A humble beginning

"Saturday night’s protest...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."

Gay Pride, Tel Aviv, June 7, 2013. (photo credit: Julie Steigerwald)
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 answer.
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 rights.”
“Gays, eh?” replied the man. “Why not? It’s a free world.” His response best captured the spirit of the demonstration up to that point.
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.
Finally, 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 trans-genders.
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