Israel: Still a complicated country for gays
Israel is a complicated country: on the one hand it is pretty modern and liberal and tries to be European as much as possible; on the other hand the religious influence still dominates daily life. From an LGBTI point of view there is actually not a single Israel but two: Tel Aviv (which we jokingly call ‘the State of Tel Aviv’) and the rest of Israel.
They are two different worlds. Tel Aviv is – mostly – fully accepting, gay-friendly and very comfortable for LGBTI community. You will see men holding hands or kissing in the street and almost no one has problem with it. Tel Aviv has the largest percentage of non-married men among all cities in Israel, probably because many young gay men from outside the city choose to move to Tel Aviv after completing their three years of compulsory military service. During Pride, many of local businesses are dressed with rainbow colors to show their support of LGBTI community. In the last few years, Tel Aviv Pride has become enormous with 200,000 participants, including 30,000 tourists from all around the world.
There are many LGBTI-friendly places to go out and many gay parties with different kinds of music – from hip-hop to oriental and to mainstream. One of Tel Aviv’s most popular gay attractions is Hilton Beach which in summer is filled with muscular and tanned guys looking for fun or just enjoying sea and sun.
But the rosy picture disappears when you move outside the city. Elsewhere in Israel, homophobia runs deep.
Of course, it is not like Russia or Iran here, but you can feel hostility toward homosexuals, especially in small or religious towns.
I live in Haifa, the third largest city after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Haifa in general is not homophobic, but it is also not very gay friendly. There are hardly any places for LGBTIs to go out and our last Pride attracted just 5,000 participants. Other cities are even worse. Ashdod with 250,000 citizens could only attract 500 to its Pride – its homophobia and transphobia is perhaps because of the influence the religious lobby holds on city council.
About two weeks ago I experienced a kind of verbal homophobic attack in my Facebook account.
Before Ashdod Pride, I found a group in Facebook called ‘Protest Against Ashdod Pride Parade’. I made a post about this group in my feed to highlight the problem Israel still has with homophobia. My friends started to comment. Unfortunately, one of my ‘friends’ emerged as a homophobe and started to write really ugly and abusive things.
As the argument escalated, I wrote to him that I didn’t want him anymore as a friend and removed him. But this is not the end of the story – he joined that ‘Protest’ group on Facebook and wrote he was going to stab gays participating in the parade.
Of course, this post reached police, and to their credit they took these claims seriously. He was stopped and a police record for him was opened. The parade passed off peacefully. As for me, fortunately I have never been victim of physical homophobic attack – at least nothing serious.
In general, during the last few years, Israel has taken significant steps toward real acceptance of same-sex couples.
In spite of a lack of same-sex marriage (in fact Israel does not have even civil marriage for mixed couples – only religious marriage), many state institutions accept same-sex couples equally to married couples. Despite the lack of civil marriage, couples can be defined as ‘known in public’ – that is enough to give them many of the rights religiously married partners enjoy.
The struggle for LGBTI rights is still going on in Israel. But Israel is certainly the most LGBTI friendly and accepting country in the Middle East. And as for the homophobia and transphobia that remains, the solution is clear: education, explanation, awareness-raising by all possible means – through family, school, press, TV, wherever we can. Minds change slowly. we are still long way from full acceptance, but eventually we will succeed.
(Kostya Moiseev is a software engineer. The article was originally published on Gay Star News)