Stop homophobia before the next attack

We might not be able to live with a complete sense of security, but we have no intention of going away.

An activist waves an LGBT flag near Israel's Knesset building (photo credit: REUTERS)
An activist waves an LGBT flag near Israel's Knesset building
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yesterday, the judges of Jerusalem handed down their second sentence on Yishai Schlissel, the ultra-Orthodox attacker at the 2015 Jerusalem Pride March. He was given a disgracefully short sentence of 10 years after stabbing three people at Jerusalem Pride in 2005, only to attack the LGBT community of Jerusalem a second time a few weeks after his release just less than a year ago, on July 30, 2015. His second attack was more effective than his first, killing Shira Banki, an innocent 15-year-old girl from Jerusalem, while severely wounding five other marchers. In its wake, an entire community was left traumatized, still not able to comprehend the level of hate against them and worried of future attacks.
Israel is not in the same place it was 10 years ago. The justice system and our society are less tolerant of homophobic hate crimes. Schlissel should remain in prison for the rest of his life – but while he lives his life in prison, Shira is still dead. The LGBT community in Israel will continue to be on edge, waiting for the next hate crime against us. Like a broken record, another homophobe will go to prison, but the next attack still feels inevitable.
In Tel Aviv this summer, we celebrated our freedoms and strength as a community in a huge display, as 200,000 participants marched in the Tel Aviv Pride Parade. But even cities like Tel Aviv are not immune to hate. In 2009, Tel Aviv witnessed a horrific shooting at an LGBT Youth Club. Similarly, the incomprehensible attack at the Pulse Club in Orlando, Florida was the latest in a wave of terrorism against LGBT people. Even countries like the United States, which recently lit up the White House in rainbow colors as it approved same-sex marriage and has elected leaders who repeat their commitment to LGBT equality, the community is not free from persecution.
Marriage, parties and celebrating our sexuality are beautiful distractions, but what is all that worth if we are still the target of attacks and violence? We do not have the privilege of ignoring the hatred that exists toward LGBT people. The Jerusalem LGBT community did not think a violent attack could happen again here. But in the year since the murder at our pride march, I have realized the signs were obvious, from the hateful remarks by right-wing politicians to glares and whispers about the LGBT couple holding hands on a park bench, our community cannot rest without our safety assured.
It is true we have made many important advances toward acceptance. Just last week, while I was looking for an apartment with a friend, an older religious man told us he did not believe it was a problem to rent his apartment to a gay couple, a stark contrast from the situation 10 years ago. But as long as homophobia exists within even a small minority of society it can easily threaten LGBT people in a way that we feel on a regular basis here in Jerusalem.
Homophobia runs deep in the veins of Western society. Like anti-Semitism, it might not be visible at all times. It might be careful in how it expresses itself, but can rear its ugly head and even become prevalent in certain circumstances. I often remind myself of the revolutionary LGBT community in Berlin during the 1920s. While the community slowly gained cultural and legal acceptance and seemed to have a bright future ahead, a few years of Nazism overturned that progress. LGBT people in Germany were rounded up and murdered in the Holocaust. Despite how visible we are and despite our political achievements, we do not have the privilege of lowering our guard. We must remember the fragility of our comfortable lives. While some dangerous homophobes will go to prison, others remain free and willing to harm the members of our community.
This notion is very clear to us today. From moments after the attack at Jerusalem Pride, it was clear to us. We might not be able to live with a complete sense of security, but we have no intention of going away. On July 21, we will make that very clear. We will march again in Jerusalem, as we do every year, this time under the message “Here To Stay” and in memory of Shira Banki. Marching with pride is not only our obligation, but the obligation of all people who believe in a society free of violence. Zichronam Levracha, may the memories of those who have lost their lives in our fight for freedom and equality be a blessing.
The author is the associate director of the Jerusalem Open House, the LGBT community center of Jerusalem, and organizer of the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance.