During my first weekend in Israel, I had the pleasure of attending the Tel Aviv Pride Parade. The day was a flurry of rainbows and Madonna, of shirtless men and drag queens, that culminated in a beach party full of fabulousness. Everyone marched and danced through the city without a shred of shame and it was easy to see why Tel Aviv was voted the world’s best gay city in the 2011 American Airlines competition. Unfortunately, the openness of Tel Aviv, at least as it was expressed at the parade, doesn’t extend throughout all of Israel.
Last week, Knesset Member Anastassia Michaeli came out with a series of incredibly offensive and misguided remarks about the LGBTQ community. (Read more about it here:http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4242382,00.html) She claimed that homosexual people are “miserable” and “commit suicide by the age of 40.” Michaeli also declared that all homosexuals were victims of sexual abuse as children.
While I have a strong grasp on the American struggle with politics and rights for the gay community, I knew very little about the situation of Israeli politics before I came here. And despite having the “world’s best gay city,” it seems that much is not different at all. It is appalling to so many of us that a person with political power can come out with such hateful and close-minded remarks.
MK Michaeli is correct in saying that suicide is a troubling problem within the gay community. According to the 2007 Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey, LGBTQ youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. However, I believe JOH executive director Elinor Sidi said it best: “Homophobia, transphobia, violence, and discrimination lead to depression…and even suicide.” Again, it is homophobia, not homosexuality, that is the problem. When people, whether it be peers or parents or politicians, are constantly communicating that it is shameful and disgusting to be gay, these words are internalized and can result in troubling emotional distress. It is for this reason that the Jerusalem Open House is so crucially important to Jerusalem and Israel at large. JOH espouses a message of not only tolerance, but acceptance, and supports and advocates for those who live in a country where even their elected officials spread messages of hate.
The Jerusalem Open House extends an open invitation to MK Michaeli to visit our center and truly learn about the realities of the gay community. Bejamin Franklin said, “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” And if MK Michaeli makes the effort to educate herself, I think she will find not a group of depressed 40 year-olds, but a diverse community of people with partners they love who have truly found happiness.