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As Israel readies for new elections, the LGBTQ community is at risk

U.S.-based groups attacking transgender Israelis

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Elisha Alexander in April 2022 (Photo courtesy of Ethan Felson)

Israel’s government has collapsed — and the county is headed to new elections for the fifth time in three years. In this renewed period of uncertainty, Israel’s LGBTQ community has cause for particular concern. Any new coalition would likely welcome parties that oppose LGBTQ inclusion back into government, posing a clear and imminent threat to their human rights.

But amidst this trepidation, there is still much to celebrate: 30 LGBTQ leaders from the U.S. met with their counterparts in Israel this month. The backdrop was Tel Aviv Pride, one of the largest in the world. The leaders were there for more than celebrations. They came to learn. As with past A Wider Bridge trips, North Americans travelling to Israel and Israelis travelling to North America shared strategies for building LGBTQ inclusion, fighting conversion therapy, protecting young people needing shelter, and building vibrant pride centers. Pride celebrations got their start in the U.S. and will take place in more than 60 Israeli cities this month. Over the years, both of our countries have imported many successful approaches from one another. But one American import to Israel is less than welcome: Political transphobia. Let’s not let it become something that unites our nations.

As leaders of groups in Israel and the U.S., we’ve watched with sadness as trans kids in America have been put in harm’s way through legislation making their medical care less available and prohibiting their teachers and school counselors from providing the lifesaving support they need. And it turns out that the same retrograde forces fighting trans inclusion in the U.S. are backing similar efforts in Israel. There have always been opposition to LGBTQ rights, including trans inclusion in both countries and around the globe. What’s new is a vastly well-funded campaign — with plenty of American backing — directed at attacking the Israeli trans community. While the fight for LGBTQ equality in Israel hasn’t been easy, historically the community hasn’t been used as a political cudgel. That’s changing, and we’re ringing the alarm bell.

Groups like the Kohelet Forum, which is largely American-funded, are trying to take their American brand of anti-trans hate to Israel. While think tanks and policy shops aren’t a new phenomenon in Israel, Kohelet has adopted the broader American model of political change-making. They’ve launched a constellation of organizations working informally together to usher in transformational policy change. With the support of Kohelet and others, the anti-trans movement has exploded in Israel.

Their orchestrated effort comes at a very unfortunate moment. Ma’avarim, Israel’s most prominent trans organization, and the entire Israeli trans community have worked tirelessly for years, building careful relationships, educating important allies — and is making tremendous advances due to an Israeli government that was willing to embrace many key goals. There are historic opportunities to implement new life-saving policies including access to healthcare, legal recognition of gender identity, and diversity in the education system. All of this is now in jeopardy. Just as these successes are coming to fruition, the anti-trans movement is using social media and other tactics to spread disinformation and false accusations such as “men in dresses raping women in bathrooms.” These fabrications are felt by many in the trans community to be like anti-Semitic blood libels — made-up stories that lead to fear, hatred, and even violence. They help fuel anti-trans advocacy and lobbying to advance exclusionary policies and legislation to deny Israeli transgender persons their dignity and rights.

The new anti-trans movement has several distinctive features that require new responses. Firstly, unlike the traditional opposition for LGBTQ rights that springs from religious and social conservatives, anti-trans advocacy is now often fronted by self-styled “progressive” women. They bring with them established connections within liberal circles. Secondly, the central arena of the “progressive” anti-trans campaign is both traditional and social media — drawing on existing networks with hundreds of thousands of followers, while trans community organizations have minimal presence in social media beyond the trans community. Thirdly, the funding being poured into anti-trans campaigns eclipses the budgets of LGBTQ organizations. In Israel alone, the groups waging battle against the trans community have budgets in the tens of millions with hundreds of paid staff, many of whom work on anti-trans campaigns. 

None of us should sit idly by while these attacks on the trans community take place. As in other countries, this anti-trans hate movement poses an immediate threat to the safety and wellbeing of transgender and gender non-conforming persons. We cannot allow them to have their very existence denied.

But it doesn’t stop there. While transgender persons are the immediate targets of hate and violence, anti-trans campaigns have far-reaching political aims: dividing the liberal bloc of women’s, LGBTQ and minority rights, instilling hate, and turning liberal democratic societies against a newly created enemy from within. Anti-trans propaganda has proved instrumental in spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories that further undermine democratic values in society.

The eyes of the world often look to Israel on LGBTQ rights. Dana International, a trans woman from Tel Aviv, won the Eurovision music contest, became an international hero, and played a role in ushering greater acceptance of the trans community.

The world will be watching after Israel’s new elections: Will they continue to make progress in affording rights and protections to LGBTQ people? Or will they turn back the clock? Now more than ever, fighting the anti-trans movement must be a top priority not only for the transgender community but for LGBTQ people, feminists, and the wider progressive community in Israel- and in the United States.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization that fights for LGBTQ inclusion, counters anti-Semitism, and strengthens relationships between the LGBTQ community in Israel and North America. Elisha Alexander is the founding director of Ma’avarim, Israel’s leading NGO advocating for the transgender community.

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Commentary

Hurricane Beryl: The need for an LGBTQ-inclusive disaster response in the Caribbean

Category 5 storm devastated southern Windward Islands, Jamaica

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Hurricane Beryl damage on Union Island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (Screen capture via Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation/YouTube)

Editor’s note: Outright International has allowed the Washington Blade to republish this op-ed from its website.

On the heels of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States held in Antigua and Barbuda in May 2024, Caribbean countries are confronted with a historic event. Described as the earliest Category 5 hurricane to develop in the Atlantic, Hurricane Beryl tore through the Caribbean during the first week of July 2024. Hurricane Beryl caused catastrophic damage in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and Jamaica, as well as varying degrees of damage in St. Lucia and Barbados. Hurricane Beryl follows an increased number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the region, the most recent being Category 4 Hurricane Ian (2022), Category 5 Hurricane Dorian (2019), Category 5 Hurricane Maria (2017), and Category 5 Hurricane Irma (2017), and Category 5 Hurricane Matthew (2016). These hurricanes resulted in the loss of lives, displacement, disruption in livelihoods, destruction of vegetation and infrastructure, uninhabitable areas, and grave economic loss. For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the Caribbean, climate-related disasters exacerbate the vulnerabilities and pre-existing inequalities that they face.

Survival and viability of Caribbean islands threatened

Caribbean countries are experiencing the effects of climate change (Caribbean Community Climate Change Center, 2021). Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the region by 25-30 percent (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2018). As indicated by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes cause the most devastating impacts. The “increased frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events,” as evidence of the “rapid and adverse impacts of climate change,” represent the “greatest threats to the survival and viability” of small island states in the Caribbean (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2018, p. 83United Nations Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States, 2024, para 27.)

USD billion in damages

The financial toll of these disasters is distressing. The International Monetary Fund highlights that the Caribbean is “the most exposed region to climate-related natural disasters, with estimated adaptation investment needs of more than $100 billion, equal to about one-third of its annual economic output” (IMF, 2023). Despite this vulnerability, the Caribbean receives minimal private climate financing (IMF, 2023). The Caribbean has the highest average estimated disaster damage as a ratio to GDP globally, with some instances of damage exceeding the size of the economy (IMF, 2018). For example, Hurricane Maria resulted in $1.2 billion in damages to Dominica, totaling 226 percent of GDP (IMF, 2021). Hurricane Dorian resulted in $3.4 billion in damages to the Bahamas (estimated at 25-30 percent of GDP) (Inter-American Development Bank and Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2022).

LGBTQ people are among those who are disproportionately impacted

LGBTQ people in the Caribbean continue to struggle with an unrealized vision of equality (Myrie, 2024). They are among the most marginalized in the region. They often experience discriminationeconomic and societal exclusionviolence, and the threat of violence, mainly due to the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations and the stigma associated with being LGBTQ. 

As a consequence of Hurricane Beryl, affected LGBTQ people in the Caribbean face increased housing and food insecurity, disruption in economic livelihoods, reduced access to community support structures, and increased exposure to harassment and violence. Recognizing the exacerbated vulnerabilities of LGBTQ people does not mean that they are at a greater risk of experiencing climate-related disasters. Rather, it is about appreciating that “in times of crisis those most marginalized tend to suffer disproportionately compared to the broader population” (Outright International, 2020). Further, where societal discrimination is strong, LGBTIQ people may have to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity to remain safe, making their suffering invisible to those providing assistance (Outright International, 2024). 

In the post-disaster context, LGBTQ people in the Caribbean may experience “discrimination in accessing emergency and social protection services and in emergency shelters” and “challenges integrating into their communities and earning a livelihood” (UN Women Caribbean, 2022). In the Bahamas, for example, post-Hurricane Dorian, some displaced LGBTQ persons were reluctant to stay in shelters for fear of violence. For those with sufficient resources, Hurricane Dorian was a catalyst for them to migrate (Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 2020). 

In Haiti, LGBTQ people grappled with a heightened sense of insecurity during and after the 2010 earthquake. They reported being blamed for the earthquake and were at an increased risk of harassment and violence (International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and SEROvie, 2011). Lesbians and bisexual women reported incidences of sexual violence and corrective rape, while gay and transgender men reported harassment and denial of access to healthcare, housing and food (IGLHRC and SEROvie, 2011). Affected LGBTQ persons shared that the earthquake “decimated the already limited physical spaces, social networks and support services available to them” (IGLHRC and SEROvie, 2011). 

Although LGBTQ people in the Caribbean tend to be disproportionately impacted in the response to their “recovery, reconstruction and livelihood needs and experience “poor recovery outcomes,” they are “largely absent from climate and mobility strategies in the Caribbean” (Bleeker et al., 2021).

Meaningful inclusion of LGBTQ people is necessary for an effective and equitable disaster response

International, regional, and local stakeholders must secure the meaningful inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Caribbean for an effective and equitable disaster response. This can be achieved by ensuring that LGBTQ people actively contribute to the planning processes and are engaged in all stages of the disaster management cycle. Meaningful inclusion allows for the full appreciation of the unique vulnerabilities of those affected and is critical for humanitarian actors to respond to their needs effectively. There must also be adequate safeguards to eliminate increased security risks and protect against discrimination, particularly in the provision of services and the distribution of resources. 

Finally, “to ensure that the humanitarian sector does not reinforce or generate new forms of discrimination and harm, humanitarian actors must approach relationship-building with LGBTIQ organizations with sensitivity and commitment to safety, security, and confidentiality,” centering local knowledge and the voices of those most in need of life-saving assistance (Outright International, 2024).

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Congressional Women’s Softball Game comes hours after anti-LGBTQ votes on Hill

We must not forget the threats to queer lives that reappear once players leave field

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As a lesbian working on the Hill, I was thrilled to hear about the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Though I’ve never played the sport, I knew the game would be my Super Bowl, the queer political event of the year — never mind the White House Pride Reception taking place the very same night. 

So, on June 26, I put on my baseball cap, tightened my overalls, and enjoyed seven innings of congressional softball at Watkins Recreation Center. The ice cream was free. Typo the border collie threw out the first pitch. Everyone, donned in their C-Span hats, was thrilled to watch their representatives dive for first.

Yet, in the face of this intimate, community-based event, I couldn’t brush off the political tension undergirding the entire evening. The game felt more authentic, definitely more queer, and more dedicated to its charities than the Congressional Baseball Game that took place just two weeks earlier, but it was nonetheless plagued by the same sentiment of political escapism, a momentary distraction from the severity of American politics today. I’d come from work, where I’d been reviewing Project 2025 and hearings where homophobic rhetoric was a staple. So the irony of lawmakers—who had voted just hours earlier to pass appropriations bills packed with anti-LGBTQ riders—playing softball was not lost on me. Ultimately, there is a space for comic and communal relief within politics, but such moments like the Congressional Women’s Softball Game cannot distract us from the very real threats to queer lives that culminate once the players leave the field and return to the halls of Congress.

Started in 2009 by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, and Sen. Susan Collins, the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game sees Republican and Democratic congresswomen face off against their rivals: the Washington, D.C. press corps. The tradition began when Rep. Wasserman Schultz announced her battle with breast cancer and has now raised more than $4 million for the Young Survival Coalition. Though it is young, the game is an annual force of good.

The Congressional Baseball Game, however, is far older. Dating back to 1909, the annual event pits Republicans against Democrats at Nationals Park. This year, the annual game saw the GOP win 31-11, hosted 30,000 fans, and raised $2.2 million for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, Nationals Philanthropies, and The Washington Literacy Center. 

And though this year’s games felt entirely different—one was an event for charity, the other for Pride—there were still numerous startling similarities. Countless police officers with assault rifles lined the outfield and the rooftops. Corporate sponsors like McDonald’s and Spotify provided snacks and merchandise. A dog caught frisbees between innings (which both sets of fans loved). And, most importantly, there was a tension between the levity of lawmakers diving for fly balls and the political power in their hands. At one point during the game, my girlfriend and I cheered for a representative responsible for a double play, before realizing she was one of many Republicans on the field to have voted against the Respect for Marriage Act. We were further surprised as the Republican outfielder high-fived and laughed with teammate and lesbian Rep. Sharice Davids. 

I was reminded that—despite the seeming bipartisanship and strive for a greater good—events like these can and should not distract us from the threats facing queer—and especially trans—people in appropriations bills, upcoming Supreme Court decisions, and the November election. In fact, more anti-LGBTQ bills than ever were introduced this year, each motivated by partisanship and individualistic thinking that one softball game cannot erase. The day after the game at the House’s Pride month special order hour, lesbian Rep. Becca Balint described Republican representatives approaching her in the halls of Congress, saying they “didn’t mean [her]” when they voted in favor of numerous anti-LGBTQ amendments and bills.

In the face of all this, it is difficult to reconcile light-hearted events like the Congressional Softball Game, the Congressional Baseball Game, or even Will on the Hill. Of course, there is a time and place to make light of our political circumstances, to find avenues for queer joy. Without humor and optimism in politics, congressional offices would go unstaffed; it would be impossible to live a sane day under our government. But we must remember that these events are only momentary Hail Mary’s to forget the seemingly downward spiral of our democracy. We must not forget what is at stake, despite the good and bad distractions, whether we are winning or losing the battle for equality. 

Perhaps last month’s softball game did just that. It was an intimate show of community building, motivated by an issue we can all get behind: the fight to end breast cancer. It was intent on its mission, and not once did it fear decomposing into a brawl for political party pride. But we cannot think ourselves safe, especially when politics becomes light-hearted. Instead, we must remember to fight for the values of bipartisanship and the common good that these events embody.

Camille Cypher is a student at the University of Chicago and an intern in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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When queerness and art collide: My journey as a writer

Peter Pan, ‘Poor Things,’ and the power in pleasure

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Gay Carrie Bradshaw. Wannabe Dan Savage. Writing about barbacking like it’s some sort of mission trip. I’m not unaware of the perceptions surrounding this column, which, when directed toward me, often presents as, “How exactly did this happen?” 

That question is valid, in part because it happened so fast that I never processed the events leading up to it. It’s even more valid considering my dream was never to be a columnist at all, if one could call me that (delusional blogger, maybe?). No, instead, I wanted to write science fiction.   

That’s right — for years, I dedicated thousands of hours typing away at my laptop, making up plots, characters, settings, and sometimes laws of physics out of thin air. For most of that time, it was a hobby I kept close, telling few in my inner circle to avoid what others might think. Despite this insecurity, I managed to complete three-and-a-half full-length novels that now sit patiently as PDFs on my hard drive. 

Here you thought this column was weird. Oh, it’s just the tip of the iceberg, my friend. 

So how exactly does one go from science fiction to sex column? Buckle up for the unfiltered, unadulterated, and likely unrequested story of how that abrupt shift came to be. It all took place during a cold week last February, when three events aligned like planets to pave the way. 

First came some disappointing news. After being in talks with a literary agency for an entire year about one of my novels, the opportunity slipped through my fingers and crashed to the ground like the glassware drunk customers seem to love dropping, which, in both instances, leaves me sweeping the mess away. I should have expected this, for breaking into publishing is no small feat, particularly given my experience, or lack thereof. I have no MFA. No publishing credits. No formal creative writing training of any kind. I’m completely self-taught, relying on books and YouTube to learn both craft and industry. Given this, recognition from an agency as someone worth considering should feel like an accomplishment on its own. 

Still, the news was devastating, especially after abandoning my old career to pursue writing. I’ll never forget when Dusty, one of the bar owners, found me in the kitchen to ask if I was OK. I held back tears as I nodded back yes, but the voices in my head scolded me on how pathetic I probably appeared to the world. Sounds harsh, but let’s be honest: You’re only praised when your art makes it big, but when it doesn’t, you’re just another weirdo. More on that later.  

Fortunately, I had a bar shift to take my mind off the matter, which led to the second event. A few regulars sat at the bar and, as usual, gave me a friendly hello. On this wintry day business was slow, enabling me to chat more than usual. Naturally they inquired about my life outside the bar, which I’ll admit put me on edge. I mean, what do I say? Something told me, “I’m a twice-fired loser who thought he could write but just learned he can’t,” would bring down the mood a bit. 

Instead, I kept it vague with, “I like to write,” before turning the question back on them. As it just so happened, one of those regulars was Brian Pitts, co-owner of the Blade. 

“Maybe you could write for us,” he suggested. When I asked what they were looking for, he shrugged and suggested show reviews. I smiled, told him I’d get back to him next week, then walked away dismissing the idea. I mean, show reviews? Was I even qualified? I wasn’t sure I could write a story, let alone critique one. 

Then again, what more could I lose? Figuring a review was at least worth a try, I stumbled into the third event following my shift that Super Bowl Sunday. Instead of the Big Game, I hiked to Atlantic Plumbing to catch “Poor Things,” starring Emma Stone. I vaguely knew the premise but not much else, other than buzz around Stone’s performance. 

For those who haven’t seen it, “Poor Things” is a Victorian-era, somewhat-steampunk fantasy about a mad scientist who brings a deceased, pregnant woman back to life by replacing her brain with her infant’s. It’s a bonkers plot in which Stone’s character, Bella, becomes a woman reset—quite literally in this case—but as her young mind develops in her adult body, she experiences life uninhibited. Then come the most shocking sequences of all: Bella having sex, and lots of it. At one point she even becomes a prostitute, using the gig to explore her sexuality while building in free time to pursue other interests. 

I watched mesmerized, both appalled and intrigued, equally awed and revolted, while I couldn’t help but wonder: Is that me up on that screen?

I haven’t been shy about my own sexual journey, which I had assumed began and ended with my coming out. But damn was I wrong, and “Poor Things” showed me why. Notably, Bella’s sexual liberation shares a likeness to the queer experience. “Polite Society will destroy you,” one character tells her, which holds true for all queer journeys. Yet once we break free from these social chains, we often enter a reset—an infantile stage, if you will—to relive our robbed youth through fresh eyes. 

Unfortunately, not all queers leave this phase, instead remaining caught in an eternal adolescence often referred to as Peter Pan syndrome. Bella only escapes it through critical self-examination, understanding better what she truly wanted from life. Here “Poor Things” depicts sexual liberation as more than a moment; rather, it’s a process where rebirth is just the beginning. How far Bella’s liberation went relied entirely on her willingness to explore herself. Consequently, her liberation didn’t end with sex but rather her self-actualization, so by the final throes of the film sex is rarely mentioned. Herein lies the Power in Pleasure — the unabashed pursuit of all things you enjoy to become your happiest, most well rounded, most fully realized self.  

Later that night, instead of writing a review, I sat there reeling from the similarities between Bella’s life and my own. Bella taking on frowned-upon work in pursuit of herself mirrored my becoming a barback to pursue writing. And the sex? My God, I was amid a slut phase already, though I wanted to believe I was more than that. But wanting and believing are different things, aren’t they? I realized then I was holding myself back. My Peter Pan must grow up. 

As for my art, I bought into this silly notion that I’d open up as a writer if I ever made it big, as if that would shield me from rejection. Not so coincidentally, my mindset was similar before coming out as gay: I thought, let me hold off until I’m successful, then show the world successful people can be gay. Both experiences felt too similar to ignore, until I finally saw the profound connection between art and queerness. 

“Art was the precursor to fully allow me to embrace my queerness,” Scott would later tell me, who I’ve mentioned in the past is both my coworker and a performance artist. Scott was a theater kid in high school, which led them into a proud “Band of Misfits” that wore difference as a badge of honor. “I was able to find my queerness through art, through performance, and through training to become an actor.” 

My journey was the opposite: I came out as gay well before as a writer, which Scott assured me is normal. “We’re often told don’t express yourself, conform, conform, conform, and artists do the opposite of that,” said Scott. “Being an artist is hard. It’s a queering of what societal expectations are, particularly here in the District where there is so much ladder climbing professionally, socially, politically. The title of artist sort of queers the idea of what it means to be in Washington, D.C.” 

Scott was right. D.C., in comparison to other cities, feels uniquely difficult to pursue art. Even when we’re out — perhaps especially when we’re out — we D.C. gays tend to overcompensate for our perceived deficiency by ensuring everything else is in order, projecting a brighter image of what a good citizen ought to be, serving an ideal of a new normal, and leaping from one box only to scurry into another, albeit gayer, one. 

Yet was fitting into any box what I truly wanted? If polite society says yes, then fuck polite society. 

So, in a case of art imitating life imitating art likely imitating someone else’s life, I sat down and told my story, wrestling doubts of my craft, fighting my fears of what others might think, at times typing through my tears, all for the sake of my authenticity, since my repressing it was no longer an option. This is what it takes to bear your truth to the world. It’s what it takes to be an artist. No surprise, it’s also what it takes to come out queer, and to become the bravest version of yourself imaginable. 

I sent what I wrote to the Blade as soon as I finished, and the rest is history. And there you have it: the story about the review that never happened but became so much more, brought to you by my dramatic flair and ADHD. 

Though I must admit, gay Carrie Bradshaw has a nicer ring to it.

Jake Stewart is a D.C.-based writer and barback.

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