Last week, a prominent Israeli rabbi who heads a mainstream Yeshiva referred to queers as “perverts.” Another – the incoming IDF chief rabbi, no less – called us “sick.” Their remarks were merely the latest in a long list of similar expressions by rabbis and religious leaders throughout Israel. The public debate around these statements, coincidentally corresponding to the height of the annual “Pride” season, has re-focused attention on Thursday’s Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance.
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One of the more obnoxious criticisms leveled against the “Pride” movement and against pride parades is expressed through variations on the theme “What are you so proud of?” It is obnoxious because it belittles millennia of persecution and violence suffered by LGBTQ people, because it marginalizes the daily terror and abuse many continue to face around the world and because it flippantly dismisses the debilitating shame experienced by so many queer people (indeed, not so long ago even that term was pejorative, until being reclaimed by a community celebrating diversity).
Having been asked the question countless times, I’d like to list the things of which I am personally so proud:
I am proud of the loving relationship and of the home I have built with Lior, my partner of 15 years, and our amazing children. I am proud of our family members – those who have always supported us and those who have overcome their initial inhibitions to become steadfast allies.
I am proud of “Yachad Tel Aviv” – the Orthodox community which Lior and I helped found and to which we belong – which has become a home to countless LGBTQ Jews from Tel Aviv and further afield. I am proud of the rabbis and other faith leaders – though they be few – who have preached tolerance and acceptance, and of their followers and students who have pledged support for those values. I am tremendously proud of my sisters and brothers in the Orthodox Jewish LGBTQ community who, often in the face of adversity, struggle to harmonize their beliefs with their sexual orientation and gender identity.
I am proud to have had the honor of serving my country as an IDF officer and of the IDF for its pioneering and progressive approach toward LGBTQ servicewomen and men. I am proud to be a partner in a law firm that is committed not only to superior professionalism, but also to the values of equal and diverse employment.
I am proud of Ayala Katz, who lost her son Nir z”l in the 2009 attack at the Barnoar, and of Mika and Uri Banki, whose daughter Shira z”l was stabbed to death at last year’s Jerusalem pride parade. They have translated their personal tragedies to a call for an end to homophobic violence and oppression. I am proud of President Reuven Rivlin for his unwavering public support of the LGBTQ community, and of other Israeli and foreign leaders and politicians who have taken up the cause of our community over the years.
I am proud of the massive advancements made in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS and in the work of volunteer organizations, such as the Israel AIDS Task Force, to raise awareness and create support networks for those living with HIV.
I am proud of the countless organizations, volunteers, advocates and allies who work tirelessly to support our community – particularly our youth and other vulnerable groups – and to advance our community’s struggle for safety and equality. I am particularly proud of IGY, Israel Gay Youth, which provides support and safe spaces to thousands and thousands of queer youth around Israel.
I am profoundly proud of what we have achieved as a community and of what we are yet to achieve.
I will be marching in Jerusalem to express that pride, but also to protest that which is shameful and abhorrent.
Rabbis and educators spewing bigoted, venomous and dangerous misogynist or homophobic rhetoric should be ashamed. Communities that expel or penalize members for coming out should be ashamed. Practitioners and advocates of so-called “conversion therapy” should be ashamed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be ashamed for his refusal to acknowledge the LGBTQ community in public statements or stand up for its rights. The Israeli government should be ashamed for systematically sandbagging legislation securing equal rights for LGBTQ people, including a bill that would have safeguarded the rights of the surviving same-sex spouses of fallen servicemen and women. Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, who once marched farm animals down the road to equate members of the LGBTQ community with beasts, should certainly be ashamed. Likud MK Amir Ohana and Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli, openly gay members of the Knesset, should be ashamed for standing by while LGBTQ Israelis are denied equal protection under the law. Those who acquiesce to the ongoing denial of gay men’s access to surrogacy in Israel should be ashamed. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Beer Sheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich should be ashamed for snubbing their cities’ LGBTQ populations out of fear of offending ultra-Orthodox locals.
The Israel Police should be ashamed for its cowardly failure to guarantee the safety of those wishing to march and demonstrate on Beer Sheva’s main thoroughfare, for its failure to protect the safety of Shira Banki and for its failure to bring Nir Katz and Liz Troubishi’s killer to justice.
Above all, those who turn their backs on their children, relatives and friends because of their sexual orientation or gender identity ought to be profoundly ashamed.
If it is perverse to stand against the shameful and disgusting sentiments recently voiced against the LGBTQ community by homophobic religious leaders and to oppose the values that underlie them, if it is perverse to struggle for equal rights and dignity, if it is perverse to celebrate progress, then I am a pervert indeed, and being one is what makes me so proud.
Yehoshua Shohat Gurtler is a partner with Herzog, Fox & Ne'eman and an Israeli LGBTQ activist.