Jerusalem Hosts World Pride

August gathering sparks religious, political opposition and splits in LGBT unity

The gay world might think it has only two major international events to think about this summer, but there’s a third one on the horizon.

After you’ve played with your balls at the sports-themed Gay Games in Chicago and Out Games in Montreal and the dust has settled on that cross-St. Lawrence River rivalry, World Pride begins in a place that has known rivalries and conflicts of a deeper nature for much longer. Like a couple of thousand years.

Jerusalem’s World Pride, launching a year later than expected because of the 2005 Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip, will run from August 6 to August 12. Like its first incarnation, Rome’s World Pride in 2000, the event is meant to bring direct attention to the ongoing religious assault on the world’s LGBT community.

Officially titled, “Love Without Borders,” as a nod to the many barriers within Israel, and for gays and lesbians in other ways, World Pride is a key project of Jerusalem’s Open House, the city’s 11 year-old gay community center.

Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Open House, in a visit to New York last month, explained that “Jerusalem’s core values have been hijacked” by right-wing extremists. He called World Pride a “reclaiming of the sites for anyone who believes in things holy,” which will cause “a huge echo of the events because of the location.”

Tel Aviv, the more liberal coastal town that resembles Miami Beach in attitude and art deco architecture, cancelled its own annual Gay Pride to make sure that more Israelis attend the main march on Thursday August 10. After the politics though, Tel Aviv wakes up to a beachside morning party on Friday the 11th, more akin to festive events at prides around the globe.

Still, religion will be a strong focus in Jerusalem, the city where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac, Jesus was crucified, and Mohammed ascended into the heavens, making it holy for three of the world’s most important religions. El-Ad expects about 20,000 people to attend the events, more than twice the 10,000 who come to an ordinary Jerusalem Pride.

New Yorkers will certainly be well represented in that expected 20,000.

Among them will be Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the gay author of the book “Wrestling with God and Man.” He explained that Israel’s World Pride will reflect its surroundings with “a lot of celebration, a lot of music, a lot of balloons, a lot of placards, but missing a lot of the nudity,” prides around the world often have. The religious nature of Jerusalem and its role in the establishment of three religions will be key to the eight-day event.

“We are returning to Jerusalem, the source of the Abrahamaic faith, to say we claim a place at the table at the source of our Abrahamaic faith,” Greenberg said.

Before World Pride officially begins, Greenberg will march with other gay religious leaders from around the world through the Galilee. He and his peers want to show that most gays are not anti-religious, and that “many of us lead very religiously centered lives.”

To add to the queer religious expression, he is helping bring Transcendence, a San Francisco based transgendered gospel choir to the event. Greenberg called them “deeply faithful people and they are going to rock World Pride.”

But not all the New Yorkers coming to World Pride are religious leaders, even if religion plays a key role in their creativity. Brooklyn-born Sandi DuBowski will be screening his movie “Trembling Before G-d,” about gay Orthodox Jews, during the event, along with his new film about the film, “Trembling on the Road,” which he said documents “the life-changing movement of the film around the globe,” including footage from its premiere in Jerusalem.

Of his new film and World Pride, DuBowski said, “I hope that religious gay and lesbian people in Jerusalem and in Israel will find it a source of strength and support.”

Film festivals, fun, dancing, religion, and even health will be part of the event. Chelsea’s own Callen-Lorde Health Center will host a conference designed to train the Israeli medical community to better understand GLBT health needs.

At least two members of the health center’s staff will be leading the conference, executive director Jay Laudato and Dr. Gal Mayer, it medical director. According to Laudato, Open House has been working with Callen-Lorde because they want to create a similar health center in Jerusalem. Israel has a national health care system and Callen-Lorde has been in “discussions with the Israeli Ministry of Health and some other health officials about LGBT health.”

The health conference takes place on Sunday August 6, as the official first event, though it will likely attract mostly locals. With translations in English, Arabic, Hebrew, and Russian, Laudato said the “push is to bring people from Israel to discuss these issues.”

Laudato acknowledged that Israel is on many levels a tough place to travel to for most New Yorkers.

“There’s an idea among many people that this is a troubled part of the world,” and even the costs of attending are higher than they might be in Europe or North America. In addition, with the Middle East being what it is, he explained, “it does feel like this is a provocative time to be doing this, but we do need to remind people that we exist, and we have to be respectful of all that is going on in those two countries that are joined in Jerusalem and that is why we decided to go.”

For gay Muslims, the decision to attend World Pride has been more difficult. In an e-mail, Faisal Alam, the founder of the LGBT Muslim group Al-Fatiha, explained that “there are many different reasons as to why I’m not going, but suffice it to say that because of the relationship (or lack thereof) between Israel and the majority of the Muslim world, queer Muslims from these countries cannot travel to Jerusalem to attend World Pride.”

While he is not going, Alam knows other gay Muslims will go, but due to the travel restrictions, he feels it “it will only be a handful of people, the majority from within Israel and maybe the Occupied Territories,” meaning Palestine.

Imam Muhsin Hendricks from South Africa’s Al-Fitrah Foundation is among those Muslims who will attend. In an e-mail, he said, “I will be going to Jerusalem Pride as a queer Muslim activist and a spiritualist and will not be participating in any form of celebrations… I have been invited to share my knowledge on Islam, the Quran, and homosexuality.”

The Open House always expected Muslim representation to be an issue. Haneen Maikey, director of Open House’s Palestinian Community Programming project, and herself a Palestinian, explained that “gay Palestinians will have a role in the parade,” especially with “more language visibility with some things being done in Arabic.” She explained that August 7 will be a “Solidarity Day” with an event at the newly created barrier wall splitting the country in two.

“We thought we would not be able to do this walk without solidarity,” and that there needs to be more understanding between gay Jews and Palestinians, she said. While Maikey was unsure how much security will be in place during World Pride, already an issue on an ordinary day for Palestinians crossing the border, at the monthly gay Palestinian dance that Open House regularly holds, she said, “one-third come from the other side of the barrier.”

According to El-Ad, Open House is “asking for flexibility” from the Israeli government for gay Egyptians and Jordanians hoping to cross the borders during the days of the event. It is all part of what he explained is “how original we are, and coming up with surprising answers to these challenges.”

Not all Palestinians are confident the events will go as planned. Rauda Morcos, the leader of ASWAT, a Palestinian Gay Women’s group recently honored in New York by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said she is boycotting the event because for most gay Palestinians on her side of the wall, “even if they want to attend, legally, or illegally, they’re not going to be able to do it.”

Israel, she said, will increase checkpoints at the walls along the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, as well as establish “a curfew and Israel will create more killing because the hand on the trigger is that much easy.”

She said that Israeli soldiers are likely to suffer from a heightened pressure, leading to more Palestinian deaths. Her organization is planning a counter-event during World Pride. Interestingly, anti-Israeli events, she explained, have been where she has recruited many of the 17 lesbian women in her organization, especially since the Israeli army accidentally bombed the only lesbian-friendly bar in Ramallah in 2002.

Rabbi Greenberg pointed out that while Israel might be a dividing point for many people around the world who oppose its policies, he wanted gays and lesbians to remember that there are many things to unite around at World Pride.

“As a single community we are separated from each other,” he said. “It’s a very sensitive and nuanced point the Open House is making.”

It is also a point that the 1,000 religious leaders attending World Pride’s Multifaith LGBT Clergy Conference hope people understand. Reverend Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church will be among those at the Conference, representing gay Christian voices.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, co-chair of the World Pride’s North American organizing committee and spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Simhat Torah, New York’s LGBT synagogue, has been a main contact point for getting these religious leaders to Israel. Still, she thinks that one does not have to be religious to go to World Pride.

“Even if people themselves are not religious, we understand religion is being used against us,” she explained. Almost echoing a famous phrase used post-Holocaust about one group after another being targeted until it was too late for anyone to say anything, she said, “whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, they are out to get free thinking people of all sexual orientations.”

Gay people are just the first in a series of groups under attack, she said, adding, “It’s about time someone stood up to the religious right wing. They absolutely blaspheme God’s name when they use God’s name for bigotry against us. That’s why I’m involved.”

For more information about World Pride, visit worldpride.net. Tourist information about Israel is available on the Israeli Tourism Ministries official site, goisrael.com. Americans do not need visas to visit Israel.

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