A Yom Ha’atzmaut event in Toronto featured an eclectic panel of Israeli speakers drove home the message that Israel is dynamic, unique and successful across a range of fields, including Yaniv Weitzman, the adviser to the mayor of Tel Aviv on LGBTQ issues.
To highlight the unique character of the country, the organizers selected three diverse speakers: IDF Maj.-Gen Orna Barbivai, the highest-ranking female officer in the history of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF); Raphael Hofstein, the Israeli-born CEO of Toronto’s MaRS innovation; and Yaniv Waizman, a Tel Aviv city council member and founder of the organization Israel Gay Youth (IGY).
Waizman, who discovered that he was gay while serving in the army and is now the adviser to the mayor of Tel Aviv on LGBTQ issues, said Tel Aviv has come to be known as “the best gay city in the world,” and he outlined his journey to promote it as such internationally.
He talked about the difficulty of being in the closet and feeling he didn’t have many LGBTQ role models to look up to.
After leaving the army, he visited San Francisco and came across an LGBTQ youth centre, inspiring him to start something similar in Israel.
He teamed up with a local journalist to build the centre, and the two developed Israel Gay Youth (IGY), a non-profit that promotes tolerance and opposes discrimination against the LGBTQ community, as well as encouraging LGBTQ teenagers and young adults to lead the way in building a more tolerant society.
“People from all over the world should come see how this city treats the gay community,” Waizman said, citing as examples the municipality putting up money to build a Gay and Lesbian Association centre and the city’s immense Gay Pride Parade.
When he decided to enter city politics and was elected to city council, Waizman asked to oversee “the gay issue and the tourism issue.”