Gay Pride, Tel Aviv, June 7, 2013..
(photo credit: Julie Steigerwald)
On Saturday night, the Israeli LGBT community came together in Tel Aviv to
demand legislation securing its rights as equal members of Israeli
society. This protest comes at the end of three tumultuous weeks in
Israeli politics during which a series of laws dealing with gay rights were
debated in the Knesset.
At 8 p.m., some 3,000 members of the gay
community assembled in Habima Square waving rainbow-colored flags and holding up
signs saying “Mr. Bennett, some men love other men. Get over it!” The crowd
outside Israel’s national theater was a multifaceted one consisting of men and
women, gays and lesbians as well as secular and religious Israelis, the latter
wearing rainbow-covered yarmulkes.
The protest began with a young girl
who grabbed the microphone and sang slogans such as “homophobia begins in the
corridors of government” and “the people demand social justice for the lesbian
and for the bi-sexual.” The majority of the crowd didn’t bother to
Then spoke the chairman of an LGBT organization, who described
the awakening of the American gay community following the California Proposition
8 struggle and promised a similar awakening in Israel. “We are now willing to
fight for our rights,” he said, and added that he wished to thank Naftali
Bennett and Ayelet Shaked of the Bayit Yehudi party, who he said were
responsible for the newfound willingness of Israeli LGBTs to fight for their
rights. This, too, failed to rally the troops.
As various speakers took
to the microphone, each representing a different letter in the LGBT acronym, the
protest seemed more like a social gathering than the onset of a social
revolution. As I listened to the speakers, I could overhear two gay men standing
to my right debating whether the fourth season of the British television show
Downton Abbey was in fact better than the third. When an elderly man came up to
ask what all the commotion was about, they said, “We are gays fighting for equal
“Gays, eh?” replied the man. “Why not? It’s a free world.” His
response best captured the spirit of the demonstration up to that
But when the announcer introduced two teens, aged 17 and 19, who
are members of IGI, the organization of gay teenagers, silence gripped the
crowd. “We are here as representatives of IGI,” they said, and thanked the crowd
for fighting for their future rights. They spoke with eloquence of a
future where high school lessons dealing with family life will include lesson
devoted to gay families and of a time when trans-gender teenagers will be free
to express their gender without fear of ridicule or violence.
they asked that the crowd bear them in mind throughout the coming months, and to
always remember that the results of this struggle would shape the society in
which they live as adults. As they stepped down from the microphone, a roar of
applause and cheers could finally be heard.
It is not surprising that
Saturday’s protest took place in Tel Aviv. While gay communities thrive in other
cities in Israel, it is Tel Aviv that has earned the reputation of gayest city
in the Middle East. What is surprising is that so few LGBTs attended the protest
given the fact that there are tens of thousands of them living in Israel.
Perhaps it was cold that prevented them from coming, or perhaps it is the fact
that despite its size and possible influence Israel’s gay community has never
developed political awareness or fought for its equal status in society.
Moreover, this community has failed to stand together as a unified minority and
has often separated into camps of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and
Saturday night’s protest was not a tour de force of the
LGBT community, nor did it demonstrate the passion necessary to bring about
social change. However, the demonstration may have signified a closing of the
ranks within this community and a willingness to join forces is a shared
struggle, and as such it was both the most important protest in the history of
the Israeli gay rights movement, and a humble beginning to the battle that lies
ahead.The author is studying toward a PhD in Communication at Tel Aviv
University. He has previously contributed to 972mag, On Second Thought Magazine
and The Jerusalem Post. He blogs at www.ilanmanor.com