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Silence and complacency are not an option for Israel’s LGBTQ community

Proposed reforms of country’s judiciary have sparked widespread protests

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LGBTQ and intersex activists participate in a protest against proposed reforms to Israel's judiciary. (Photo courtesy of George Avni)

WDG is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel.

Thursday was another record day for the protests against the legal revolution that members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are trying to carry out. High-tech employees and business owners, doctors and nurses, professors, teachers and students, economists and intellectuals, parents and children, security personnel and activists have united in the protest movement and the number of weekly demonstrations against the coup d’état have increased.

What began as a single demonstration in Tel Aviv 10 weeks ago turned into a huge demonstration of about 300,000 people in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem about a month ago. This movement two weeks ago turned into a Day of Disruption throughout the country and reached its peak on Thursday with the declaration of a National Day of Resistance.

LGBTQ and intersex people and organizations have joined the struggle.

LGBTQ and intersex organizations on Thursday morning held their own protest in Tel Aviv’s Culture Square before they marched with Israeli and Pride flags and joined other protest groups in front of the city’s government building.

These organizations took part in the first demonstrations that took place more than two months ago. They formed a larger LGBTQ group and marched together as one, with gay party promoters joining them later. The Aguda, Hoshan, IGY (Israel Gay Youth), the Gila Project and Maavarim rented buses for LGBTQ and intersex people who wanted to go to Jerusalem and demonstrate in the capital.

Next step: Cancelling the right to LGBTQ parenthood

One of the largest protests to date is the Day of Disruption that took place on March 1.

The day, which began as protests that took place in dozens of cities across Israel as MKs passed bills, for the first time during the protest movement saw violent scenes between protesters and police officers, who used stun grenades to disperse them.

The Aguda and Hoshan before the Day of Disruption hung signs in the train stations that simulated a train route. Bills that would discriminate against the LGBTQ and intersex community and simulating life after the legal revolution’s approval in the Knesset were written in place of station name: The first stop was the cancellation of Pride parades, followed by the cancellation of transgender pregnancies, a ban on discussing LGBTQ and intersex issues in schools and in the media, repealing the discrimination ban removing children from same-sex households and approving so-called conversion therapy.

The State of Israel is speeding down a path of direct discrimination, and that is our red line. When the first stop is crushing the justice system, the next stops are canceling the right to gay parenthood and allowing discrimination in businesses, just like what happened in Hungary and Poland,” wrote the Aguda and Hoshan in their campaign. “This is exactly the time for everyone to ask themselves where his red line cross — because when the legal revolution leaves the station, it will be very difficult to stop the violation of the rights we fought for years.”

Activists in Israel created this mock train station map to indicate how proposed reforms to Israel’s judiciary could harm LGBTQ and intersex people. (Photo courtesy of George Avni)

Lesbians on motorcycles at the beginning of the Day of Disruption blocked traffic throughout Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv while on their way to Jerusalem. The Israeli “Pride and Ride” Dykes on Bykes movement led the protest. Dykes on Bykes has existed since 1976, and has emerged as a significant part of the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights movement and as a symbol of female strength and Pride for every lesbian woman.

At the same time in Jerusalem, writer Ilan Scheinfeld arrived at the Western Wall plaza with his two sons who were born by surrogacy and waved a large pride flag in front of the Western Wall.

Israel’s LGBTQ and intersex families have launched a campaign aimed at Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, a proud father of twins, in which they tried to appeal to his heart as a gay person who started a family thanks to Supreme Court rulings, and to explain to him what the consequences of a political revolution might be on gay parenting.

Aguda Chair Hila Peer in the evening spoke at the central demonstration in Tel Aviv.

“They think they will push us back into closets. This government has a clear agenda and the LGBTQ community is one of the first in line. This is not legal reform, it is a gun that is being held to the head of the LGBTQ community. They are destroying the only body that protects human rights, so that later they can enact whatever they want against us,” said Peer. “This government has brought up the worst haters of freedom, of equality and of the LGBTQ community, It gave them power over our families, over our rights. We faced crazier, meaner, more violent and broke every closet they ever dared to try build for us.”

“The year is 2023 and we are going nowhere but forward,” added Peer. “Even if you take the court, even if you threaten us in the streets. Even if you deny us right after right, we will not stop. We will not disappear. The LGBTQ community was born out of a revolution, and the LGBTQ community will bring the next revolution.”

LGBTQ and intersex activists participate in a protest against proposed reforms to Israel’s judiciary. (Photo courtesy of George Avni)

Opposition community representatives also tried to disrupt the Constitution Committee’s proceedings, or at least create actions that would cause them to become illegitimate. MK Yorai Lahav Hertzno from Yesh Atid party during one of the debates came up to the table and began chanting “shame” while pointing an accusing finger at MK Simcha Rotman, who chairs the committee The demonstration caused a lot of criticism and the Knesset’s Ethics Committee punished Hertzno.

Why is the LGBTQ and intersex community afraid?

The absolute majority of the rights of the LGBTQ and intersex community in Israel today came from Supreme Court rulings. From treatments for HIV carriers to surrogacy and parentage registration, all achievements were achieved as a result of battles waged in court against the decisions of the government and the Knesset.

The regime change that includes the weakening of the Supreme Court’s power and allows the Knesset to overrule any Supreme Court ruling with a simple majority allows the cancellation of any Supreme Court decision with relative ease. Although laws against the LGBTQ and intersex community are not currently on the agenda, the potential for change is clear such possibility.

If the legal revolution passes, the government will be able to enact laws that directly harm LGBTQ and intersex people — and without an independent court there will be no one to protect them or the rights we have already received.

Already now, under the auspices of the public atmosphere, there is an increase in the number of reports of cases of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ and intersex people in businesses and in the public sphere. This discrimination would be legal if some extreme MKs succeed in their efforts. LGBTQ-phobic members of Knesset are already spreading their dangerous agenda today and promote bills that will harm LGBTQ and intersex youth and the creation of safe spaces in schools.

The LGBTQ and intersex community and its rights are under attack, and LGBTQ and intersex people will be among the first groups to be harmed when the checks and balances are removed from the government. Silence and complacency are not an option for Israel’s LGBTQ and intersex community.

George Avni is the editor of WDG, an LGBTQ and intersex media outlet in Israel.

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Calm down about over-the-counter birth control

Oral contraceptives do not constitute abortion

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(Photo by IhorBulyhin/Bigstock)

The first over-the-counter (OTC) oral contraceptive pill in the U.S., known as Opill, will become available in drugstores, convenience stores, and online retail stores in the coming weeks. The pill has been available by prescription for years, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved it for purchase without a prescription. Researchers, advocates, and the pill’s manufacturer, Perrigo, have been working for many years to make this pill more accessible to the general public in the U.S., and it is finally becoming a reality. 

It has taken a very long time to approve this form of birth control, and many people are upset that it is being available at all to purchase OTC because contraception has become equated with abortion. This bizarre notion has arisen from anti-abortion groups, who would like the general public to believe that contraceptives, such as the pill, may act as abortifacients (any drug or chemical preparation that induces abortion), and not only as contraceptives. Besides the fact that expanding access to safe and affordable birth control improves women’s healthcare, it also reduces unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Everyone should realize that birth control is not abortion.

Opill is a progestin only pill (POP), which means that it contains progestin instead of the estrogen-progestin combination found in other birth control pills. Progestin is a form of progestogen, which is the hormone that plays a role in pregnancy and menstrual cycles. The POP works by changing the mucus at the entrance to the womb (uterus) so that sperm cannot pass through the fertilized egg. POPs are also sometimes referred to as mini pills and are taken as a form of birth control by mouth every day to prevent pregnancy. 

Some patients are unable to take birth control with both estrogen and progestin because they may have certain medical problems that prevent them from ingesting the combination of the hormones. Many people who cannot take estrogen-progestin pills can safely use Opill, and POPs are safe for those with high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, among other conditions. Side effects reported by users are mild and include irregular spotting.

Approximately 9 percent of women become pregnant in the first year of use with POPs with typical use (when usage is not consistent or always correct), in comparison to less than 1 percent of women become pregnant with perfectuse (consistent and always correct usage). This makes Opill an incredibly effective form of reversible birth control that is now becoming easily accessible both online and in retail stores in the U.S. Not only is it an extremely effective form of accessible birth control, but it is in demand. The nationally representative 2022 KFF Women’s Health Survey found that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of female respondents ages 18-64 favored making birth control pills available over the counter without a prescription.

Despite the strong effectiveness of the mini pill, easy accessibility, minimal side effects, cost-effectiveness, and safe consumption of the pill without a prescription, some people are still upset about Opill becoming approved. Why is that? 

Antiabortion groups have undertaken a strategic campaign to convince the public that birth control is synonymous with abortion, when it is not. The OTC availability of Opill will mean that the birth control pill will become more accessible to people who may not be able to visit a provider for a prescription, as well as help someone decide if they would like to have children and when that timeline would be. People need to do more research on this subject before they condemn life-changing products such as Opill, which will benefit many people, especially women, in a positive way.

Catalina Desouza is a Public Health graduate student at George Washington University.

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Netanyahu must go!

We should stand with Israelis calling for an immediate election

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo by palinchak/Bigstock)

I stand with the thousands of Israelis who are demonstrating in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, calling for an immediate election in Israel. The current conduct of the war is counter-productive to achieving peace, and is earning Israel animosity around the world. 

The killing of the aid workers serving with José Andrés, World Central Kitchen, may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. There must be an immediate pause in the fighting, with food and medicine flowing into Gaza for the innocent women and children.

While I call on Israel to act unilaterally, to do this now, let no one forget who began this current war on Oct. 7 by massacring Israeli women and children, and taking more than 200 hostages. Again, while I call on Israel to act unilaterally, let no one forget, there could be an immediate ceasefire if Hamas would release the rest of the hostages, whether they are alive or dead. The health of the hostages is something no one knows, because Hamas has refused to allow any human rights groups in to see them. Let no one forget, Hamas, a terrorist organization, hides behind the civilians they claim they fight for, using them as human shields. They share responsibility for the deaths of the women and children in Gaza.

Again, I call on Israel to act now, to show the world they are not terrorists. They are a country trying to protect themselves against a terrorist organization whose stated mission is to wipe them off the face of the earth; from the river to the sea. But, despite this, Israel must now show the world its compassion, and its ability to continue to defend itself, while not starving women and children, and cutting off their medical care. Israel has the power to do both. If they do, the world will support them. If they continue to go on as they have, the world will not.

I have for years called for the Israelis to get rid of Netanyahu and his government. He is as much of a disaster for Israel as Trump is for the United States. They both believe they are above the law, and both believe only by clinging to power can they escape the law. A very sad state of affairs for both nations. 

I am the child of Jewish immigrants who escaped the Nazis. My mother as a child from Austria, and my father from Germany. My father’s parents were killed in Auschwitz. I am a first generation American. I am, and will continue to be, a strong supporter of Israel. Calling for Netanyahu’s removal doesn’t change that. But it has become clear that his right-wing government will never be willing to do what is necessary to have a real peace, and both the Israeli and Palestinian people will suffer. A new Israeli government must take action to stop any new settlements, and be prepared to remove some that are there now. Some of those lands would become part of a new Palestinian state, if we are ever to move to a two-state solution. If Israel is willing to do this, then we must convince Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt to condemn Hamas. They must work to convince the Palestinian people they will support them in getting their own state, if they rid themselves of Hamas. They cannot continue to be represented by a terrorist organization, and expect to live in peace. 

The Palestinians turned down their own state in 1947, and missed maybe the last best chance to come to an agreement at the summit President Bill Clinton convened at Camp David, Maryland with Yasir Arafat, and Ehud Barak. It was an ambitious attempt to reach a sweeping settlement on questions such as the shape of a new Palestinian state, and the future of Palestinian refugees, that have kept the two sides in a state of conflict for 77 years. It is generally felt it was Arafat who couldn’t bring himself to move to a final agreement. 

There is no ‘right’ in this war at this time. Israel is wrong in some of what they are doing, and Hamas is wrong in what they are doing. This isn’t a one-sided situation. But after six months of war, Israel must be the bigger party at this time, and show the world they are ready to move on in their tactics, and give peace a chance.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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The beauty in queer relationships

Our love is more inclusive and beautiful than straight love

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Recent exposure to social circles of queer men — predominantly gay men — has led me to appreciate how queer people often lead romantic and sex lives. In general, I’ve found that queer love supersedes straight love: in many prior and current interactions, queer people, in my opinion, are more open to flirting with polyamory, varied sexual experiences, and a more general openness to experimenting with romance. 

I am someone who generally prides myself on being against stereotypes. I don’t like to stereotype transmen as aggressive, violent abusers, because that is far from true, as my experience with transness has found that transmen can take on all types of dimensions, ranging from feminine, gay types to traditionally straight people interested in women. I also don’t like stereotyping queer women, as many types of queer women abound, ranging from lipstick lesbians to butch girls and all in between. 

But I can’t help observe that the men I interact with who identify as gay often are in partnerships where they allow the other spouse or boyfriend to experiment with other people. This doesn’t happen all the time, and monogamy still certainly abounds, but in many cases, relationships are made open, with steady agreements in place. 

When I first read the book “The Ethical Slut,” authored by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, I was against their theory of polyamory and open sex. I still am a monogamous person in relationships, but when single, I am now more open to sexual encounters with others in open relationships. The premise of “The Ethical Slut” is that non-monogamy can be practiced on moral terms, and safely, and consensually, and respectfully. The book even argues that non-monogamy is a favorable act sometimes, and that couples who practice non-monogamy can still lead healthy lives. 

I both agree and disagree with the thesis of “The Ethical Slut.” But once again, as a single person, the book captures my attention. This is all to say that, when socializing with queer men, I greatly appreciate their openness to sleeping with others–even when maintaining a spouse or boyfriend. 

I first came out as transgender in 2015, but have since felt a mini-revolution in the way society perceives trans people. We still have a long ways to go, repealing awful bathroom bills and ensuring that gender nonconforming teenagers have access to affirming healthcare. We need to push back against transphobia, particularly in regions like the South and rural areas of the Midwest. 

In the year 2024, though, I’ve found more cisgender gay men to be open to sleeping with transmen, and some even do extensive research on how to fulfill our romantic and sexual needs. The relationships between cisgender queer men and transmen should improve over time, and develop through organic interactions at parties, at conferences, and on queer-specific dating apps. There are still plenty of cisgender gay men who openly reject sex with transmen, but that number is shrinking as the years progress. At the very least, cisgender gay men are more and more able to understand the trans struggle on a platonic, friendship-based level. This decency gives me great hope for the future. 

All in all, queer love, to me, is more beautiful than straight love. Queer people are more accommodating of differences in sexual preferences, and fulfilling divergent needs in bed. I hope this kind of unfettered and unbound love continues.

Isaac Amend is a writer based in the D.C. area. With two poetry books out, he writes for the Blade and the Yale Daily News. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. He serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia and in his free time, runs a chess club in Fairfax. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram at: @literatipapi. 

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