Why Israel proudly marches in Pride parades in Chicago

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Israelis and tourists participate in the gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, Israel, on June 8, 2018. | AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

This Pride Month, millions of Americans all over the country are celebrating, marching and joining together to honor LGBTQ communities and their rights. Similar events take place all over the world at different times during the year.

This Sunday, 150 different groups will march in the streets of Chicago celebrating pride. The only foreign consulate likely to be represented will be the Israeli Consulate.

OPINION

Imagine, though, asking a participant in one of these Pride Parades in Chicago or elsewhere if they are marching for LGBTQ rights simply to cover-up the perceived wrongdoings of their government. Now imagine telling the same participant that until their national government enacts certain unrelated political measures, that they are not allowed to observe Pride Month.

These comments would most certainly be perceived as ignorant, offensive, and to some, perhaps even laughable in their utter folly.

Yet when Israel comes together en masse to celebrate its LGBTQ community, it is often  faced with these exact strange accusations. “Pinkwashing” is the claim that Israel  celebrates the excellent status of its LGBTQ community as an intentional coverup of government wrongdoings. Those who accuse Israel of pinkwashing   imagine that members of the LGBT-community are political operatives who are performing for the benefit of the Israeli government.

The very notion of pinkwashing denies the personhood and identity of Israeli LGBTQ individuals, and denies them their human right to openly celebrate their identity. Ironically, the creators of the false pinkwashing narrative choose to politicize personal, sexual, and gender identity by using LGBTQ issues as their own political pawn, and silencing those members of society whose voices need most desperately to be heard.

What pinkwashing accusers don’t understand is that in Israel, LGBTQ rights are not merely superficial; rather, they run deep within the social fiber of the country and its history. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that not only tolerates, but proudly celebrates its LGBTQ community; even internationally, Israel has been at the forefront of these important human rights.

The Israeli Defense Forces has long since allowed LGBTQ personal to serve openly in the military, and trans individuals regularly receive high-ranking awards. The Israeli national healthcare system has funded gender confirmation surgery since 1986. LGBTQ individuals serve openly in the highest levels of politics, academia, science, and industry. Discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation is legally prohibited in Israel, and these laws are being expanded every year.

It is no surprise, then, that this year’s Tel Aviv Pride Parade attracted 250,000 participants. One would expect nothing less from the city the Boston Globe has called, “The Gayest City On Earth.” In fact, more than 25 percent of Tel Aviv residents identify as LGBTQ.

Outside of Tel Aviv, Pride festivals are also held in cities around Israel, from Jerusalem to Haifa. This year, Haifa hosted the Middle East’s first ever Queer History Festival. And Kfar Saba, a suburb north of Tel Aviv, just spun their enthusiasm into their own local Pride parade this year.

Surrounded by countries where identifying as LGBTQ is prohibited on both the social and legal level, cities such as Haifa and Tel Aviv are seen by many as places of safe refuge amidst a region of oppression.

For Israelis, celebrating LGBTQ Pride is natural. We look forward to bringing the spirit of our homeland to Chicago, and joining forces with others who proudly stand for the rights of all genders and orientations.

Moran Birman is the spokesperson for the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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