Earlier this month I had the pleasure of visiting family and friends in Israel. I also participated in the 40th anniversary of Tel Aviv Pride, the largest such celebration in Asia, and an associated global conference sponsored by A Wider Bridge, on whose advisory board I sit, and the Agudah, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force.
This visit was notable for three historic reasons – the recognition of Trans Pride as the theme for this year’s celebration, the National Labor Court’s ruling in the Meshel case covering trans persons under the country’s Equal Employment Opportunities Law (equivalent to our Title VII), and the remarkable caucus meeting held in the Knesset to learn about the Israeli trans community and their campaign for full equality. Also telling was the backdrop to this year’s Pride – the growing rift between Israel and the U.S., as well as between the Israeli and American Jewish communities, and the growing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement and its gay offshoot. As a result this was a very emotional experience for me and a critical one in the shifting landscape for Jews on both sides of our “wider bridge.” A Wider Bridge was created to foster closer relations between the Israeli and North American Jewish communities, and the timing of its first global conference couldn’t have been better.
Elisha Alexander, who is in charge of trans issues at the LGBT Center, said it best:
The dedication of pride parade to the transgender community represents a major breakthrough for the community today. Transgender people stood in the past and continue to stand at the forefront of the LGBT struggle and the struggle for gender freedom is not only ours but society’s as a whole – the freedom to be ourselves.
“Major” is an understatement. To the best of my knowledge, no Pride Festival/Parade in a major American city has ever been dedicated to the trans community. Nor, even more importantly, has the Congress or any American state legislature held a caucus meeting quite like the one at the Knesset on June 10th. That meeting, which featured testimony from twenty courageous Israeli trans youth from all over the country, with their teachers and parents in the audience, was hosted by the senior leadership of the Knesset, and more than one-quarter of the Knesset Members were in attendance. Speakers included the caucus chair Yael German (Yesh Atid), Opposition Leader Chaim Herzog (Zionist Union) (both seen in photo), ZU rising star Stav Shaffir, Minister for Gender Equality Gila Gamliel (Likud), Meretz chief Zahava Gal-On, other members of the Likud and its governing coalition, as well as Opposition members, including one from the Arab List. Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a message with his Chief of Staff. All of these Members of Parliament spoke in strong support of full trans rights, with the exception of the Prime Minister whose words were supportive yet mentioned neither the trans nor gay communities explicitly.