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World Cup ambassador calls homosexuality ‘damage in the mind’

Khalid Salman’s interview with German reporter abruptly ended

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Khalid Salman (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube)

DOHA, Qatar — World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman on Monday described homosexuality as “damage in the mind.”

Salman, a former Qatari soccer player, made the comment during an interview with a reporter from ZDF, a German television station, in Doha, the Qatari capital.

The former Qatari soccer player in response to the reporter’s question about the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations in his country described homosexuality as “haram” or “forbidden” under Sharia law. A member of the World Cup organizing committee abruptly stopped the interview after Salman made his comments. 

The 2022 World Cup is scheduled to begin in Doha on Nov. 20.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month in a report noted Qatari officials between 2019 and September 2022 “arbitrary arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention.” 

The report documents six cases “of severe and repeated beatings” and five cases of “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period.

“Security forces arrested people in public places based solely on their gender expression and unlawfully searched their phones,” said Human Rights Watch. “As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that Transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored ‘behavioral support center.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ+ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha. Ten captains of European soccer teams that will compete in the World Cup have said they will wear “one love” armbands to show their support for LGBTQ+ and intersex people.

“They have to accept our rules here,” Salman told ZDF.

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A provocative ad, a divided nation: The battle over LGBTQ+ rights in Lebanon

PSA has sparked hope, controversy in Arab world

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An MTV Lebanon ad that features a gay couple holding hands calls for the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country. (Screenshot courtesy of MTV Lebanon's X page)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A new PSA in Lebanon advocating for the decriminalization of homosexuality in the country is stirring up controversy in the Arab world. 

The ad first appeared on MTV Lebanon, a network owned by Lebanese politician and businessman Michel Gabriel El Murr, and was later shared on the network’s social media page. The campaign pushes for the repeal of Article 534 in the Lebanese Penal Code, a law first adopted in 1943 that is used to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations with up to one year of imprisonment. 

In the clip, two men are seen standing side-by-side in an elevator when a third man joins them and pulls a gun from his jacket. The tension is palpable until he leaves. When he does, the first two men grasp each other’s hands when words flash across the screen: “There’s crime and there’s love.”

Screams and gunshots are heard from a distance as the scene fades. 

“Based on the words of Pope Francis, ‘Homosexuality is not a crime,’” the network’s X (formerly known as Twitter) caption says, “Yes to the abolition of Article 534 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality.” 

Since premiering on Sept. 2, the powerful ad has generated an array of attacks from anti-gay figures, including from Culture Minister Mohammad Mouratda, who lambasted the network and accused it of incitement and division. He even went so far as to suggest that airing the ad itself was a criminal act. 

Meanwhile, a collective called the Muyul Project premiered a PSA of their own that spoofed the original ad with an alternate ending in which a little girl is seen crying and holding her family as opposing words appear on the screen: “There is a crime that kills a human being, and there is a crime that kills society. Yes to maintaining Article 534 and protecting societal and family values.” 

Despite the outcry, LGBTQ+ Arabs and allies insist the campaign is sparking much-needed dialogue about the law — which they say is long overdue.  

“This campaign does a lot to start conversations and challenge the status quo, especially within the context of Lebanese society,” Joe Kawly, the first openly gay Arab news anchor, told the Washington Blade. “While the backlash was predictable, the visibility and support that this campaign provides to the LGBTQ+ community are invaluable.”

Bertho Makso, the founder and executive director of Proud Lebanon, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights organization, told the Blade the ad reinforces the work he and his team have been doing “since 2018” to engage various political parties and draft bills that would decriminalize homosexuality.

Nine MPs in July co-sponsored legislation that would have decriminalized homosexuality, but backlash was swift. One MP withdrew their name altogether because of harassment and threats.

While the ad campaign is a bold move, it is not exactly an isolated incident. The country was once considered an oasis of relative tolerance for LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in the Arab World, but has undergone an anti-LGBTQ+ tidal wave in recent years.

Members of the far-right Christian group Soldiers of God on Aug. 23 brutally attacked Madame Om, a popular gay-friendly bar in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighborhood, during a drag show. Reports indicate the police looked on as patrons were assaulted. This attack comes as Education Minister Abbas Al Halabi opened an investigation into rumors of pro-LGBTQ+ messaging in materials used in schools. And Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in July declared consensual same-sex sexual relations should be punishable by death. 

To further complicate matters, Article 534 doesn’t explicitly address homosexuality. Rather, it only points to sexual acts that are “contrary to the order of nature.” 

Even though several courts have tried to affirm consensual same-sex acts don’t qualify as being “against nature,” it hasn’t stopped multiple arrests continuing to persist, according to a recent Proud Lebanon report. Mouratda and MP Ashraf Rifi have introduced more stringent bills. 

Mourtada’s measure proposes up to three years’ imprisonment and hefty fines for promoting or engaging in “deviant sexual relations” and Rifi’s bill sought the explicit criminalization of homosexuality with heightened penalties.

As Lebanon continues its attacks against LGBTQ+ and intersex people, some suggest it’s all a ploy to distract from the country’s crumbling economy. Even more notably: Lebanon has lacked a president since October 2022, a clear reflection of its turbulent political landscape. 

Helem, the first LGBTQ+ and intersex organization in the Arab world established in 2001, said in a recent statement “the decision to suddenly and systematically target LGBTQ individuals is a very old tactic used by multiple failing autocratic regimes around the world.” 

As Kawly explains, MTV Lebanon’s campaign may herald a turning point for the nation, asserting LGBTQ+ and intersex people’s inherent role in Lebanon’s value as a whole. 

“Social change is often slow and painful, but the very fact that we’re seeing more visibility and conversation on LGBTQ+ issues signal a potential shift,” he said. “With every campaign, every story told, every law repealed, we’re inching closer to a more inclusive and accepting society.” 

“When it comes to Lebanon, for sure there is a bright future because we are working for it,” added Makso. “We believe in it, and we are fighting for it.”

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Israeli police acknowledge attempted investigation of activist was an ‘error’

Hila Peer is leader in protest movement against judicial reforms

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Aguda Chair Hila Peer (Photo courtesy of Hila Peer)

TEL AVIV, Israel — An Israel Police spokesperson has acknowledged an attempted investigation against a prominent LGBTQ+ and intersex rights activist that authorities tried to launch earlier this month was an “error.”

Hila Peer, chair of the Aguda, the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, told the Washington Blade last week the police called her on Sept. 3 about “an emergency investigation for my involvement and suspicion of disturbing the peace.”

Peer said she was told to report to a police station at 1:30 p.m. 

“A few hours after that, with immense public pressure and public attention and articles that came out about it, they called me 10 minutes before the investigation was supposed to take place … they called me at 20 past one to say you know what, never mind, you don’t need to show up,” she said.

Peer told the Blade that press reports a few hours later “got information from a leak from inside the police that they were trying to calling me in” to interrogate her about “underground” protests that took place in Tel Aviv on Fridays in August. 

“It’s a very lame excuse,” Peer told the Blade. “Throughout the month of August schools are on break and I was home every Friday with my babies, meaning I was not even present in any of those protests.”

The Israel Police spokesperson in an emailed statement to the Blade said “the initial summons for questioning of this individual (Peer) was issued due to an error.”

“As soon as this error was detected, the police promptly took corrective action,” said the spokesperson. “As the summons had been scheduled erroneously, consequently, the individual in question was informed that the appointment was canceled.”

The Aguda is among the myriad groups that have participated in protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government’s efforts to reform the Israeli judicial system.

Netanyahu in March postponed them after a nationwide strike paralyzed the country. The Knesset in July approved a bill that would, among other things, increase the government’s control over judicial appointments and diminish the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws.

Peer told the Blade the government over the last two months has tried “to threaten the heads of the protests, randomly calling people in for no apparent reason for investigations.”

“What happened in this specific case is that their attempt backfired and they were really caught by just bothering the public, just randomly calling people in,” she said. “It’s basically a practice that’s reserved for dark regimes and that’s what we’re dealing with here now, so now it feels like we save not only ourselves, but the police themselves from this government. It’s simply insane.”

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Israeli police try to investigate activist, protest movement leader

Hila Peer is chair of the Aguda

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Aguda Chair Hila Peer. (Photo courtesy of Hila Peer)

TEL AVIV, Israel — A prominent Israeli LGBTQ+ and intersex rights activist says authorities tried to launch an investigation against her because she is one of the leaders of the protest movement against the government’s proposed judicial reforms.

Hila Peer, chair of the Aguda, the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, told the Washington Blade the police called her on Sunday morning about “an emergency investigation for my involvement and suspicion of disturbing the peace.”

“I turned to my organization and the protest organizations to get out the word that they were calling me in,” said Peer, who said she was told to report to a police station at 1:30 p.m.

“A few hours after that, with immense public pressure and public attention and articles that came out about it, they called me 10 minutes before the investigation was supposed to take place … they called me at 20 past one to say you know what, never mind, you don’t need to show up.”

Peer told the Blade that press reports a few hours later “got information from a leak from inside the police that they were trying to calling me in” to interrogate her about “underground” protests that took place in Tel Aviv on Fridays in August. 

“It’s a very lame excuse,” said Peer. “Throughout the month of August schools are on break and I was home every Friday with my babies, meaning I was not even present in any of those protests.”

The Aguda is among the myriad groups that have participated in protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government’s efforts to reform the Israeli judicial system.

UnXeptable organized a protest against the judicial reforms in west hollywood, calif., on aug. 27, 2023. (video by michael k. lavers)

Netanyahu in March postponed them after a nationwide strike paralyzed the country. The Knesset in July approved a bill that would, among other things, increase the government’s control over judicial appointments and diminish the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws.

Peer said the government over the last two months has tried “to threaten the heads of the protests, randomly calling people in for no apparent reason for investigations.”

“What happened in this specific case is that their attempt backfired and they were really caught by just bothering the public, just randomly calling people in,” said Peer. “It’s basically a practice that’s reserved for dark regimes and that’s what we’re dealing with here now, so now it feels like we save not only ourselves, but the police themselves from this government. It’s simply insane.”

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge, a U.S.-based organization that seeks to build “a movement of LGBTQ people and allies with a strong interest in and commitment to supporting Israel and its LGBTQ communities.” He defended Peer in a statement he sent to the Blade on Thursday.

“The right to protest is a cherished democratic value,” said Felson. “Our friend Hila Peer, as the chair of the largest LGBTQ civil rights group in Israel, has been on the front lines. We deeply appreciate her courage and tenacity — and we know she will not be intimidated into silence. What happened to Hila is unacceptable. We appreciate that the matter was ‘dropped.’ It should never have been initiated in the first place. We join her and the Israeli LGBTQ community in saying ‘yes’ to democracy and ‘no’ to fear.”

The Blade has reached out to the Israel Police for comment.

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Attack on LGBTQ bar reflects deteriorating rights in Lebanon

Lebanon’s LGBTQ community, among the most vocal and visible in the Middle East, has been targeted by its government & extremists

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LGBTQ+ rights activist holds a Pride Flag adorned with the Cedar of Lebanon national symbol at a protest in Beirut. (L) A LGBTQ+ Pride flag flying at a Lebanese home overlooking the Mediterranean. (R) (Photo Credit: Beirut Pride/LA Blade photo montage)

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Members of a Christian militant group Jnoud El-Rab, the so-called Soldiers of God, attacked patrons outside of a popular LGBTQ+ safe space club and bar in the Lebanese capital’s restaurant and entertainment neighborhood, Mar Mikhael, on August 23.

A drag event was being held at the Om Bar Room, when the men from the Jnoud El-Rab anti-LGBTQ group attacked. Multiple videos showed the men physically attacking patrons while yelling that LGBTQ people are “satanic” and have no place in Lebanon.

In the videos the men carrying out the attack can be heard shouting “We warned you, this is only the beginning,” and, “We will not allow the promotion of homosexuality in the land of God.”

The attack lasted more than an hour, with several people injured by militia members, according to Tarek Zeidan, the executive director of LGBTQ+ rights group Helem.

“We had to assess whether it was safe to host the event, but we decided to go ahead because drag is a form of entertainment that is mainstream in Lebanon and had not yet been targeted,” one of the event organizers said.

Rasha Younes, a Senior Researcher, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program for Human Rights Watch reported:

“We stopped the show and had to hide behind the bar, lying down on the floor, breathless,” one of the performers told me. “The police stood on the side, watching, as the men were beating people.”

“There were a dozen men on motorcycles who attacked us. At least two of them had guns,” another performer said.

Journalist William Christou, reporting for The New Arab, noted that the first appearance of the Soldiers of God, or Junoud al-Rub, in Arabic, was as a neighborhood watch group in Achrafieh, Beirut more than a year ago.

The group claimed to conduct patrols to ensure security in the area, especially in the wake of Lebanon’s 2019 economic meltdown.

The patrols were reminiscent of the practice of militias self-organising during Lebanon’s civil war, where the country’s sectarian divisions were enforced by armed groups.

Soldiers of God quickly began employing violence against those who it said threatened Lebanese traditional values.

In June 2022, the group defaced a billboard in Achrafieh, which was decorated with flowers and an LGBTQI+ rainbow flag. Members then accused the LGBT community of promoting “satanism” and of kidnapping children.

The Christian extremist group numbers only around 150, but is infamous for its propensity for violence, The New Arab reported.

The owner of the bar told Amnesty International that when the Internal Security Forces (ISF) arrived at the scene, they prevented the aggressors from entering the bar and aided some guests in their attempts to leave the bar, but they did not stop the attack or arrest any of the assailants. 

In recent weeks, Lebanon’s political and religious leaders have intensified their campaign against the LGBTI community, with the head of a prominent political party calling for LGBTI people to be killed, the culture minister attempting to ban the movie Barbie on grounds that it ‘contradicted morals and values’ and requesting that the media use the term “sexual perversion” to describe homosexuality, and the education minister banning a boardgame in schools because it depicted a rainbow.

“Last night’s attack on Madame Om, a bar considered to be a safe space for the LGBTI community, marked an alarming escalation in the attacks against LGBTI people that have followed troubling remarks by high-level politicians and religious figures. The authorities must ensure that the attackers are held accountable and demonstrate that such acts have no place in a country invested in upholding human rights,” said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East & North Africa. 

“Lebanon’s constitution guarantees equality, free expression, and free assembly for everyone – and these rights must be respected. What happened at Madame Om last night offered an ominous sign of how the situation of the LGBTI people is deteriorating in the country,” Majzoub said. 

“The Lebanese authorities must immediately stop creating an environment conducive for discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community to be perpetuated. Crucially, the government should ensure that everyone is protected from violence, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,”  Majzoub added.

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Iraqi media ordered to refer to homosexuality as ‘sexual deviance’

Anti-LGBTQ+ violence, discrimination commonplace in the country

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Baghdad, Iraq (Public domain photo)

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission has ordered media outlets and social media companies that operate in the country to refer to homosexuality as “sexual deviance.”

Reuters on Tuesday reported the country’s official media regulator’s directive applies to media outlets and social media companies that operate in Iraq. Reuters notes the Communications and Media Commission has also banned phone and internet companies that it licenses from using the term “homosexuality” on their mobile apps.

Reuters said the Communications and Media Commission issued a statement that “directs media organizations … not to use the term ‘homosexuality’ and to use the correct term ‘sexual deviance.'” A government official told Reuters the directive has yet to receive final approval.

Homosexuality is legal in Iraq, but violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in the country.

The U.S. in 2022 condemned the so-called honor killing of Doski Azad, a transgender woman in Iraqi Kurdistan. A source in the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq previously told the Washington Blade that militant groups regularly target gay men. (The Islamic State publicly executed men accused of engaging in sodomy in the parts of Iraq it once controlled.)

A bill that would ban homosexuality in Iraq has been introduced in Parliament.

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Right-wing Israeli political party’s spiritual leader calls for ‘war’ against LGBTQ+ people

Rabbi Zvi Thau made comments in recently published book

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Tel Aviv Pride preparations on June 7, 2023. The spiritual leader of an Israeli right-wing political party has urged his followers to "wage war" against LGBTQ and intersex people. (Photo courtesy of Marty Rouse)

JERUSALEM — The spiritual leader of a right-wing Israeli political party has urged his followers to “wage war” against LGBTQ+ and intersex people.

Israeli media on Monday reported Rabbi Zvi Thau, who is the Noam party’s spiritual leader, made the comment in his recently published book.

“The period of childhood is a very important period for instilling basic values ​​and basic distinctions, and when a child does not have a father and a mother, all the normal relation to his origin, his past, and his future is blurred,” writes Thau, according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper. “The period of childhood is a very important period for instilling basic values ​​and basic distinctions, and when a child does not have a father and a mother, all the normal relation to his origin, his past, and his future is blurred.”

Thau in his book says the “blurring of the sexual identity of the child until he does not know whether he is a boy or a girl undermines his more elementary confidence in his identity, and hence the path to eliminating his Jewish identity is short, and since he is not sure of his national identity, he loses the power to stand against the national narrative, the power to protect the people, the faith in fulfilling the promises of the prophets, and desires a state that is nothing more than a mixed multitude.”

“We are not used to fighting, and many times we feel an internal inhibition from saying our words with the fierceness and audacity of holiness,” he says, according to the Jerusalem Post. “There are also those who think that those who were educated on the rabbi’s teachings (a reference to Kook) must be pleasant and nice … but the mistake is theirs. It is our duty to act courageously and without fear in taking a stand and expressing an opinion against every idea and method that comes to consume the vineyard of Israel.”

“Just as in times of existential danger to the body, one does not adhere to the rules of etiquette and respect … all the more so, in times of danger to the life of the soul,” adds Thau. “At a time when a mental illness emerges, which may corrupt and destroy every good part of the nation’s spirit and soul, there is no escape but to go to war and sometimes even express it with harsh and shocking expressions that are not pleasant for everyone. There is no place to weaken the protest of the Torah because of polite conventions.”

Haaretz, another Israeli newspaper, also published excerpts of Thau’s book.

The Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, has filed a complaint with Israeli authorities over Thau’s comments. George Avni, editor of WDG, the Washington Blade’s Israeli media partner, on Tuesday said religious LGBTQ+ and intersex organizations are planning a protest against him later this week.  

A Wider Bridge is a U.S.-based organization that seeks to build “a movement of LGBTQ people and allies with a strong interest in and commitment to supporting Israel and its LGBTQ communities.”

The group on Monday in a Facebook post cited the Aguda’s statement that notes Thau is “the spiritual father” of MK Avi Maoz, the leader of the Noam party who is a deputy minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office “with budgets of hundreds of millions of shekels.” 

“We stand with the Israeli LGBTQ community and their fight against LGBTQphobia,” said A Wider Bridge.

Noam is one of the six parties that comprise Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

All of the coalition government’s MKs on July 24 voted in favor of the first of several bills that seek to reform Israel’s judicial system. Activists are among those who have joined the nationwide protest movement against the measures.

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Israeli lawmakers approve controversial judicial reform bill

Advocacy groups reiterate opposition, renew protest calls

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LGBTQ+ and intersex activists participate in a protest against proposed reforms to Israel's judiciary. Advocacy groups have renewed their support of the protest movement after MKs on July 24, 2023, approved the first reform bill. (Photo courtesy of George Avni)

JERUSALEM — Advocacy groups have sharply criticized Monday’s approval of the first of several bills that seeks to reform Israel’s judicial system.

The Associated Press reported all of the MKs in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government supported the measure after opposition lawmakers stormed out of the Knesset in protest.

The proposed reforms, among other things, would increase the government’s control over judicial appointments and diminish the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws. Netanyahu on March 27 announced he had postponed the efforts amid a growing protest movement and a nationwide strike that paralyzed Israel.

A Wider Bridge is a U.S.-based organization that seeks to build “a movement of LGBTQ people and allies with a strong interest in and commitment to supporting Israel and its LGBTQ communities.” The group in a statement said the vote is “a dire step in an agenda that many fear will shift the delicate balance of Israeli democracy toward autocracy.”

“The Israeli LGBTQ community has been protesting these proposals for months because it is the Supreme Court that has helped to safeguard the civil rights of all Israelis, including the LGBTQ community,” said A Wider bridge. 

The Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, in a statement posted to its Facebook page said the “fight has just begun.”

“The first step of the administrative coup that will crush the independence of the judiciary and harm the rights of each and every one — and in particular the rights of LGBT (people) — passed in the Knesset,” said the Aguda. “This is a fight for the democratic character of the country as it is expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the one that defended us as LGBT people.”

“We are required to step up at this time,” added the Aguda. “This is the time to take a flag, join the protest groups, get involved and go out to protest. Israel will be a democratic country founded on the values of equality and freedom and we, all of us, will take care of that. We are not going anywhere. We are just started.”

The White House also criticized the vote.

“As a lifelong friend of Israel, President Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority. We understand talks are ongoing and likely to continue over the coming weeks and months to forge a broader compromise even with the Knesset in recess.  The United States will continue to support the efforts of President (Isaac) Herzog and other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue.” 

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Hundreds of thousands celebrate Pride in Tel Aviv

City’s mayor, deputy mayor opened parade on Thursday

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Tel Aviv Pride in Tel Aviv, Israel, on June 8, 2023. (Photo by Roni Kamzani/Tel Aviv Global and Tourism)

WDG is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel. WDG originally published this article on its website.

TEL AVIV, Israel — More than 200,000 people took part in Tel Aviv-Jaffa Pride events that ended Saturday. 

Around 150,000 people took part in the Pride parade that took place on Thursday on the Tel Aviv Promenade, and about 60,000 more attended the Pride party on Friday.

It is not clear if the weekend, defined by the organizers as “the biggest Pride weekend ever,” was indeed the biggest in terms of the number of participants, but it was undoubtedly the most continuous.

The marchers began to gather on Tel Aviv Promenade on Thursday afternoon. Unlike previous years, this time there were no events or gathering at the beginning of the parade with the exception of the information and sales booths scattered along the promenade.

Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai and Deputy Mayor Meital Lehavi started the parade shortly after 5 p.m.

“Pride weekend started with a clear message for everyone,” said Huldai at the start of the parade, “We are all equal, we are all human, and we all deserve to love without fear, whoever we want. Happy Pride to all … Enjoy!”

At the head of the procession was the Tel Aviv-Yafo LGBTQ Center float, followed by eight floats of the Shufi Women’s party, the Layla Bar, the One Night Only drag show, Erika, Crush, Shpagat and Marsha College. Dancers and DJs from the best gay clubs in the city descended to the promenade one by one and began to go along the parade route.

The parade’s last float from the Hevruta organization, which is at the center of the fight against conversion “Mishani,” delivered the 2023 Pride parade’s most important and difficult statement. Coffins wrapped in black were placed on the truck and wreaths with the inscription “Who will be the next victim” were placed on them. Between the bass and the dance songs of the various groups, Hevrata’s truck ended the parade with quiet Israeli songs, with the organization’s staff standing on the truck carrying signs that read “conversion treatments = death.”

The second part of Tel Aviv’s Pride weekend began on Friday with the Pride party at Yehoshua Gardens.

Nadav Bornstein and Ya’oz Levy moderated the event and featured many artists. Noa Tashbi, Neta Barzilai, Ivri Lider, Ran Denker and Shiri Maimon were among them.

“Our Pride parade is one of the largest and most important in the world and it is definitely a reason to be proud,” said Lehavi, Tel Aviv’-Jaffa’s deputy mayor who is in charge of the LGBTQ issues in the city municipality. “Unfortunately, not everything is rosy and the government that threatens democracy also threatens human rights and the rights of the community in particular. Today, more than ever, the community is at the forefront of the fight for equality and human rights in Israel in 2023, rights that we march for every night to protect. The place of the community must be guaranteed in the entire State of Israel. Tens of thousands (of people who are) all shades of LGBTQ and the people: Secular, religious, leftists, rightists, from around the world and from around the country are marching, conveying a message to everyone: Without democracy there is no pride and there is no pride without democracy.”

A wide variety of events took place in the city in the weeks leading up to Pride weekend. They included a gay theater festival, a support rally for gay youth, the traditional Wigstock show, a gay wedding event, an art festival and family events.

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30,000 march in Jerusalem Pride parade

Anti-LGBTQ violence reported after event

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The Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance Parade took place in Jerusalem on June 1, 2023 (Photo courtesy of WDG)

WDG is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel. WDG originally published this article on Friday.

JERUSALEM — Upwards of 30,000 people on Thursday marched in the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance Parade, which marked the beginning of Pride month in Israel.

The parade, organized by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, began with the traditional gathering at Gan Happamon. Many politicians also came to support and encourage the marchers.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who chairs the Yesh Atid party, in his speech referred to the counterprotest the Lahava movement organized near the parade’s starting point. Several dozen LGBTQ+ and intersex rights opponents participated in the protest.

“Outside are standing, like every year, the wretched thugs of Lahava movement, demonstrating against us,” said Lapid. “Only this year these people are no longer just a ridiculous bunch of dark extremists — they are part of the government. Bezalel Smotrich, (Internal Security Minister) Itamar Ben-Gvir [and] Avi Maoz, are trying to push us all back into the closet, to the dark closet of their foreknowledge. In Israel there is not one fight for democracy and a separate fight for LGBT rights. It’s the same struggle against those enemies. in the name of those values. Those who attack Israeli democracy attack the LGBTs, those who attack the LGBTs attack democracy.”

Benny Gantz, chair of the National Unity Party, referred to the need to hold parades in the capital. 

“We won’t have to march when in this parade we won’t need security, we won’t need snipers and undercover policemen. We won’t have to walk when each and every one can walk in any neighborhood they want, holding hands like any couple. We will not have to march when gay will not be a curse in school but simply self-determination, when each and every one can fill out any government form according to what he is,” he said. “We will not have to march when a prime minister in Israel would not think of giving the keys to the education system to a dark racist and allocating hundreds of millions to oversee liberal education programs. I am ashamed of this and I tell you that even at the most difficult political price, I will never do such a thing. We will not have to march when there are no racists in the government. Such people would be denounced and would not be elected, not because of the law — but because no one would want to elect them. We won’t have to step when simple love won’t be complicated or will be as complicated as any simple love.”

At the end of the gathering, the marchers began marching towards Independence Park where Ran Danker, Ivri Lider, Roni Duani, Rinat Bar and others were performing.

More than 2,000 police officers and soldiers, visible and hidden, secured parade participants with the assistance of reinforcements and volunteers. 

As with every year, the police commissioner and the Minister of internal Security came to the parade area to examine the work of the police in the field. But unlike previous years, Ben-Gvir was received with shouts of “shame.” Ben-Gvir came to supervise the parade, despite a prior demand from the parade organizers that he refrain from doing so.

“In my position as a minister, I do and will do everything so that there is no crazy case, as was the case with the murder of Shira Banki,” said Ben-Gvir, “My policy is to give freedom of speech to those who oppose the parade, even to those who speak against the parade, that is their right. They are not breaking the law yet. Our job on this day is to allow the parade and protest, this is democracy, this is the beautiful mosaic in the state of Israel and this is how I act as minister of national security.”

Several serious incidents of violence against the LGBTQ+ community took place after the parade ended and marchers dispersed. In one of them, boys and young men were seen setting Pride flags on fire, and in the second, a group of young people attacked a number of LGBTQ+ people near Jerusalem’s Central Station. They shouted at them to “go back to Tel Aviv, you son of a bitch.”

“This is a resounding slap in the face that reminds us that no matter how much we spread light, the struggle is not over yet, and the hatred towards us exists and understands,” Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance said in response to the violence. “In Jerusalem those who walk around the city tonight, are asked to be alert and take care of themselves. Don’t worry, we will win.”

“The Jerusalem parade is the strongest expression of our opposition to hatred, and to the plans of the hate lobby to fight in our community,” Hevruta, an LGBTQ+ religious organization, said. “Even hundreds of millions of shekels, the authority and standards of Avi Maoz and the Noam party will not be able to extinguish our love for God, for who we are and for our families.”

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Middle East

Turkish activists fear Erdoğan will further restrict LGBTQ+, intersex rights

Long-time president won re-election on Sunday

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Photo from Erdoğan's Twitter page)

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday won re-election.

Erdoğan, a former Istanbul mayor who has governed Turkey since 2003, defeated Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential election’s second round by a 52-48 percent margin. The Associated Press notes Erdoğan will remain in office until at least 2028.

Turkish authorities over the last decade have increasingly cracked down on LGBTQ+ and intersex activists in the country.

Police in 2015 used tear gas and water cannons against people who were about to participate in an Istanbul Pride march. Authorities in 2017 arrested nearly two dozen people who defied a ban on Pride events in the city.

Police in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on May 10, 2019, arrested 18 students and an academic who participated in a Pride march at the Middle East Technical University. They faced up to three years in prison, but a court in 2021 acquitted them. Police in 2022 violently broke up a Pride parade at the same Ankara university.

The State Department in 2021 criticized Turkey after police once again used tear gas to disperse Istanbul Pride march participants near the city’s Istiklal Avenue. Security forces last June arrested more than 370 people who tried to participate in another Istanbul Pride march.  

Fourteen Turkish LGBTQ+ and intersex rights organizations in a joint statement they issued ahead of Sunday’s election noted both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu “resorted to hate speech during the election process.”

“The election period is long and painful for all of us,” reads the joint statement the May 17 Association, SPoD (Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association), Ankara Rainbow Families Association (GALADER), the Young Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Intersex Youth Studies and Solidarity Association, the HEVI LGBTI+ Solidarity Association, Kaos GL, the Red Umbrella Association, Lambda Istanbul, LGBTI+ Families and Relatives Association, Mersin 7 Colors LGBT, Muamma, the Free Colors LGBTI+ Solidarity Association, the Pink Life LGBTI+ Solidarity Association and ÜniKuir issued. “The bitter pills we swallowed during the election are now overflowing the cup. Before the elections and during the first round of the elections, LGBTI+ people were often targeted and the focus of hate speech, while racism and refugee hostility also dominated in the second round.”

The statement also described the presidential election as a “referendum.”

“This election is a referendum on whether the 12th president’s rule will continue or not, whether the one-man regime in the country will come to an end or not,” it reads. “Yes, we will continue to be in the opposition regardless of the outcome. But this election is also the election of under which conditions and against whom we will oppose from now on.”

Media reports indicate Erdoğan in his victory speech criticized the Turkish opposition “for being pro-LGBT.”

One activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Monday said Erdoğan “unfortunately” won re-election.

“LGBTI activism in Turkey will be even more threatened,” said the activist.

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