Yesterday was Pride in Jerusalem. It’s running 10 years in a row, which is an amazing achievement in a city like the Capital where the religious community, more specifically the Haredim, is dominant.
I’ve been to several pride marches in Jerusalem, and to one in Tel Aviv, and the experiences have been strikingly different. I’ve also been to a couple of Pride Parades in Montreal, but that’s another world altogether.
The one time I attended a pride march in Tel Aviv was a long time ago, before I even moved to Israel. In Tel Aviv, homophobia is almost nonexistent. You see gay couples and transgendered folk walking the streets of Tel Aviv the same way you see them walking the streets of the Gay Village in Montreal.
So it’s no surprise that Pride in Tel Aviv is jam-packed with people, dressed in almost nothing, parading around, blasting music, making out, all out in the open, without Haredim around to ridicule them and threaten them with prophecies of doom.
But in Jerusalem, it’s a completely different scenario. I rarely see openly gay couples or trans people walking the streets, if at all. There is only one queer bar that I know of, and it’s hidden somewhere in a dark alley behind one of the main streets of downtown. It’s only during Pride that homosexuals really come out, so to speak. And opposers abound.
The marchers are well-behaved, fully dressed, with heavy security among and around them.
The events of the previous years showed that such measures were necessary.
In 2005, a religious fanatic infiltrated the crowd of paraders and stabbed one of them.
In 2006, religious fanatics rioted in the streets a few days before the World Pride Parade was set to take place. It got to a point where the security situation was so bad that officials had the marchers hold their festivities in a closed stadium. In the gay community of Jerusalem, this event is known as the “march that didn’t march.”
In 2007, there were more threats made by the religious fanatics, bomb threats, violence, counter-protests and riots. As a result, the march had almost as many security personnel as marchers. The security officials literally stood side by side, lining the whole perimeter of the march, with their backs to the parade, looking out and blocking any people who seemed to them as dangerous counter-protesters. Since there are, in fact, some religious folk who do participate in the march (such as the Bat Kol group of religious lesbians), the security at the entrance of the perimeter vigorously searched and questioned any person sporting religious attire who wanted in.
During that parade, I’ve encountered several people who screamed at me, insulted me, asking me what does a lesbian have to be proud of… and I’m not even lesbian! The only reason I attend pride marches and pride events in Jerusalem is to show that I am proud to be a Jerusalemite and a Jew, and I am proud to live in a democratic country where all voices deserve to be heard, even if the fascist religious community refuses to listen.
The pride marches of 2008, 2009 and 2010, I missed out on for reasons I can’t remember. I think it mostly had to do with my work schedule during those years.
In 2011, the march I’ve been to was the longest one I remember. We marched from Gan Haatzma’ut all the way to the garden near the Knesset where a big rally took place. I think we may have walked by a street where most of the residents were religious. It wasn’t a Haredi neighborhood though, so I suppose the marchers and the security people didn’t expect what happened then. People from the balconies threw at the marchers what seemed like water balloons filled with human waste. My friend Sarah insisted it must be urine, but it smelled like feces. Some people got soaked with it. I was lucky enough to have only some of it on the bottom hems of my pants. The acrid smell followed us throughout the rest of the day.
This year, the march went by rather peacefully. I marched with my friend Deb who has never been to pride in Jerusalem before. She also noticed that people were well-behaved and completely dressed, which is rare in other pride events she is used to.
But this is Jerusalem. I think the main purpose of the march is not to shock, provoke, or draw attention with nudity and humor, as many of the opposers seem to think. Pride in Jerusalem is an effort to show that the gay community is made up of human beings, just like any other group of people. It’s a way to raise awareness about the beauty, diversity and power of this community, and strengthen the trust and belief that democracy will prevail. It’s to show everyone that the naysayers’ efforts to shame, humiliate, terrorize, insult and threaten the GLBTQ people back into the closet are futile.
And I, for one, completely and wholly support this cause, because I live in this democratic country, too, and I don’t want to see my fellow Jews, gay or straight, silenced and pushed aside.
This year’s Pride March in Jerusalem focussed on this very point. One of the speakers was the man who was stabbed in 2005. He said that his mother told him to end his speech with this line “Never stop being proud.” But he said he wants to change this line a little and said “Stop being proud, but only once the others stop shaming you.”
Peace, love and kisses!