Pride of Place

Some 37 years since the Stonewall Inn riots and eight years since Tel Aviv's first gay pride parade, the homosexual community in J'lem stil faces bigotry, hatred.

The Vatican declared the first year of the new millennium a holy year. Each day in 2000 was devoted to a different population sector. Members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community were denied a special day. However, July 9, 2000 - when the first and only WorldPride (international gay pride parade) event took place in Rome - was devoted to prisoners. On that day, Pope John Paul II addressed a large audience of inmates, including murderers, rapists and drug dealers, in the city's oldest prison. He blessed his audience, telling them that homosexuality contravened nature's laws.

A central declaration made by international gay pride parade organizers was that GLBTs must first march in Mecca and Rome. It would be unreasonable to assume this community will march on Mecca in the near future, just as it would be unreasonable to assume that Israeli settlers would demonstrate there against the disengagement plan. In Rome, however, not only was the international parade held - it even reached the Colosseum, near the Vatican.

The organizers of WorldPride 2000 faced an arduous task. Because of the Vatican's opposition to the event, the municipality, which had originally declared it would sponsor it, backed down. Several neo-fascist groups also protested. In contrast, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Amos Luzzatto, supported the parade, expressing his members' identification and commiseration with those who were forced to wear a pink badge in Nazi concentration camps, and who suffered the Holocaust's atrocities together with the Jews.

Although it is hard to believe, the seminal event in gay pride parade history occurred not so very long ago. The date was June 27, 1969 - the day of Judy Garland's funeral. Garland was a cultural heroine of the gay community, and patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan's Greenwich Village were thus particularly gloomy, even before police raided the bar and made arrests of persons suspected of "unbecoming" behavior.

The arrests, previously a routine practice, generated violent disturbances. That night, about 2,000 gays clashed with 400 police officers. Even a crowd-dispersal unit proved ineffective in handling the demonstrators, and the riots continued for several nights. The following year, a gay pride parade marched from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Since then, such events have been held annually throughout the world in or around late June.

Milestones in Israel's gay pride history:

July 2, 1993 - The first event for the gay community was held in Sheinkin Garden and attracted 500 persons. A closet was set up there to enable participants to "come out." Agudat Yisrael MK Avraham Shapira said he was aghast that such an event could be held in Tel Aviv.

June 27, 1998 - Israel's first gay pride parade was held, originating at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square with 1,500 participants, including leftist MKs. Meretz MK Dedi Zucker declared: "Something positive has happened to Israeli society." According to Prof. Uzi Even, a dream had come true. Menachem Shezaf, president of the Society for the Protection of the Personal Rights of Homosexuals, Lesbians, and Transgenders in Israel, promised: "This year we took Tel Aviv; next year we take Jerusalem."

June 9, 2002 - Jerusalem's first gay pride parade, with 4,000 people, proceeded from Zion Square to the historic meeting place of homosexuals in Independence Park. Despite threats received beforehand, almost no disturbances were recorded.

June 30, 2005 - The WorldPride event was postponed until 2006 because of the furor surrounding the disengagement. While 5,000 participants marched anyway from the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall to Liberty Bell Park, more than 1,000 people along the route demonstrated against them. An ultra-Orthodox Jew from Kiryat Sefer, Yishai Schlissel, stabbed three marchers.

WorldPride 2006, scheduled for August 10, will apparently be the first parade in Jerusalem that will not include the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall. The route at this stage is planned to be from Independence Park to Agron and King George streets, and finally on to Sacher Park.

Why do rabbis take the liberty of making such crude, militant statements about gays and gay pride events? The answer is that the Bible uses the word "abomination" to define homosexual relations not once, but twice. In Leviticus 18:22, it states, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination," and then repeats: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination" (Lev. 20:13). In the same place, the Bible suggests a punishment for such individuals - "they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" - but inveighs against collective punishment: "That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you" (Lev. 18:28).

Why do religious Jews keep on insisting that gays should march in Sodom? According to the Bible, when Lot hosts the three angels, the inhabitants of Sodom bang on his door: "And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them" (Genesis 19:5). Their demand that Lot allow his guests to suffer homosexual rape leads to the city's destruction and is the origin of the term sodomy.

One typical feature of the struggle against the gay pride parade is the vitriolic statements made by moderate rabbis. What does Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, known for his lenient rabbinical rulings, think about homosexuality? In a response that he published on the Moreshet Web site, he writes: "If only we could find the most effective way of removing this disgrace." Yet he admits that he does not know the correct method for fighting homosexuality: "Sometimes, when you fight evil, you amplify it, and sometimes silence is tacit acceptance." Cherlow emphasizes that "this entire discussion focuses on the ugly parade, not on the people." A relatively moderate declaration.

What is the origin of the "10 percent" that the public and Web talkbacks adhere to so persistently, as the percentage of gays among the general population of the world? The answer apparently is the famous Kinsey Report, where 10 percent of the men in the sex researcher's unrepresentative sample reported that they were almost exclusively homosexual. More than a third of the men stated that they had had at least one homosexual experience.

The prevailing opinion in the scientific world today is that not one man in 10, but rather 1 in 30 to 40, is homosexual - which is what also emerges from figures compiled by Haaretz's David Rapp. According to the findings of the comprehensive survey, "Sex in America," conducted in the early 1990s, only 2.8 percent of men and 1.4 percent of women define themselves as gay/lesbian or bisexual. In another research study, of 3,400 adolescents in Massachusetts, 4 percent saw themselves as belonging to the GLBT category.