Position paper
Policy brief
Published on
December 20, 2023

Pinkwashing & Homonationalism: Hiding Violence behind a Rainbow Veil

To note: IGLYO — The International LGBTQI Youth & Student Organisation is a norm-critical, feminist, intersectional anti-racist, anti-fascist, human rights-based, youth-led organisation, and our Members mandate us to act as per these values. IGLYO works to advance the rights of LGBTQI young people, including LGBTQI youth of faith. Criticisms in this article are of religious power structures and are not meant to target anyone's personal spiritual or religious beliefs. 

What is pinkwashing? 

“Pinkwashing” is a term contextualised in 2010 by QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) to describe the strategy of promoting a front of LGBTQI inclusivity as a way to distract from human rights violations (Schulman, 2011). 

Today, the term is often used to describe the actions of corporations who participate in Pride campaigns as an advertising tool while acting in ways that are actively harmful to the LGBTQI community, such as donating funds to anti-LGBTQI politicians. 

It has also been used to describe the forefronting of women in far-right politics in order to soften the public perception of far-right political policies. 

However, the original meaning related specifically to Israel’s International PR activities to position itself as an LGBT-safe zone in the region to appeal to “Western” LGBTQI people and allies, while also participating in human rights violations against Palestinians, including queer Palestinians. 

Similar to the term “greenwashing”, pinkwashing refers to the veneer of inclusion in the absence of any meaningful action or values that move attention from violence. 

Both of these terms use “washing” as these strategies attempt to clean the reputation of the powers that use it, to sanitise their reputation, and to hide their violence.

What is homonationalism? 

In a recent post, "Absolutely not. You cannot destroy homes in the name of love. You cannot bomb families in the name of equality” (2023) and in a recent podcast titled "Queers for Palestine & The Power of Pinkwashing" (2023) by queer Jewish activist Matt Bernstein, they have dissected the concept of pinkwashing and homonationalism drawing insights from the words of queer Jewish writer, academic, and activist Sarah Schulman along others. They highlighted Schulman’s book "Israel/Palestine and the Queer International" (2012) quoting:

“Homonationalism is where white gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (and in some cases transsexuals [sic]) have won a full range of legal rights. Through marriage, Parenthood and family, they become accepted and realigned with the patriotic or nationalist ideologies of their countries. Instead of being feared as the threat to family and nation that they were once seen to be, this new integration under the most normative of terms is held up as a symbol of that country's commitment to progress and modernity. Some then identify with the racial and religious hegemony of their countries and join movements opposing immigration or racial and cultural differences. They construct the ‘other’ often, Muslims of Arab, South Asian, Turkish, or African origin as ‘homophobic’ and ‘fanatically heterosexual.’ [...] Homonationalism is the emotional legacy of homophobia.”

In concrete instances, such as the United States, where the LGBTQI community has recently achieved significant victories in human rights, particularly in Western contexts like the right to marry and serve in the military, individuals — both Western gays and their white liberal allies — tend to hold onto these specific triumphs, turning them into symbols of their national identity, such as being American, European or even “one of the only democrats in the Middle East”. 

Consequently, and wrongly so, identities as queer or queer-friendly become entwined with certain national identities, whether it's American, British, or from any other Western nation (mostly white-led and dominant ones).  This phenomenon is referred to as homonationalism, where white Western countries are framed as inherently progressive. This contrast is often drawn by juxtaposing our positive feelings towards Western countries with negative perceptions of Muslim-majority Brown countries, which are often labelled as 'barbaric,' 'uncivilised,' and 'homophobic.'  

Researcher and author Dr. Walaa Alqaisiya (2018) also points out the false duality that oversimplifies queer Palestinians’ realities by stating that homonationalism and pinkwashing “divide the world into binaries of civilised versus uncivilised, pride versus homophobia, democracy versus terror”. This dichotomy is especially pronounced when considering the lens through which Western "developed agendas" are viewed. These agendas, ostensibly promoting equality, often focus on showcasing LGBTQI individuals in positions of power within systems that can perpetuate oppression. Examples include the emphasis on gender equality in the Israeli army or the celebration of a gay Israeli army marriage proposal, revealing a complex interplay between LGBTQI rights and broader narratives of dominance and authority.

According to Jasbir Puar (2013a), homonationalism is “a facet of modernity and a historical shift marked by the entrance of (some) homosexual bodies as worthy of protection by nation-states, a constitutive and fundamental reorientation between the state, capitalism, and society”, and moreover, “the practice of pinkwashing [was made possible through] the global conditions of homonationalism”. 

Sarah Schulman (2012) conveys that “Prof. Aeyal Gross an Israeli law professor at the University of Tel Aviv wrote that ‘Gay rights have essentially become a public relations tool in Israel even though conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic’”. It's crucial to note that homonationalism is inherently racialised, as it is selectively applied to critique Muslim homophobia while neglecting, for example, documented instances of Christian, Hindu, or Jewish Homophobia.

The above-mentioned scholars reiterate the manipulative use of LGBTQ+ rights discourse to reframe, justify, and exacerbate imperial violence. They also underline the connections between occupations and colonialism, most notably settler colonialism. Haneen Maikey, a Palestinian queer activist, has also stated that “pinkwashing is an insidious colonial violence on queer bodies in Palestine because it works to strengthen myths about Palestine” (Bassily, 2017).

Pinkwashing and Islamophobia

We would be hard-pressed to find any mainstream religion that fully embraces LGBTQI people and stands up for their rights. This is something the vast majority of religions have in common. However, we often see Islam singled out for being homophobic, and this is used to justify discrimination and violence towards those who are either culturally or religiously Muslim. Faith-based discrimination is another form of marginalisation, and LGBTQI people will not be liberated through the marginalisation of another group. 

Sarah Schulman (2012) also wrote: 

“Anti-Muslim racists can express some concern for the well-being of gays only when the homophobia is Islamic and not for example Catholic. And Muslim homophobia is considered far more destructive than Jewish, Hindu, or Christian homophobia. And by extension, the US war crimes against Arabs and Muslims are ignored.”

The notion that Muslim people are inherently homophobic erases the voices of Queer Muslims who face discrimination for both being Queer and for being Muslim. Particularly, in the case of pinkwashing, we see the idea that Israel is “LGBTQI friendly” used to justify the ongoing killings of Palestinians. While Queer Palestinians are undoubtedly marginalised, they are more so marginalised due to the occupation of their land and the ongoing violence they face at the hands of their Colonisers. Basic human rights of shelter, food, statehood, and housing are being denied, and that cannot be done under the banner of a rainbow flag. As Jasbir Puar (2013b) states, “Palestinian queer organizers assert that it is irrelevant whether Palestinian society is homophobic or not” as “the occupation is the primary site of struggle” for most collectives, including Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS).

Recently, Russia’s Supreme Court classified the “International LGBT social movement” as an extremist organisation. This is only one example to show us that which movements are labelled as extremists depends on which ideologies the power structures are trying to conserve. In instances where Hetero-patriarchies are being conserved, then the LGBTQI rights movement will be labelled as extremists. In places where white supremacy is being conserved then Islam will be labelled as extremist. We are not saying that fundamentalist Islamic regimes are not hostile to LGBTQI people, we are saying that equally fundamentalist Christian regimes are hostile to LGBTQI people, for example in the case of Uganda. How do these two differ? They differ because in the case of Islam, under white supremacy all Muslim people are considered out of step with “Western values” and therefore their oppression is seen as less tragic, whereas Christian people are allowed to remain nuanced and individual. 

How do pinkwashing and homonationalism impact the global LGBTQI community? 

Pinkwashing and homonationalism have significant implications for the global LGBTQI community, influencing both perceptions and policies on queer rights in various geopolitical contexts.

Homonationalism, described as an attitude by Sarah Schulman (2012), can lead to the assimilation of white gay individuals into existing racist power structures. This attitudinal shift may inadvertently align LGBTQI identities with oppressive systems, potentially hindering broader solidarity with movements against racism and other forms of discrimination. This dynamic can impact how the LGBTQI community engages with and supports social justice movements on a global scale.

Pinkwashing, in contrast to homonationalism, is a deliberate governmental strategy. It involves leveraging LGBTQI rights, often through policy, legislation, and marketing, to divert attention from broader human rights issues and violations. Governments may use the positive image of LGBTQI rights to project a progressive image while deflecting scrutiny from other problematic practices, which inevitably put the community in situations where they are complicit as well in oppression; i.e. in the case of Israel, the strategic use of gay rights may divert attention from the complex issues surrounding the Palestinian population.

In an article with the New York Times (2011), Sarah Schulman quoted:

In Israel, gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights — just as in America, the expansion of gay rights in some states does not offset human rights violations like mass incarceration. The long-sought realization of some rights for some gays should not blind us to the struggles against racism in Europe and the United States, or to the Palestinians’ insistence on a land to call home.

The weaponisation of LGBTQI rights, as exemplified through tactics such as pinkwashing and homonationalism, represents a disturbing mechanism where the struggle for equality becomes a tool for political manoeuvring. When governments strategically deploy LGBTQI rights as a shield to deflect attention from broader human rights violations, effectively weaponising the positive image associated with the fight for queer rights; they not only risk undermining the genuine progress in LGBTQI rights but also place the community in a precarious position, inadvertently complicit in oppressive/genocidal practices. It should also be noted that LGBTQI rights displayed by the governments can often be a facade, such that not all queer people are truly liberated, and discrimination and violence against LGBTQI people are still rampant in their nations. 

The global LGBTQI community must actively engage in dialogue, remain informed, and foster alliances that resist the weaponisation of the fight for equality, ensuring that the pursuit of justice is not manipulated for ulterior motives but rather contributes to a more equitable and inclusive world for all.

Furthermore, pinkwashing and homonationalism further marginalise individuals who, constrained by conservative backgrounds, choose not to be open about their sexual orientation, thereby invalidating their experiences, despite their existence and the legitimacy of their personal narratives.

How can I challenge pinkwashing? 

A Jewish trans activist from Tel Aviv, Yahli Agai, said, referring to the anti-pinkwashing bloc they participated in, “We are calling for queer liberation and a shift from nationalism and capitalism to solidarity. [...] Our protest is against the injustices that directly harm the queer community.” (Ziv, 2023). As the LGBTQI community, we can continue learning about the complexities of intersecting struggles and the instrumentalisation of the queer liberation movement. 

As the anti-pinkwashing struggle is long-standing, there are many valuable resources on the topic, some of which have been referenced above. For example, groups such as Black Laundry, QUIT, PQBDS, QCP, Al-Qaws, and Queers in Palestine have previously and/or are currently sharing their stories and demands of queer folks. Those who are most affected, those who are from the regions where pinkwashing is used as an excuse to oppress and invalidate queer and other communities’ struggles, are raising their voices under oppression. As LGBTQI activists, we must listen to these voices. 

It is important to note that a growing number of queer activists call for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which is described as “slowly, strategically and carefully insisting upon and creating systemic and thorough changes in the terms of Palestinian society itself” and definitively not “demanding acceptance, tolerance, or inclusion within a ‘nationalist’ movement” (Puar, 2013b). 

Queer activists from Palestine also urge queer activists to question or broaden their language, so that it is as devoid as possible of colonial influence and Islamophobia, and more true and inclusive of the experiences of all queers and sex workers (Maikey & Stelder 2015). This is again only possible by listening to and amplifying diverse voices. 

In an interview with Nelly Bassily (2017), Haneen Maikey reiterates how pinkwashing is a specific strategy used to distract from or justify occupation and human rights violations and further delves into how pinkwashing is used to perpetuate notions of queer Palestinians needing to be rescued by other nations. As such, queer activists should be critical of claims of LGBTQI inclusivity when stated by politicians, and seek out regional and national queer organisations. 

NOTE: Navigating the discourse on pinkwashing poses a unique challenge as we strive to strike a balance between critiquing the tactic and taking a measured stance. In this section, we acknowledge the difficulty in articulating concrete calls to action without oversimplifying a complex issue. The intention is to maintain a nuanced perspective that fosters thoughtful engagement, avoids the risk of adopting an overly polarised stance, and stands against oppressive systems using the LGBTQI struggles to justify their atrocities.

This article was drafted by IGLYO Board & Staff Members Yassine Chagh (He/They), Bella FitzPatrick (She/her), and Yasemin Bahar (They/them).


Alqaisiya, W. (2018). Decolonial Queering: The Politics of Being Queer in Palestine. Journal of Palestine Studies, 47(3), 29–44.

Bassily, N. (2017, June 16). From Pinkwashing to Pinkwatching: Palestinian Queer Resistance. Medium.

Ben-Shitrit, L. Elad-Strenger, J. and Hirsch-Hoefler, S. (2022), ‘Pinkwashing’ the radical-right: Gender and the mainstreaming of radical-right policies and actions. European Journal of Political Research, 86-110.

Bernstein, M. @mattxiv "Absolutely not. You cannot destroy homes in the name of love. You cannot bomb families in the name of equality”  (2023),

Bernstein, M. “Queers for Palestine & The Power of Pinkwashing”. (2023),

Maikey, H., & Stelder, M. (2015). Dismantling the Pink Door in the Apartheid Wall: Towards a Decolonized Palestinian Queer Politics. In A. Tellis, & S. Bala (Eds.), The Global Trajectories of Queerness : Re-thinking Same-Sex Politics in the Global South (pp. 83-103). (Thamyris/Intersecting: Place, Sex and Race; Vol. 30). Brill Rodopi.

Puar, J. (2013a). Rethinking Homonationalism. International Journal of Middle East Studies,   45(2), 336–339.

Puar, J. (2013b). Homonationalism as Assemblage: Viral Travels, Affective Sexualities. Jindal Global Law Review, 4(2), 23–43.

Schulman, S. (2011a, November 23). Opinion | “Pinkwashing” and Israel’s Use of Gays as a Messaging Tool. The New York Times.

Schulman, S. (2011b, December 6). A Documentary Guide to Pinkwashing. HuffPost.

Schulman, S. (2012). Israel/Palestine and the Queer International. Duke University Press.

Ziv, O. (2023, June 16). The queer Israeli youth taking a stand against pinkwashing. +972 Magazine.

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