Friday night on Tel Aviv’s beachfront promenade; two guys holding hands, standing at the shoreline, and kissing. Three men pass by and swear at them; one man spits. Tel Aviv, Israel’s liberalism capital, the city that openly celebrates pride parades and markets gay tourism packages worldwide; a city whose leaders inaugurate gay centers, but cannot defend us from our greatest enemy – fear and hatred.
This shooting attack, should it turn out it was indeed directed at the homo-lesbian community, is not a unique event; it’s merely an extreme one, but make no mistake about it, incidents like that take place on Tel Aviv’s streets time and again with no interruption. About two months ago, two guys were chased by a group armed with baseball bats; before that, two youngsters were stabbed outside a gay club. Meanwhile, numerous cases go unreported.
For those who arrive from the outside it sometimes appears as though the city is painted an especially bright shade of pink; here one can hold hands on Rothschild Boulevard, nonchalantly hop from one club to another, wed, adopt children, and run for city council. Yet for those who live here, the curses, hateful glares, spits, and hidden hostility are clearly felt. The double life: On the one hand one can feel open and safe, but on the other hand nothing is really safe here. Just ask the youngsters who showed up to the weekly meeting at the gay center last night; check who will return next week.
Once a year, spokespersons on behalf of the gay community are requested to explain why we insist on the pride parade; so here is the answer. There are those who fan the flames of hatred and homophobia, and the outcome may lead to gunfire. Here is your answer, this is the reason: Because they shoot at us. At times they use words, and other times they use bullets.
We won’t bow our heads
Pride is not a grand street party for drag queens and guys wearing bathing suits; pride is a display of power by the community – it is a way to support teenagers and adults who feel the growing hatred on their flesh. The pride parade is a message to everyone who wishes to see us disappear that we are here and we are proud; we will support the victims of hatred, but we will not bow our heads. We will not hide.
Dozens of youth groups, gay association branches, and small community groups operate outside of Tel Aviv through silent agreement. Yet it is not always silent. Eight years ago, when a youth group was established in the town of Hadera, we were ambushed by dozens of haredi thugs organized by the local Shas chairman. They raided the branch, beat us up, threatened us, and threw us out. It worked out for them; a few gay teenagers cannot face hate-filled brigades. So we spread across the country; most of us moved to Tel Aviv. This was supposed to be the ultimate shelter; a local version of San Francisco.
They are shooting at us. The loaded gun is aimed not only at gay and lesbian teenagers at a weekly meeting, and not only at the gay community, but rather, at all those who fear the next time, and it shall come. Make no mistake about it, this despicable act will grant many others the opportunity to swear and threaten and beat up and stab. And to shoot. They are shooting our natural right to live, to be.
This morning, the rainbow-colored pride parade is sadder and paler than ever. Our collective psyche has been supplemented by another constitutive event that will accompany Israel’s gay community for many years to come. Today, everyone is part of the community, and everyone who was shaken up last night can go ahead and hoist the pride flag this morning.