Israeli Mayor Says Municipal Workers Shouldn't Express Support for LGBTQ Community

Responding to complaint against librarian who placed a Gay Pride flag on her desk, Haifa mayor says that 'in public places... this might be inappropriate'

The rainbow flag a librarian from Haifa put on her desk.

The mayor of a northern Israeli city that "there is fault" with the decision by a librarian to place a miniature Gay Pride flag on her desk.

Municipal employees must refrain insofar as possible from expressing their personal opinions while serving the public, Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem said in response to a complaint about the librarian. 

“We must be very sensitive about expressing personal opinions in workplaces that provide service to the general public,” the mayor said. “In our own homes, we can do as we please. But in a public workplace that provides service to the general public, this might be inappropriate.”

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The librarian, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Hannah, told Haaretz that four years ago, after 16-year-old Shira Banki was murdered during Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade, “I put a small, simple Gay Pride flag among my personal belongings as a sign of solidarity. The murder shocked me. I’m against baseless hatred. Homophobia kills me. It really affects me.

“I wasn’t trying to create a provocation, just for people from the [LGBTQ] community who come to the library to feel there’s a safe space. Over the years, it remained there. It was a message. It wasn’t a provocation and it wasn’t against anyone. It was for equality for all. Everyone comes to our library – from religious and ultra-Orthodox people to the completely secular; students, faculty from the Technion [Israel Institute of Technology] and the university [of Haifa], authors and poets.”

But two and a half weeks ago, Hannah said, a man complained to the library, and then to City Hall. After that, she got phone calls from parents who said they were afraid to send their children to the library. She said she assumed most of the calls came from people who participate in the Family Parade, which takes place in Haifa the day before the annual Gay Pride Parade as a protest against the latter and against nontraditional families in general.

The flag never bothered anyone before, she continued, but “the wrong man apparently heard a child asking what it is. I wasn’t even in the library. I’m not even certain it was his child. Most of the religious community in our neighborhood is respectful and accepting. They don’t get involved in people’s private space. Nor were there lots of complaints.”

Asked about the mayor’s response, Hannah noted that Kalisch Rotem didn’t forbid her to keep the flag on her desk. Nevertheless, she said, “This isn’t what we expected. She’s really supportive. She has bolstered the [LGBTQ] community and comes to the LGBT Center.”

A demonstration of support for the community is expected to take place on Thursday evening outside City Hall following the incident.

So far, no response has been received from the mayor’s office.