(JTA) — For more than 30 years, I have stood on the frontlines and been an outspoken leader for LGBT people and families. I have been called every name in the book, my life has been threatened because of my being gay, the police insisted on installing a panic button in my house because of these threats. But that hasn’t stopped the organizing work that I continue to do to bring safety and peace to the LGBT community.
And yet, there’s been times when I’m at LGBT events, where the safety that should be a given quickly dissipates because I am Jewish as well. There are unfortunately countless examples, but one that I will never forget is the protest that occurred at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference I attended in Chicago in 2016. The protest was organized by pro-Palestinian activists who accused A Wider Bridge, a Jewish LGBTQ organization, of “pinkwashing” Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
As I was getting off the escalator to attend a reception hosted by A Wider Bridge, which featured members of Jerusalem Open House, a gay rights group from Israel, and excited about celebrating my pride as a Jew, I saw a throng of angry protesters disrupting the event. The protesters blocked the entrance to the conference hall, chanted slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Zionism’s gotta go” and took over the stage, preventing the Israelis from speaking. I was both horrified and fearful. Horrified that a disgraceful authoritarian act like this could happen at an LGBT gathering about creating change for equality and justice and fearful that if I even attempted to make my way through that blockade I would be physically hurt by members of my own community, simply for being a Jew.
I recalled that fear on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, a day of unprecedented bloodshed in Israel’s history. It all began on a Jewish holiday morning when hundreds of terrorists managed to break through the barrier separating Israel and Gaza. They spread out to more than 20 different locations, causing devastation. Tragically, they killed thousands of Israelis on the streets, in their homes and even at an outdoor music festival. They slaughtered whole families, killed children and babies in front of their parents, beheaded and burned bodies, and raped young women next to their friends’ dead bodies. They also took more than 200 people hostage and left thousands injured.
The terrorist attacks that killed the most Jews since the Holocaust was committed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip and whose mission is to destroy Israel and erase its people. It is a call for all in the LGBT community to speak up loudly and boldly in support of Israel. Hamas is an organization that imposes a harsh and intolerant version of Islamic law on Gaza, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. Hamas is an organization that persecutes, tortures and kills LGBT people, or forces them to flee for their lives. Hamas is an organization that denies LGBT people any rights, representation, or recognition.
And more than two weeks later, the silence from many prominent LGBT leaders and groups supporting Israel and condemning the Hamas terrorist attacks is deafening. Those that have made brief statements don’t even mention Hamas, skirt right past antisemitism or lump it in with other intersectional identities as false equivalencies and offer no support to LGBT Jews. It is yet another way to appease other identity groups through silencing LGBT Jewish voices and experiences. To make matters worse, some of these so-called LGBT leaders are protesting Israel and using antisemitic tropes that normalize antisemitism and alienate LGBT Jews. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with our movement in the fight for racial equity, trans rights, reproductive justice and many other issues, and the abandonment from these LGBT groups is both hypocritical and cruel.
Israel is a democracy and beacon of hope and freedom for LGBT people in the Middle East, a region where many countries criminalize and persecute us. Israel is the only country in the region that recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad, allows same-sex couples to adopt children, protects LGBT people from discrimination and violence, and allows us to serve openly in the military. Israel also has a vibrant and diverse LGBT culture, with Tel Aviv being one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, hosting an annual Pride parade that attracts hundreds of thousands of participants and visitors. It’s a place where we can be our authentic selves.
Israel’s support for LGBT rights is not a recent phenomenon but is a reflection of its democratic values and respect for human dignity. Israel decriminalized homosexuality in 1988, long before many European countries did. Israel’s Supreme Court has been instrumental in advancing LGBT rights, ruling in favor of recognition of same-sex marriages, parental rights, gender identity, and military service. Israel’s civil society and media have also played a role in raising awareness and acceptance of LGBT issues, with many prominent figures coming out as LGBT or expressing their solidarity. This is what we strive for and honor in the United States. Israel should be no different.
Israel’s LGBT community is not monolithic, but diverse and inclusive, representing different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities and political views. Israel’s LGBT community includes Jews, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Israel’s LGBT community also includes Palestinians who have fled from the oppression and violence they face in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. Israel provides us with shelter, medical care, legal aid and social support. This is what we honor in the United States. Israel should be no different.
Even democratic societies are imperfect, as I’m sure we can all agree having seen what has taken place throughout the United States these last few years. The onslaught of anti-LGBT bills and laws is frightening. And Israel’s support for LGBT rights is not without its own challenges and obstacles. Israel still does not allow same-sex marriages to be performed within its borders, due to the influence of religious authorities who control marriage laws.
But accusations that it uses its LGBT-friendly image as a tool to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or to impose its Western values on the region, are unfounded and unfair. Israel’s support for LGBT rights is a genuine expression of its identity and values. Israel does not seek to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries or impose its views on them. However, Israel also expects other countries to respect its right to do the same, and to refrain from violating the human rights of LGBT people.
The LGBT community should not be deceived by Hamas’s propaganda or manipulation. Hamas does not care about human rights or humanitarian issues. Hamas does not care about the Palestinians or their aspirations. Hamas only cares about its own power and ideology. Hamas uses the Palestinians as pawns, shields and victims in its war against Israel. Hamas exploits the LGBT community as tools and allies in its campaign against Israel.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” The LGBT community and our leaders must take sides, call out evil and clearly stand up in support of Israel and all Jews at this critical time. As history reminds us, silence equals death.
We must remember our history as a LGBT community when gay men were branded with a pink triangle and sent to Nazi concentration camps to die. Whether we are Jewish or not, all LGBT people have a deep connection to Jewish people because it is a reminder of the shared history of oppression and resistance that both of our communities faced under the Nazi regime.
We cannot be silent today or ever. The LGBT community must speak up and stand with Israel in this war because it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do for Israel, as Israel is a country that stands with us in our struggle for justice and recognition. It is the right thing to do as Israel offers LGBT people freedom, equality, dignity and security. The LGBT community must support Israel in the war against Hamas because it is a matter of principle and survival.