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Is Israel ‘gay heaven?’ It’s complicated

American LGBT delegation visits Middle East

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Kevin Naff, Andy Sacher, Tamika Butler, John Campbell, Brad Sears, Paula Abdul, Jorge Valencia, Kirk Fordham, Malcolm Lazin, Project Interchange, Israel, Palestine, gay news, Washington Blade
Kevin Naff, Andy Sacher, Tamika Butler, John Campbell, Brad Sears, Paula Abdul, Jorge Valencia, Kirk Fordham, Malcolm Lazin, Project Interchange, Israel, Palestine, gay news, Washington Blade

Project Interchange participants ran into Paula Abdul in the Jerusalem market. From left-right: Kevin Naff, Andy Sacher, Tamika Butler, John Campbell, Brad Sears, Paula Abdul, Jorge Valencia, Kirk Fordham and Malcolm Lazin. (Photo courtesy Project Interchange)

When a delegation of nine LGBT leaders from the United States arrived last month in Israel for an intensive seminar, we knew the gay residents of progressive Tel Aviv enjoyed broad acceptance and myriad legal protections. But imagine our surprise when TV personality Gal Uchovsky announced that we had arrived in “gay heaven.”

Israel is “the best LGBT country in the world,” he told us, adding that the nation’s LGBT residents face no serious problems that he could identify. A gay child growing up in rural Israel is better off than a similar kid in the rural United States, he observed. Homelessness is rare here and Israeli parents embrace their gay kids because, well, better to be gay than dead.

Uchovsky is a proud cheerleader for his country, which is endearing, though his privileged worldview has perhaps shielded him from some unpleasant, inconvenient realities. Life for LGBT Israelis is, indeed, more complicated than Uchovsky’s rosy assessment and, thus, our trip’s catchphrase was cemented: “It’s complicated.”

The stellar seminar, sponsored by Project Interchange, a program of the American Jewish Committee, brought me well out of my comfort zone and right into Ramallah and to the edge of the Gaza Strip. The focus of the visit — LGBT issues — was often overshadowed by the frustrating stalemate of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Why can’t the two sides come to an agreement on a two-state solution? It’s complicated. And, as we learned, it’s far more complicated than American mainstream media seem to grasp.

And so from the West Bank to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to the Negev, the nine of us trekked to learn all we could from a diverse range of perspectives, including from Palestinians and Israeli experts critical of the country’s record on LGBT rights. The other eight participants in the weeklong seminar were: Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo; Tamika Butler of Young Invincibles; gay Harrisburg (Pa.) Treasurer John Campbell; Gill Action Fund Executive Director Kirk Fordham; Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin; Lavender Effect Executive Director Andy Sacher; Williams Institute Executive Director Brad Sears; and Point Foundation CEO Jorge Valencia.

We toured Tel Aviv’s bustling, posh community center, touted as the only such center in the world that is municipally owned. The government’s funding of such centers and related LGBT causes is a mixed bag. In the United States, small LGBT non-profits and HIV service providers jockey for limited public grants, often leading to turf wars. But most such U.S. groups aren’t beholden to the government or muzzled by fears of government retaliation. It’s not clear that the same is true in Israel. It’s a dilemma: accept public money to advance your important work and mute your criticisms of the government or reject public funds and risk financial shortfalls that will curb programming. As one speaker put it, “I’d rather our public money went to gay causes than to building another bomb.”

The highlight of that visit for me was hearing from Uzi Even, the first openly gay member of the Knesset and a pioneering elder statesman of the Israeli LGBT rights movement who has helped rid the military of discriminatory policies and liberalize adoption laws. In a true sign of the times, his latest cause involves sorting out Israel’s divorce laws as they relate to same-sex couples.

My advice to Israeli LGBT advocates: Take time now to celebrate and honor the contributions of Even and others like him. Record his personal history and share it with young people. It wasn’t so long ago in Israel when gay sex acts were illegal. Such lightning-speed progress doesn’t happen by accident and brave pioneers like Even deserve our gratitude.

As we made our way up the stairs to meet with Even in the community center, we could hear the giggles of young children and stepped over a pile of neatly arranged kids sneakers in a hallway. Another sign of the times.

Several speakers emphasized the role that a 2009 shooting played in advancing gay acceptance. On Aug. 1, 2009, a gunman burst into the LGBT community center in Tel Aviv and opened fire, killing two and injuring at least 15 others. It’s hard to quantify how significant a role that tragedy played in changing Israeli attitudes toward gays, but our speakers agreed it was a turning point.

It’s a stark contrast to what we see in the United States, where violent hate crimes continue to plague our community, from trans women routinely killed in our inner cities to the recent murder of a gay man in the heart of New York’s gay village. Americans are so inured to violence that these crimes barely register in the mainstream media, let alone lead to a widespread change in attitudes.

After a couple of days in progressive Tel Aviv, we made our way to Jerusalem. In addition to the usual religious sites, a group of us visited the Jerusalem Open House, an LGBT community center engaged in broad grassroots work in the face of complicated problems like funding, space constraints, religious critics who have sometimes turned violent and the ever-present challenge of building relations with Arab residents of the city.

Celebrating gay pride in Jerusalem has been complicated, too. They don’t agree on much, but anti-gay animus was something that united the world’s major religions as conservative Jewish and Arab leaders denounced plans for pride parades in the holy city in recent years. In 2005, marchers were attacked by an ultra-orthodox Jewish man who stabbed three participants. The following year, Jerusalem was selected to host WorldPride, which led to more unrest and violent protests. Some lawmakers in the Knesset attempted to ban gay pride parades in Jerusalem, but those efforts fizzled. Our hosts in Jerusalem insist that relations are improving and that Pride is safer than in the recent past. Here, another stark contrast to the way we celebrate in the United States, with our corporate-sponsored pride villages, beer gardens and all-night parties.

From Jerusalem, we took a daytrip and toured Efrat, a small city in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc with its mayor, Oded Ravivi. The issue of settlements commands a lot of attention in U.S. media coverage of Israel and so I was curious and excited to see one up close. Efrat has eschewed the barbed wire fences that snake through so much of the Israeli landscape and officials have worked to cultivate economic ties with surrounding Palestinian villages. But we learned that such efforts only go so far. When the mayor approached a Palestinian schoolmaster about sending teachers to Efrat to teach Arabic to Israeli kids, he declined, fearing he would be “slaughtered” for collaborating with the Jews.

It was a sobering reminder of how moderates on both sides of the divide are thwarted by the extremists in their midst. Is there a cautionary lesson here for Americans, as our own political rhetoric becomes increasingly dominated by the most extreme, shrill voices of the far left and right; our legislators afraid to compromise and be seen as collaborating with the opposition?

In one awkward moment, a member of our group asked Mayor Ravivi how he would react if one of his children came out to him as gay. He seemed startled by the question and suggested it couldn’t happen in his family. Cue the eye rolling among some of us. Such reactions are common among many who proclaim they don’t discriminate but haven’t devoted much thought to the underlying issues. Gay kids are good for conservative politicians — just ask Dick Cheney.

After absorbing the complicated problems and history of Jerusalem, some of us needed a release and our gracious hosts at Open House took us to the lone gay bar in Jerusalem, called Video, where we had a few drinks and danced till the wee hours alongside a diverse crowd of revelers. Music, indeed, makes the people come together.

 

Accusations of ‘pinkwashing’

 

The concept of “pinkwashing” emerged as a hot topic throughout the week. Some critics claim the country’s embrace of LGBT rights is merely a propaganda effort to claim the mantle of modernity and establish a stark contrast to homophobic regimes in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East. These critics claim the government’s support for gay rights doesn’t threaten or undermine the structure of Israel and amounts to a “fig leaf,” and an attempt at distracting attention from the difficult problems of finding peace with the Palestinians.

I’m not convinced. Politics is about the art of the possible, not the ideal and certainly not the perfect. Sometimes we have to accept imperfect solutions or motives in the interest of securing protections for people in need. What’s most striking about Israel’s LGBT record isn’t what it has achieved legislatively or through court rulings, but the fact that all this progress is happening in the heart of the Middle East. Our group trip featuring nine outspoken American LGBT advocates is simply not possible anywhere else in the region. Even compared to the progress we’ve seen recently in the United States, Israel stands out because it is such a young country enacting these reforms. Americans are notoriously forward thinking and, as a result, we tend to forget our history. It was less than 10 years ago when President George W. Bush called for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and scores of states enacted their own constitutional bans. The architect of this shameful attack on LGBT rights was Ken Mehlman, a closeted gay man and modern-day Roy Cohn who has since come out as gay and now raises money for marriage equality campaigns. The change afoot is new and fast but fragile. Would America be seeing such dramatic change now if Mitt Romney had won last year’s election?

Meanwhile, Israel opened its military to out gays and lesbians and transgender service members — something still barred by the U.S. military. There is relationship recognition, if not full marriage equality. The government directly funds and supports the LGBT movement, for better or worse. And it doesn’t hide that support, but promotes it.

Still, some see nefarious motives.

Upon returning home from this trip, I received a letter criticizing the visit from a group called New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. It read, in part:

“The delegation met with some unspecified ‘Palestinian officials in Ramallah,’ which strikes us as nothing but a token gesture. Worse, ‘pinkwashing’ — the attempt to use Israel’s supposedly decent record on gay rights to whitewash Israeli occupation and apartheid — has been front and center in international LGBT organizing over the past several years, particularly in the US. Any delegation of LGBT ‘leaders’ to Israel that doesn’t address it is clearly intended to contribute to pinkwashing.”

Our group was sensitive to pinkwashing from the outset and several of us requested meetings with gay Palestinians and their representatives. Project Interchange worked hard to provide a balanced view of the issues and invited two Palestinian LGBT groups — alQaws and Aswat — to meet with us. Officials at the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem LGBT centers were also asked if they could assist in persuading those groups to meet our delegation or knew of other Palestinian LGBT representatives who would be willing to meet us. Sadly, the groups refused to meet with us. Change is simply not possible without dialogue and I deeply regret this lost opportunity the Palestinians had to engage with an open-minded group of visitors seeking nothing more than understanding and education.

(I invited NYCQAIP to respond to this story and they accepted. I look forward to publishing their reaction and thoughts on pinkwashing in the coming days.)

In Ramallah, we were scheduled to meet with Dr. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. He cancelled his appearance and we learned why the next day: He had just submitted his resignation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over frustration with the pace of negotiations. Abbas rejected Erekat’s resignation but it’s clear that the current talks, which began four months ago with a John Kerry-instigated deadline of nine months, are not going well. Given the sorry record of our involvement in decades of failed talks, perhaps it’s time for the United States to step aside and allow another party a chance at diplomacy.

In Erekat’s place, we met with Abu Zayyad, a scholar and Fatah and PLO adviser. It seemed somewhat silly to ask him about the state of LGBT affairs given all the day-to-day challenges facing Palestinians in the West Bank. But he insisted that there is a level of gay acceptance, even if such views differ widely among family members, noting there are no laws in Ramallah related to gay issues and that there are at least two non-governmental organizations that espouse gay rights. He spent most of his lecture discussing the state of life for Palestinians and much of what he said was not encouraging. He lamented the lack of mobility for Palestinians, who don’t have passports, making international travel difficult at best. Locally, the checkpoints that Ramallah residents must navigate just to visit nearby Jerusalem create daily headaches. Zayyad, who said he spent three months in prison for participating in an anti-Israel protest, fears that a two-state solution will be impossible five years from now, when an estimated one million Israelis could be living in West Bank settlements.

“It will explode again,” he warned.

It’s often been said that Israel is a land of contradictions and that assessment came into sharp focus during our visit. Israel celebrates its status as the only Democracy in the Middle East, while its non-Jewish residents live under a flag adorned with religious iconography. In a nation so steeped in history, Israel is just 65 years old and is surprisingly lacking in many traditions. Located in the heart of the Middle East, where homosexuality can be punished by jail time or even death as in Iran, Israel has emerged as one of the world’s most pro-LGBT nations. A country that is more than 60 percent desert has perfected drip irrigation and desalinated water from the Mediterranean to solve a decades-old water crisis. And in a nation with such ancient religious influences, a large chunk of the population — estimated by one speaker as high as 50 percent — identifies as secular or atheist.

It’s impossible to summarize our weeklong adventure in a couple thousand words. A sincere and heartfelt thank-you to the team at Project Interchange, all of our speakers and to the people of Israel for their hospitality. In addition to the aforementioned experiences, we met with law professor Aeyal Gross, entrepreneur Hamutal Meridor, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, former Knesset member Einat Wilif, film director Eytan Fox and many others. We were serenaded by Ivri Lider; walked the Stations of the Cross; toured Yad Vashem, the Western Wall tunnels, the Mahaneh Yehuda Market and indulged in far too much of Israel’s impressive cuisine. We visited Sderot, Mitzpe Ramon and slathered ourselves in mud before floating in the Dead Sea.

It was in that moment — nine of us standing half naked, covered in mud — that I perceived a lasting bond forming among us. Despite our differing views on policy back home and occasional misunderstandings, we’d been through something emotional, powerful and unique together. An experience impossible to explain or summarize here, because, well, it’s complicated.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Robin Tyler

    November 13, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Thank you so much for this story. I notice that the coalition who went were all gay men. Next time, we hope you extend the invitation to lesbian leaders as well.

  2. Shaaye

    November 19, 2013 at 2:59 am

    Gentlemen,

    Firstly – its hard to say it, I hate to say it, but if you want to appear credible on this subject matter you’re going to have to pay for your own airfares, arrange your own fixers, and speak to everyday Jews and Arabs of your own election rather that someone else’s. The same criticism would apply if you had accepted a trip from the American Taskforce on Palestine rather than the American Jewish Committee.

    Secondly, it should be obvious to just about everyone that the simple answer to the question “Is Israel Gay Heaven?” is no. Israel does not allow civil unions or gay marriages within its territory, although because of a legal quirk it does recognise others performed elsewhere. By several metrics Israel is less progressive on gay issues than most countries in western Europe, although it is certainly leagues ahead of the Arab countries. Again, perhaps if you’d paid your own way you would have felt more comfortable in stating the bleeding obvious.

    Thirdly, if you don’t speak to many Arabs during your trip, please don’t try to make up for it by uncritically accepting remarks attributed to them by settler ideologues such as Oded Ravivi. His views on Arabs, and in particular “price tag” attacks by settlers against Palestinians, are not what you would call impeccably moderate. This was a serious faux pas. Please try and avoid it in future.

    Fourthly, I am troubled by this statement:-

    “Sometimes we have to accept imperfect solutions or motives in the interest of securing protections for people in need.”

    Alright, but remember that most relatively gay-friendly countries are predominantly white (Brazil, I suppose, would be the exception). Predominantly African countries are, by and large, less friendly, and even within countries such as the United States, pro-gay attitudes are more prevalent amongst white populations than black. If you are content for gay issues to be used by people with “imperfect motives”, then be mindful of where that attitude can take you.

    Best regards,
    Shaaye

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Commentary

Fighting for equality for decades, trans elders still face endless hardships

Lisa Oakley rejected by 60 long-term care facilities in Colo.

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 20 will mark the 22nd International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event honoring and commemorating the many transgender people murdered in transphobic hate crimes every year.

Since 2013, at least 200 transgender people have been murdered in the United States alone, 80 percent being Black and Latinx women. This number is undoubtedly an underestimate, as many murders go unreported and trans victims often are misgendered by law enforcement.

These murders are not isolated crime statistics. They grow out of a culture of violence against transgender and non-binary (TGNB) people that encompasses stigma, exclusion, discrimination, poverty, and lack of access to essential resources, including health care, employment and housing. 

These challenges result in early death. In Latin America, for example, it has been reported that the average life expectancy of a transgender person is only 35 years.

This climate of stigma and transphobia is particularly challenging for TGNB older people, who face extraordinary hardships due both to the cumulative impact of lifetimes of discrimination and regular mistreatment in their elder years. Due to isolation from family and greater medical and financial needs, trans older people are more likely to require professionalized elder services and care. 

Unfortunately, these services and the facilities that provide them are often either unavailable to TGNB elders, or hostile to them. A national survey of LGBTQ+ older people by AARP found that more than 60 percent of those surveyed were concerned about how they would be treated in a long-term care setting. This includes the fear of being refused or receiving limited care, in danger of neglect or abuse, facing verbal or physical harassment, or being forced to hide or deny their identity once again. 

This is a sobering reality. In October, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders filed a claim against Sunrise Assisted Living in Maine, which openly denied admission to an older transgender woman because of her gender identity. 

In Colorado, Lisa Oakley was, astonishingly, rejected by 60 long-term care facilities, which her caseworker ascribes to Lisa’s gender identity. One facility that agreed to admit Lisa would only house her with a male roommate. 

After waiting far too long for welcoming care, Lisa eventually got help from SAGE and other community supporters and found a home in Eagle Ridge of Grand Valley. Fortunately, Eagle Ridge has participated in specialized training to be LGBTQ+-welcoming. While Lisa feels welcomed at Eagle Ridge and has made friends, she has been forced to live far from a community she loves. 

These cases in Maine and Colorado are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the discrimination faced by TGNB elders. That’s why it’s so important that Congress pass the Equality Act, which would once and for all prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in key areas like employment, housing, and care and services.

And while legal progress is important, it’s not enough. TGNB elders need more equity in their day to day lives. Older transgender people are more likely to experience financial barriers than non-transgender elders, regardless of age, income and education.

They’re also at a higher risk of disability, general poor mental and physical health, and loneliness, compared to their cisgender counterparts.

These experiences have been part of everyday life for trans elders for far too long. We continue to see them struggle with the long-term effects of transphobia and violence every day. That’s why organizations like SAGE are stepping up our support for TGNB elders by investing $1 million to support TGNB-focused services and advocacy both in New York and nationwide.

And we are continually amazed by the resilience of TGNB elders, creating communities built on their strength and courage. 

Their resilience is nothing new. It dates back generations and was evident during the Stonewall Uprising. Over the years, trans luminaries like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Victoria Cruz—leaders of the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement—and countless others have repeatedly proved that they will not be invisible.  

We see this determination in so many programs and activities led by trans elders at SAGE. 

For example, the TransGenerational Theater Project brings together transgender people of all ages to create theater from their experiences and perspectives. These types of elder-driven programs serve as powerful reminders that transgender older people are leading their lives with resilience, creativity, and perseverance, despite the dangers they face. 

Transgender and non-binary elders have survived and fought for equality for decades. They are brave. They are strong. They are leaders. Here at SAGE, we will continue to walk side-by-side with them as we continue the fight to ensure TGNB elders get the respect, change, and acceptance they deserve.

Michael Adams is the CEO of SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ elders.

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LGBTQ people are being hunted down in Afghanistan

Homosexuality punishable by death under Taliban Sharia law interpretation

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

Kabul was known as one of the few “liberal” cities in Afghanistan. The word liberal is in quotation marks, and inflected, because it is liberal compared to the rest of the country. Now that the Taliban has taken over, most people who expressed themselves differently and openly are forced to adhere to Sharia law, completely change their ways, hide their identity, or be killed.

The U.S. State Department reported in 2020 that even before the Taliban took power in August, LGBTQ people in Afghanistan faced “discrimination, assault and rape” and “homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent.” Laws against lesbian, gay and transgender people made their existence illegal and punishable by up to two years in jail. Those laws were not always enforced, but they did leave LGBTQ people at risk of extortion and abuse by authorities, as reported by the U.K. government.

Even with the discrimination and abuse, LGBTQ people still had a sliver of space in society. Nemat Sadat, an LGBTQ Afghan author living in the United States said that gay, lesbian and transgender people helped the country’s cultural life develop since the Taliban’s last rule 20 years ago. But, most of these people built their lives quietly.

Now with the Taliban regime, their sliver of space in society is gone, there is no room to live quietly as an openly LGBTQ person. Under the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, homosexuality is punished by death.

In an interview with Reuters, Waheedullah Hashimi, a top decision maker for the Taliban said, “there will be no democratic system at all because it does not have a base in our country,” and continued to say, “what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan is clear. It is sharia law and that is it.”

One source spoke to a 20-year-old university student who is lesbian in Afghanistan. Her family accepted her as a lesbian, but now the new Taliban leadership has put the lives of all of her family at risk. There is a new surge of violence against any lesbian, gay and transgender people. This includes anyone speculated of being lesbian, gay, or trans, and those who support them.

This young lesbian woman has gone into hiding. She is part of hundreds of LGBTQ people in Afghanistan who are pleading with advocates and organizations outside Afghanistan for help to escape the Taliban tyranny.

Nemat Sadat shares stories of lesbian, gay and trans people in hiding. He shared a story of a gay man who watched from his hiding place in the ceiling as Taliban fighters beat the friend who refused to disclose his location.  

LGBTQ people in Afghanistan fear the risk of being arrested, beaten and killed. The Taliban made it clear that it is enforcing its strict religious laws against Afghanistan’s LGBTQ citizens. In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper, one Taliban judge said there were only two punishments for homosexuality: “stoning or being crushed under a wall.”

LGBTQ people in Afghanistan are reporting that their friends, partners and members of their community are being attacked and raped. They also stated that Islamic fundamentalists and riotous groups are encouraged by the new tyranny and are on the hunt for LGBTQ people.

Another source shared that a gay man was targeted for his sexuality and then raped by his male attackers. That is a terrible paradox. He was raped by his male attackers, who criminalizing him for having same sex relations.

LGBTQ people are in hiding, desperately trying to get out of the country, and trying to erase any proof of their queer identity.

They feel abandoned by the international LGBTQ community. The Taliban is proving that the Western nations have normalized relations to their government. The Taliban and their supporters see this a proof of their victory. This leaves LGBTQ people defeated and fearing torture and death.

The U.S. government and other Western countries evacuated many people out of Afghanistan, including journalists, women’s rights activists and those who worked with foreigners. But, LGBTQ activists said that nothing has been done for them. A source says about her situation, “we will definitely be killed. We are asking to be evacuated immediately from Afghanistan.” To date, no safe route has been found.

Even underground measures to help LGBTQ people are challenging and near impossible. The Rainbow Railroad is a non-governmental organization helping LGBTQ people around the world escape persecution. Executive Director Kimahli Powell said evacuating LGBTQ people from Afghanistan is especially hard as they are often alone, in hiding, and unable to contact each other. If routes to get them out is nearly impossible, that still means those routes are somewhat possible. As difficult as it may be, we must find pathways to save these people and get them out.

The Taliban regime has established itself, knowing with certainty that the world will stand aside, albeit condemning and protesting, but not intervening. This is empowering jihadists across the world, especially in the Middle East. The Taliban has many allies and admirers, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas. 

The leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, travelled from Palestinian territories to meet with Taliban leaders in Qatar. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has a history of ties to the Taliban, even with radicals joining each other’s organizations. Very public statements of congratulations were made between leaders of the Taliban, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and all with full Iranian support.

The increase in brazen forcefulness of these groups reaches beyond Afghanistan, and spreads to the lands dominated by other similar groups. This causes an escalation of the threats to anyone who opposes Sharia law or who lives differently than what Sharia law allows. LGBTQ people in these lands are in peril. 

If we do not help LGBTQ people in Afghanistan, the lives of LGBTQ people under other similar tyrannies face increased uncertainty and danger.

Since posting this video, I have been receiving direct messages from LGBTQ people in hiding in Afghanistan, and those who are seeking to be evacuated. They all share harrowing experiences of being attacked, raped, and threatened by Taliban, Islamic State and bullying groups.

Yuval David is an innovative actor, host and filmmaker with a creative mantra to entertain, uplift and inspire. He is a captivating performer and compelling storyteller who uses his platform for sharing narratives that affect social change, specifically on behalf of highly respected U.S. and international organizations that raise awareness for the marginalized and under-represented, inspired by his LGBTQ+ and Jewish identity, and his Israeli-American roots.

He can be reached through social media

YouTube.com/YuvalDavid

Instagram.com/Yuval_David_

Facebook.com/YuvalDavid

Twitter.com/YuvalDavid

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Coming out is a life-long process

Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day

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Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day

“Tell me about your coming out,” my 30-something friend Seth recently said to me.

“It was more than a day!” I joked.

National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is on Oct. 11. The holiday, celebrated yearly on Oct. 11, was first observed on Oct. 11, 1988.

That date was the one-year anniversary of the 1987 queer rights march in Washington, D.C. More than half a million people were at the march, which was a turning point in the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Robert H. Eichberg, a psychologist who died in 1995, and gay rights activist Jean O’Leary, who died in 2005, co-founded NCOD. 

Things have progressed so far for us queers since then. We can marry and serve in the military. We’re parents, cops, athletes, teachers and preachers.

In this era of marriage equality, it’s tempting to wonder: What is all the fuss about coming out?

But, a reality check shows that coming out still matters.

A quick look through the news headlines reveals why staying in the closet is so hurtful and how unsafe it can still be to come out as LGBTQ+.

If you’re of a certain age, you likely cried your eyes out when you watched the Disney movie “Old Yeller.” Who could forget the scene when the young boy Travis (played by Tommy Kirk shoots “Old Yeller” because his dog has rabies? In 2019, the Library of Congress added 

”Old Yeller” to the National Film Registry.

Kirk died on Sept. 28 at 79 at his Las Vegas home. Despite Kirk’s popularity with fans, Disney didn’t renew his contract because he was gay.

“I was caught having sex with a boy at a public pool in Burbank,” Kirk told the gossip columnist Liz Smith. “We were both young, and the boy’s mother went to Walt.”

In the 1960s, there was no way that an out actor would have had a chance in Hollywood.

I wish I could say that everything’s changed since Disney fired Kirk. But, this isn’t the case.

In August, Jamel Myles, a fourth grader in Denver killed himself, the Denver Post reported. His mother told the Post that her son, who’d come out to her as gay, took his own life because he’d been bullied for a year.

“We are deeply committed to our students’ well-being,” a Denver Public Schools spokesman said in a statement.

Unfortunately, Jamal’s story is far from unique. Nationwide, many LGBTQ+ students in the U.S. have been bullied. Nearly half (43 percent) of transgender youth have been bullied, according to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey. Nearly a third (29 percent) of trans youth, 21 percent of gay and lesbian youth and 22 percent of bisexual youth have attempted suicide, the survey reports.

Life is far more dangerous for queer folk in many places worldwide from Hungary to Ghana.

You could respond to this grim news by going to bed, staying under the covers—tucked in the closet.

But that would let homophobia and transphobia have the right of way. It would deny us the chance to joyfully, proudly, defiantly celebrate who we are.

Studies have shown that knowing us can help alleviate prejudice.

Family members, friends and colleagues may still feel uncomfortable around us because of our sexual orientation or gender identity.

But, it’s hard to hate your non-binary 10-year-old granddaughter on Christmas morning. Or your gay buddy at the gym.

One of my fondest memories is when I came out to my Aunt Manci. I worried that she wouldn’t accept my girlfriend. I needed have been anxious. “You’re lucky,” she said, “she loves you.”

Coming out is a process that lasts a lifetime—from deciding if you want to be out in the third grade to ensuring that your loved ones won’t erase your queerness from your obituary.

Coming out can be arduous. But, it’s liberating! Let the revels begin! Happy National Coming Out Day! 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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