Going #BeyondTheBridge in LGBT Advocacy

Global LGBT activists talk about their experience in Israel during Pride week


Building connections, dialogue, and collaboration between the LGBTQ leaders of Israel and the rest of the global LGBTQ community is the goal of #BeyondTheBridge, a new global initiative of A Wider Bridge.

“We have seen that there is important work we can do, beyond connecting North American and LGBT communities, which has been our mission to this point,” said Arthur Slepian, Executive Director of A Wider Bridge.  “This new initiative, Beyond the Bridge, ‘Me’ever la Gesher’ is the beginning of moving our work into a more global dimension.” 

During the launch event last week in West Hollywood, global LGBT leaders spoke about their experience in Israel when they attended the “40 Years of Pride” conference in Tel Aviv, and also got to travel around the country.

Jennifer Pizer from Lambda Legal, Justin Tindall from It Gets Better, Davis Mac Iyalla from Nigeria and Vince Garcia, a Los Angeles LGBT Community Leader, spoke about memorable events during their visit, which also included interaction with Arab LGBT people.

“I met an Arab Israeli gay man, he was out online, but secretly; he was very much closeted within his community,” recalled Justin Tindall, International Programs Coordinator for the It Gets Better Project. “He came to meet us for lunch, and I can’t really express the actual feeling I got of how scared he was. He just could not be comfortable sitting there with us at lunch because he was so scared that he could be outed simply by being next to us. And then at the conference you get to see Arab youth who are living out and they explain to you what it’s like to be openly LGBT in Israel and the experience is so different. And so we definitely see that there can be striking contrast in Israel.”

“ In Bethlehem and Jericho we had an opportunity to talk with our tour guide who, over the course of the day, spent more time with us and was talking about a range of political things,” Jennifer added. “At one point toward the end of the day it was pretty clear to him that he was surrounded by a bunch of gay people and he was enjoying the conversation. He talked about a friend of his who’s gay that he cares about a lot, and at one point the friend was dating a guy that the guide he really didn’t like, and then he sort of explained that the reason he didn’t like the guy was not that he wasn’t making his friend happy, but that he was kind of being obvious about being gay, and he kind of didn’t like it personally but he also was afraid that it might put his friend in danger.”

“It was a sort of a measure that there’s receptivity, I think, to progress,” Pizer continued, “and part of the reason why it’s important that we do this kind of work forming relationships and sharing ideas, is because I think there’s a lot of receptivity to it, and there are still plenty of people who have ideas that men should butch it up and women should fem it up and some of us aren’t so good at that, but those are still social expectations in a bunch of places and we should keep having people tell their stories to bring it to a more direct personal level.”

In addition to describing how amazing it was to march in the Tel Aviv Pride and attend the first ever transgender rights meeting in the Israeli Knesset, the leaders also spent time talking about the harsh comments they faced from anti-Israel movements and people by choosing to go and explore Israel first hand.

“I got a very bad reaction from people who are really anti-Israel from all around the world,” said Davis. “But here in America it was from people who call themselves human rights activists, and they said ‘oh gosh, he’s been bribed’ and they got Nigerian activists to attack me. But on the other hand I got a lot of good feedback, especially about talking to LGBT Palestinians that no one was talking about, so in a way I was taking the conversation into a whole different dimension.”

Justin Tindall suggestes that the Palestinian issue and the LGBT equality issue in Israel are not connected to each other, as he learned from his meetings with fellow gay Arabs. “I think they can separate the issues,” Tindall says. “I think they can say yes, there are complications being someone who’s Arab living in this country. Things that I feel because there I’m being discriminated against. However, as an LGBT person I do find acceptance and inclusivity in this country that I would not find anywhere else. So I think that they are better than many other people here in the United States in actually distinguishing the issues. I can disagree or be upset about one issue, but that does not reflect my entire perspective of this country. And I think it’s a lesson all of us can learn from these young people that are able to see exactly the reality of what they’re facing.”