Against the Tide
By Peggy Cidor
’Remember the suffragists - they were also threatened, hated and cursed. But today, who argues with their cause?" asks Ayelet Shnorr, the newly elected chair of Open House, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community center of Jerusalem. "It’s the same with us. It’s a long struggle, and a part of it has to be done in the streets, the specific place that some people don’t want us to walk." Shnorr’s predecessor, Noa Sattath, is actually the organization’s director, and although their style is different, they share the same goal: "to increase the visibility of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender [GLBT] community." They also share the same position on methods of reaching that goal, namely the Gay Pride Parade scheduled, at press time, for June 21.
"The police’s job is to see that the parade can take place safely in the streets of Jerusalem," notes Shnorr, who has a pleasant and gentle personality. "We expect them not to surrender to the threats and violence of opponents to our parade."
Shnorr admits that much of the opposition to the parade also comes from non-haredim, even from the secular.
"Society in general, the non-haredim, are afraid of gays. They think sometimes that just by looking at us they might become gay, or maybe sick or who knows what else. We want to appear as gays in the streets to show these people that we are not a disease, we are exactly like anyone else, and that there is no reason to be afraid of us. In everyday life, when I and my friends walk in the streets, nothing shows that we are gay, so this message doesn’t get through. We need the specific event of the gay parade to strengthen our point."
According to the Open House, the number of people (especially youth) who call or visit the center increases after every parade. The Open House also gives lectures and workshops in schools and campuses, to explain what it is to be gay and to reduce ignorance and opposition. According to recent findings, one-third of teen suicide attempts are related to issues of sexual identity.
Regarding this year’s parade, Shnorr says that the fact that until this week the haredim have not acted as harshly as last year doesn’t mean the fight is over. Last year, a scaled-down event was held in November following violent haredi riots against the parade.
Sources inside the haredi world say that things are still in limbo. "Last year, they did not manage to prevent the parade completely, and the price in their terms was very high. The children were exposed to the issue, no matter what encoded language was used in speeches and posters, and there is fierce opposition to using the same methods again. Too many haredi children already know what their parents mean by ’abomination parade’ [mitzad to’eva] and educators and rabbis accuse the hard-liners, the Eda Haredit, of causing more damage than the parade itself," says one source. "The last word is still to come, and riots might break out after all."
Meanwhile, posters decrying the parade have already been posted in haredi areas.
"We are expecting the police to deal with rioters and bullies so that we can express our rights," says Shnorr, adding that if the police decide to back down, the Open House will immediately appeal to the High Court.
"We still have a long way to go to achieve what we deserve as citizens in this country," she adds. "In Tel Aviv, for example, there is no longer a need for a parade; it’s happening now more to celebrate their achievements. For example, the Tel Aviv municipality gives reductions in arnona [property tax] to gay couples [who are eligible], as they give to other couples. We can still only dream of this here. So here, we still have to struggle to maintain our visibility in the public space. But I agree that the problems of minority rights in Israel is not only a gay problem. There are so many who still suffer from lack of rights. That is why when I march in the parade in Jerusalem, I feel that it is not only for gay rights, but for every oppressed community and group."
The Open House has an official letter from the Jerusalem Police from September 2006, indicating that the authorization for last year’s planned parade included a route starting from Independence Park, along King George and Keren Hayesod streets and including the Liberty Bell Garden.
"This year, we announced that although nothing is forcing us to do so, we agree to walk along King David Street, in order not to pass by the Great Synagogue and Heichal Shlomo. We can be courteous, but we will not renounce our parade," Shnorr concludes.