So much to be proud of

In honor of TA Pride, a look back at the triumphs and tragedies that have shaped the LGBT community in Israel.

May 31, 2012 12:46
Pride flags being waved next to Israeli flags

Gay Pride flags 370. (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

Tens of thousands of people are set to fill the streets of Tel Aviv on June 8 for the annual Gay Pride Parade. While there's a lot to be proud of, the gay community in Israel hasn't always enjoyed such freedom. As with Israel's general history, the gay community has had its fair share of triumphs and tragedies over the years. Only in the past 25 years have significant changes taken place, both in terms of the introduction of new laws as well as a shift in attitude among the general public, allowing Israel to become internationally recognized as a beacon of freedom in a troubled region. A look back at the last 25 years and the events that have shaped the gay community give an idea of why so many people come out year after year to take part in the pride celebrations.

Although gay rights movements around the world began to form at the end of the 1960s, it wasn't until 1975 that the first Israeli LGBT Association (The Aguda) was founded, giving the gay community an official body and framework in which to operate.

While the Supreme Court ruled in the 1960s that the law banning acts of same-sex sexual activity should not be applied to acts between consenting adults in private, the Knesset only formally repealed the ban in 1988. The move caused outcry from religious politicians at the time but they did not succeed in having the decision changed.

The next major turning point came in 1993, when the Knesset ruled that gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers could serve openly in the army, putting them on a level playing field with their heterosexual counterparts. This was a significant change from the original policy, which viewed homosexuality as a mental illness. A number of openly gay soldiers have reached very high ranks within the army and many continue to serve in the most elite IDF units.

With equality in the military was achieved, national airline El Al got on board a year later in 1994. After a high profile case, the Supreme Court ordered El Al Airlines to grant a free plane ticket to the partner of gay flight attendant Jonathan Danilowitz, as the airline had long done for heterosexual partners of employees. Judge Aaron Barak led the High Court in forcing the airline to grant Danilowitz's boyfriend the complimentary ticket in a case that was seen as a breakthrough in gay rights.

The organization and popularity of Tel Aviv gay pride parades over the past few years may make it seem as if the city has been open to it for some time, but the first official pride party was only held in 1998. Smaller events were held in 1993 and 1996 but the 1998 march was the first public event with a significant number of participants. Just over 2,000 people marched from Rabin Square to Independence Park in the north of the city in what was a relatively understated event compared to today's scale. Since then, the event has grown in popularity and size with an estimated 100,000 people taking part in the

On the lighter side, in January 2012 LGBT travel website named Tel Aviv the best gay city of 2011. The website described Tel Aviv as “the city that never takes a break” and called the LGBT life there “perhaps the most vibrant in the Middle East.” This accolade is just one of the ways in which the gay scene in Tel Aviv has been internationally recognized, with the likes of Time Out and CNN featuring articles and praising the White City for its openness.

With more and more people taking part in pride events both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, even those who are not specifically part of the LGBT community, this year's celebrations are set to be bigger and better than ever. Despite some of the slightly uglier incidents that have left a bitter taste over the past few years, the gay rights movement in Israel is stronger than ever and there are still many reasons why the rainbow flag will be flying with pride over this year's events.

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