Building bridges. Growing a movement.

More than 125 LGBTQ leaders from around the world, representing fifteen countries, attended the 40 Years of Pride – Global LGBTQ Leadership Conference, held in Tel Aviv June 9-11, 2015. The conference was presented by A Wider Bridge, together with The Aguda, Israel’s National LGBT Task Force.

When A Wider Bridge and The Aguda set out to plan 40 Years of Pride, a global LGBT leadership forum, we rightly advertised the Conference as the first of its kind in Israel. What we discovered soon after the Conference began was that we were onto something even more groundbreaking. Whether you joined us in Tel Aviv, read about the Conference in the press, or are hearing about 40 Years of Pride for the first time, we want to take a minute to share with you the incredible impact of our time in Israel.

A historic gathering of global LGBT leaders.

Many participants expressed that this was truly a milestone in the global LGBT struggle for equality. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Paris’ Fourth Arrondissement Mayor Christophe Girard, and Swedish Member of Parliament Olof Lavesson shared their toolkits for equality from their time in public service. Global activists Davis Mac Iyalla from Nigeria, Buenos Aires Council Member Maria Rachid, and former Israeli Member of Knesset Nitzan Horowitz brought the geopolitical realities of LGBT advocacy in their countries to the discussion. And many LGBT organization leaders, such as Jenny Pizer of Lambda Legal and Brad Sears of the Williams Institute, spoke about the legal, research and educational work that provides the foundation for effective community advocacy.

Placing Israel at the center of global LGBT advocacy.

Israelis were represented on nearly every panel at the conference, and a quarter of attendees were leaders of Israel’s LGBT community. Israelis who addressed the conference included Tel Aviv City Council members Yaniv Weizman and Mickey Gitzin, LGBT Likud leader Amir Ohana, and LGBT Yesh Atid leader Zehorit Sorek,Mandy MIchaeli of Israel Gay Youth, Yaali ben Vitemberg of Hoshen, and Oded Frid of the Aguda. In addition, we held an evening celebration to pay tribute to the 40 Israeli leaders who made the biggest contribution to the country’s remarkable progress on LGBT rights and equality. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro addressed the gathering, Israeli music star Ivri Lider performed, and The Aguda presented a special award to A Wider Bridge for the contributions our work has made to Israel’s LGBT movement.

A victory for Israel engagement over BDS.

From the outset of the conference, we noted that a number of participants had come to Israel despite being strongly urged to stay home by opponents of Israel in their home communities, including our two keynote speakers, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Paris Le Marais Mayor Christophe Girard. All of these individuals expressed how glad they were they decided to come, engage, and learn about Israel and its LGBT community first-hand, and how valuable an experience it was to be a part of the conference. Mayor Murray said, “I truly believe that engagement makes a difference, collaboration makes a difference, building coalitions makes a difference.”

Read: Openly gay Mayor of Seattle Ed Murray, who faced criticism for coming to Israel,  gave a moving keynote speech to the Conference and greatly valued his decision to come.

Pictured: Marsha Botzer, Director of Seattle's Ingersoll Gender Center, speaks at a meeting of the Knesset.

See the full photo album

Read: The Conference participated in a special session of the Knesset on transgender youth attended by dozens of Members of Knesset.

Read: Israeli Trans Rights and ‘Pinkwashing’ – A Disconnect Grounded in Bad Faith” by Dana Beyer

Pictured: Davis Mac Iyalla of Nigeria and Maria Rachid of Argentina on the Global Advocacy Panel

Read: Nigerian LGBT activist Davis Mac Iyalla’s essay on choosing to engage with Israel, by Davis Mac Iyalla.

Read: Yaniv discusses the challenges and opportunities for LGBT people in the Ethiopian Israeli community.

Pictured: A Wider Bridge and Conference participants march in Tel Aviv Pride 2015.

Read: Arthur Slepian of A Wider Bridge discusses the significance of the Conference in the Jerusalem Post Magazine.

Read: Check out some of the best Photos and newspieces from Tel Aviv Pride 2015!