Gay Community in Tel Aviv - Living in a bubble
It's true what everyone says - that Tel Aviv is a great place to be gay. There is not one gay neighborhood or one gay street or one gay cafe because every neighborhood, every street, and every cafe is or can be gay or gay-friendly. Tel Aviv is the rare city where being gay is a non-issue, it is barely noticed. It has achieved - or nearly achieved - what every gay activist in the world dreams of: the invisibility that comes with complete integration and acceptance.
But Tel Aviv is just one city in Israel and outside of the safety of its borders, the reality that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people face is quite different. For the gay teenager growing up in Be'er Sheva or Kiryat Shmona, there is still the same doubt, insecurity, and fear that a teenager in a small American, German, or Japanese town would face. And in Israel, the situation becomes more complicated due to the domestic struggles inside the country between the religious orthodox population and political parties and the secular community and its representatives.
Gay rights in Israel is actually part of a much larger social divide that involves issues of marriage, divorce, family law, and immigration and the fight for gay inclusion is closely integrated with the efforts to create a stronger separation between religion and state in Israel as it tries to reconcile both its Jewish and Democratic identities.
But in the bubble of Tel Aviv, this battle isn't necessarily seen or felt. Tel Aviv has become a worldwide gay destination and is enjoying it's newfound popularity. The Pride Parade every year is not just a massive party for every citizen - gay or straight - but also a must-see event for thousands of European tourists. The bars, the beaches, and the beautiful bodies make Tel Aviv a modern-day Garden of Eden... if you're a gay man. Lesbians and transgender people have yet to receive the same visibility and voice.
And of course, casting a shadow over all of the celebration is the Bar Noar shooting two years ago, where a gunman entered a LGBT teen support group and killed two people. The bubble of Tel Aviv burst. Some community leaders say it was a decisive moment when the entire country mourned for the victims and for the first time identified with its LGBT youth. Others say that little has changed since. And the murderer has not yet been caught.
That dark moment aside, Israel - even this conservative government - is proud to be the Middle East's only progressively pink nation. The accomplishments are many - from an integrated military to recognition of international same-sex marriage - but there is more to achieve. The question is whether the community can mobilize to make its numbers felt and whether they will start collaborating with other minorities to advance other civil rights causes. Until then, the party continues.
*Brian Schaefer is a freelancer, working for newspapers and magazines in Israel and the USA. He also studies for his master in Tel Aviv.