LGBT Jews March in Israel Day Parade
For the first time, an openly gay organization was allowed to participate in New York City’s Israel Day parade, which was held on Sunday. This is the culmination of a fight that began in 1993, when Congregation Beth Simchat Torah – an LGBT synagogue – registered for, and then was kicked out of, the march. Beginning in 1999, the congregation was allowed to participate, as long as it didn’t use the word “gay” on any of its banners.
This inclusion has resulted in a renewed chorus of accusations of “pinkwashing.” Groups like “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” claim that Israel and pro-Israel advocates are using Israel’s progress – especially in relation to the rest of the Arab world – on LGBT equality as a way of “painting over” other human rights violations. These accusations aren’t new, but they should be addressed because they belittle the very significant progress made by the LGBT community in Israel, even as its neighbors continue to oppress their own LGBT populations. While homosexuality remains punishable by prison or even death in many surrounding countries, it has been decriminalized for decades in Israel. In fact, in some respect Israel has outstripped not only all of the countries in the Middle East, but even the United States in terms of progress on LGBT equality.
While the United States has yet to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on the federal level, similar legislation has been in place in Israel since the early 1990s. Lesbian, gay and bisexual Israelis have been able to serve openly in the military since 1993 – something which only happened in the United States last year – and their partners have been able to receiving equal benefits since 1997 – something we are still fighting for here. And even though the New York City Israel Day parade is finally inclusive of LGBT people, other cultural parades in New York have retained their legacy of anti-LGBT discrimination. The New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, for example, continues to discriminate against LGBT people and prevents them from marching openly.
Like in Israel, Jews have been at the forefront of the fight for LGBT equality in the United States and Canada. A recent poll of the American Jewish community discovered that 81% of American Jews support marriage equality (PDF). In addition, in the 1990s, the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism was among the first religious groups to come out in support LGBT equality. Regardless of accusations of “pinkwashing,” however, I am confident that Israel, like us in the U.S. and Canada, will continue to be on the forefront of LGBT equality.
Image courtesy of Huffington Post.