Why I'll be marching this Friday

So that a 16-year-old Jerusalemite won't grow up to hate himself if he discovers he's gay.

gay parade jerusalem 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
gay parade jerusalem 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
On November 5, 1995 I wore a kippa all day for the first time in my life, and I've done so ever since on the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. I do this for two reasons: because the day has religious significance for me, but, more importantly, because I was shocked by the hatred Israeli society exhibited toward religious people in the days following the murder, and I wanted to show my solidarity with this group which was facing such hostility. I wanted to understand how it feels to be looked at differently walking down the street, and being seen for what I looked like rather than who I am as a person. I was 16 when Rabin was murdered, and being an Ashkenazi boy growing up in Jerusalem and still far in the closet - even to myself - I had never before that November day known what being part of a minority was like. "Gay" at the time was what kids called each other when they failed to kick the ball into the goal during school-break. If pressed, "gay" was a reason to walk faster through the park at night, or what a girl called her new ex-boyfriend. I'M GROWN-UP now, and have in this process learned - not only on Rabin memorial days - what being part of a minority is like. I am gay. You might find it surprising that the hardest part about being gay is actually not saying that to one's parents, or one's boss, or one's high-school friends; or coming out day after day every time I meet someone new who asks if I have a girlfriend, or writing "I am gay" in the newspaper - though none of these are easy. The hardest part is saying "I am gay" to myself, and realizing that all the negative connotations of the word "gay" that we are all brought up to assume, all the stigmas that society associates with the word, do not reflect who I am. If walking down the street with a kippa taught me a whole new set of interactions, that's nothing compared to the kind of looks and comments I get every time I walk hand-in-hand in Jerusalem with the man I love. Must you hold hands, and in Jerusalem, of all places? You should expect such a reaction. No, we should not have to expect such a reaction. We hold hands because that's what people who love each other often do. Not holding hands is not about being respectful, it's just easy. Not wearing my kippa would be equally easy. Prejudice is thinking less of someone because of an aspect of his or her identity. Homophobia is thinking less of someone because they're gay. Self-homophobia is thinking less of yourself because you're gay. Not holding hands in the street because of other people's reactions would be thinking less of myself. Pride, on the other hand, is self-acceptance. I AM PROUD to be Israeli, despite the level of hatred surrounding us. I'm proud to be Jewish, despite anti-Semitism. And also, despite the shameful and violent things some people do in the name of Judaism, I'm proud to be gay - despite the fact that some people think that their feelings are hurt by my very existence. Pride is needed, so far as there is homophobia. And in Jerusalem, baruch Hashem, there is plenty of homophobia, as the violent, ungodly events of the past weeks have amply proven. But Friday's march is not a reaction to recent ultra-Orthodox violence. In fact, we've been marching for the past five years in a row in a peaceful and respectable manner through the streets of downtown Jerusalem. And for those of you who don't know Jerusalem - this is the business and tourist district, not a haredi neighborhood. We will march so that a 16-year-old Jerusalemite won't have to grow up hating what he may end up realizing he is. So that a Jerusalem father won't react to revelations that his daughter is gay in the frightful way she grew up fearing he might. The pride parade exists so that two teenagers kissing on their way home from a movie will never again be arrested and harassed by the police; it exists so that three people will never again be stabbed just because they walked down the street in pride, in Jerusalem. What I love most about Jerusalem is the city's diversity: walking to synagogue on Friday night and saying "Shabbat shalom" to people with all kinds of kippot, going to all kinds of synagogues, and then later, between our prayers, hearing the muezzin and the church bells through the window; knowing that all of us are praying in our own way for a better and more peaceful future. I WILL MARCH this Friday, because it's a parade for tolerance. It's about saying that we are marching together so long as people cannot walk down the street and be proud of who they are. It's about saying that sinat hinam - senseless hatred - has destroyed Jerusalem, but that love, respect, and tolerance can elevate us. I invite you to march with us this Friday, to show "thy fellow person" that this beautiful city is also full of love, respect and humanity. The writer is a resident of Jerusalem.