Why I Care About the Jerusalem Pride Parade—and Why You Should Too

Jerusalem Pride parade with crowd filling city blocks

June 3, 2019

  • Israel
  • LGBTQ Inclusion

Gilad Beniaminy Rivlin is a board member of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, which has produced the Jerusalem Pride Parade for the past 18 years. 

During the first week of my officers’ course, my team—all of whom became my constant companions throughout the training—was asked to debate several questions. Back then, I didn’t know that one of those questions would go on to become very important to me: “Should a pride parade be held in Jerusalem?”

Up until a few years ago, this question was still debated, even among more progressive Israelis. After 18 years of marching, however, the Jerusalem pride parade has become a clear fact, one that even the most extreme factions can’t prevent. The parade draws tens of thousands of participants and has emerged as one of the city’s most beautiful and important events.

I came to Jerusalem at 18, just after coming out. My LGBT identity was forged within the gay community here and (especially) its parades. Producing this parade is tremendously exciting for me. I have come to see that Jerusalem can be a home to people like me, those who don’t have a sense of belonging in the non-stop noise of Tel-Aviv, and who love the quiet of Ein Karem’s picturesque streets and the Mahane Yehuda Market’s colors and scents.

Producing the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance has always been a complex process. Every year, it feels like it gets more complicated. This is a city that can’t function without tolerance, and yet, the parade can bring up a lot of emotions and spark small conflicts—sometimes with others and sometimes within yourself.

The parade is complex mainly because the responsibility is so heavy—this is a war for Israel’s capital, the city that some have given up on as the Israeli microcosm of acceptance and mutuality. Giving up implies leaving the city to such groups as the Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate, which demands that the mayor ban gay flags as if in a last act of desperation, the Rabbinate could create its own LGBT-free world by just shutting its eyes. Those groups can’t see that this pushes away even the observant Jewish world, which increasingly takes part in the Jerusalem parade.

The Jerusalem parade also includes a lot of security measures (which necessitates countless preparations—and quite a few confrontations—with the local police). This work brings back memories of past tragedies, including the murder of Shira Banki. This parade is also for her, and for all who literally fight for their lives when standing up for equal rights and for the liberty to live their lives as they wish. The parade isn’t sponsored by the municipality, but by one of Israel’s largest, most important and central gay NGOs, Jerusalem Open House. The organization always receives a lot of media attention whenever anyone attempts to obstruct the parade. This kind of public recognition reflects our predecessors’ hard work making this the organization that we know today: a community that keeps delivering one of the world’s most astounding projects.

People marching with banners and signs in the Jerusalem Pride Parade

This parade isn’t just about free love or a party of music and liberalism; it is a giant demonstration. There aren’t any trucks of dancing and drag queens (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and the weather here isn’t the best for exposed torsos. Even so, some would say that the parade is too provocative, and question whether the pride parade is justified. But as anybody who attended the parade knows, it’s an important nonpartisan political statement. Recently I heard some say that they won’t come to the parade because it is “heavy, just not fun.” I find this personally discouraging, but more than that it is the best proof that the parade is sorely needed.

Today, it is the gay community that can lead Jerusalem towards a bright, pink future. The gay community isn’t only fighting for itself; it also leads the women and men around it to believe in and strengthen the values of love, freedom, justice and equality. These values break down stereotypes by bringing together men and women, believers and secular people. This is how it happened 50 years ago in the New York Stonewall riots, which were sparked when police raided the well-known gay bar, and this is how it can happen today.

Sometimes, when it seems like every minute brings a new difficulty, and each player takes every opportunity to hinder the production, I forget what all of this work is for. I’m not blaming any person or any municipal authority;  they are all reacting to each other as we fight to defend an event which is already an established fact.

And as I write these words, I realize that the resistance we face only validates all that we have achieved, making this parade the one day of the year where all of our tribes have a home: religious, nationalistic, liberal, atheist, Arabs and Jews, all keeping Jerusalem united in the truest sense. I realize that the parade isn’t growing more complex but rather, it’s growing more comprehensive, gaining more supporters and steadily winning. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” If we’re winning today, it’s because of our predecessors in Stonewall, and those who insisted on the very first pride parade in Jerusalem.   

Should a pride parade be held in Jerusalem? The answer is a resounding “YES.”

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.