REVELERS DIP in the Mediterranean Sea as they take part in a Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv last year.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Tel Aviv is about to explode with a rainbow blast of colorful festivities marking its annual Pride Week celebration. Every year at around this time, the city that already never sleeps goes into overdrive as tens of thousands of members of the LGBT+ community amass on its streets.
Marking 20 years since it was first held, the main Pride Parade, which is taking place today, is set to be the biggest celebrated so far in Israel’s history, which in turn makes it the biggest in the Middle East and all of Asia.
The event traditionally draws thousands of visitors from abroad, bringing in millions of dollars for local businesses and offering a grand platform for Israel to display itself at its best.
This year the festivities also coincide with Israel’s 70th independence anniversary, which only adds to the jubilation.
But not everyone connects with Pride Week’s agenda of celebrating the LGBT+ community; for some people it represents a major religious transgression. Others dislike the revealing outfits and at times explicit sexuality on display.
Some people are simply annoyed at the traffic jams caused by the large happening.
What we should be able to agree about, and take joint pride in, however, is the fact that in 2018, Israel is one of the most progressive countries in the world in its official treatment of the LGBT+ community.
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True, there is still much work to be done for members of the community to gain full equal rights, particularly in the fields of spousal rights and child custody.
True, there are large segments of the population – particularly on the right and among the Orthodox community – who say insufferable things about homosexuals on a regular basis; but there is still no denying the advances made in the past 20 years.
This year saw the community make many gains and open the door into the Israeli mainstream.
In January, Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross, for the first time allowed blood donations from homosexual men.
In March, Ra’anana became the first city in Israel to have an openly gay mayor, after Eitan Ginzburg replaced outgoing mayor Ze’ev Bielski.
And even Bayit Yehudi, one of the most conservative political parties in the country, announced in April that its doors were open to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.
Yes, there is much to be proud of. But as in every other field, it requires ongoing and intense work to keep the progress going; there is no time to rest on the laurels of past achievements.
Israel likes to present itself as the most vibrant democracy in the Middle East, often citing its treatment of minorities as proof of its liberal street creds.
But it is not enough to simply pay lip service to a cause.
Being a democracy does not end with holding regular elections, but requires checks and balances like separation of government branches, legal protection of minorities and a functioning system of redress; so, too, being an open and tolerant country does not end with throwing a pride parade once a year.
Israel needs to close the gap between the heterosexual and homosexual communities as far as rights go.
People’s sexual orientations should not prevent them from parenting a child, being recognized as a spouse or getting a job. Perhaps, even more immediately, it needs to foster a culture of tolerance.
One of the past year’s low points was a speech by Yigal Levenstein of the Bnei David pre-military academy in Eli, who suggested that homosexuality should be eradicated like AIDS.
For those who plan to come out to Tel Aviv and take part in this year’s festivities, here’s wishing you a happy and pride-filled day.
For those who prefer not to, by all means stay home. But for the sake of tolerance – and so that Israel can truly pride itself on being an open and liberal society – please don’t rain on the parade.
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