid,” and that her appearance at Brown was an example of “pinkwashing,” the practice whereby Israel allegedly advertises its liberal attitudes toward LGBTQ matters to try to “improve its image … and deflect attention from its colonization and occupation of Palestine.”
A member of Brown’s Students for Justice in Palestine explained the idea Thursday to the Brown Daily Herald:
With an Israeli government that time and time again is exploiting LGBTQ individuals for the sake of covering up (its) crimes, then it becomes really important that we don’t let a [Hillel] Center who is time and time again supporting the Israeli regime to then claim that they are also supporting LGBTQ voices. There is a serious contradiction there.
Seniors Natalie Cutler and Rachel Levy, the co-chairs of Moral Voices, posted a response to the petition last week, which read in part:
We were shocked and deeply saddened to see a petition requesting that Ms. Mock reject Moral Voices’ invitation due to its affiliation with Brown RISD Hillel … This petition … make[s] us ask: given that Hillel is the center for Jewish life on this campus — with a mandate to support the interests and meet the needs of a very diverse constituency of Jewish students (ranging widely in their political, religious, and cultural inclinations) — does simply engaging in a Jewish space render one unfit to do [social] justice work?
In announcing the cancellation yesterday, Moral Voices issued a joint statement with Brown RISD Hillel:
The instigation of a small number of students, who both reached out directly to Ms. Mock and posted a factually inaccurate petition, created an environment where Ms. Mock felt her message of trans empowerment would be overshadowed. Rather than centering her actual work and activism, these students prioritized making sure Brown RISD Hillel would not be able to bring Ms. Mock to College Hill … Today is a very sad day for the entire Brown community and for LGBTQ+ activism.
Other Brown students also posted an online petition yesterday, apologizing for the behavior of their fellow students.
It stated, in part:
We were shocked to see the petition circulated against Jewish students’ right to host events addressing queer issues, both because of the petition’s blatant antisemitism and because of the disrespect it exhibited for such an important speaker and activist…
The fact that Hillel is home to groups engaged in discussion on Israel and Palestine does not make it acceptable for students on campus to oppose Hillel events that are entirely unrelated to Israel. Accusations that all events organized by Jewish groups, even those with no Israel-related stances or affiliations (such as Moral Voices), are part of some nefarious Israeli propaganda machine echo familiar tropes of antisemitism …
Accusations of Israeli or Jewish pinkwashing are not only totally unfounded, but also extremely offensive … Israel cannot be defined entirely by its conflict with Palestine … The idea that nothing Israel does has any legitimacy unless it fits conveniently into the anti-Israel narrative is odious, offensive, and false …
We are very sorry that Brown’s campus will not be able to hear [Mock’s] story because of the hateful and irresponsible actions of a small portion of the student body.
Mock’s talk was sponsored by Moral Voices in collaboration with other groups, including the Queer Alliance, the LGBTQ Center, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators (SAPE), Brown Center for Students of Color and RISD’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement. Moral Voices is a privately funded group run through Brown RISD Hillel, whose mission, according to their statement, “is to raise awareness and support addressing an annually chosen issue of social injustice.”