A Haredi girl sits at her cracked window, her broken reflection peering back at her through the stained glass. From her perch she looks at the thousands marching on her street. They lay flowers at the site a young girl stabbed two years before at this very event, carry signs preaching love and inclusivity and kiss and hold hands regardless of their gender. A single tear falls down her cheek as she longs to be there with them, paying tribute, holding the signs and standing beside someone she truly loves. She is why I march.
Every year in July a Pride Parade is held in Jerusalem and every year it remains mired in controversy. Every year the Ultra Orthodox and Right-Wing Conservatives cry about the “sin” flaunted in the streets of the Holy City and every year the LGBTQ+ community risks their own lives to attend the event anyways.
Many ask me, an Orthodox gay Jew myself, why Jerusalem? The Parade, they claim, is unholy and deserves no place in the epicenter of the world’s faith. My answer back is always that not only should a parade be allowed in Jerusalem, but that there is no better place to hold one.
Jerusalem is ground zero for LGBTQ+ discrimination in Israel. Look no further than the senseless terrorist killing of a teenage girl two years ago by an ultra-Orthodox fanatic at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. There is no more appropriate place to fight for equal rights than in the very place it is most often violated in.
Critics argue, “I don’t need to see this. It makes me uncomfortable.” The truth is, however, that this position is and always has been a fallacy, posing as reasonable but hiding deeply ingrained homophobia.
The fight for civil rights is always uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable when Martin Luther King Jr. marched from Selma to Montgomery for the rights of African Americans, it was uncomfortable when people marched for Women’s Suffrage and it definitely was uncomfortable when Rabbi’s marched on Washington in 1943 to protest the annihilation of European Jewry in the Holocaust. Each of these brave pioneers made those around them uncomfortable religiously, ethically and socially but recognized an important reality: The discomfort of the privileged does not justify that we remain silent in accommodation.
The fight for LGBTQ+ rights is no different. We know we are making people uncomfortable, but the battle for equal rights is far more valuable than any discomfort we cause. All my life I’ve been told Israel is a beacon of Gay rights in the Middle East. Unfortunately, that is a low bar; LGBTQ+ rights in the Middle East are abysmal. Even in Israel, I still cannot adopt a child into my future home, marry a man I love on Israeli soil or even feel safe wearing my Pride hat in Jerusalem. The fight is far from over here and I refuse to be grateful that Israel affords me the basic human decency of not killing me as its Middle-Eastern neighbors most certainly would.
The reality is, we are among you and in spite of its religious significance, Jerusalem is no exception to that reality. We sit beside you on the bus, break bread with you at your Shabbat tables and babysit your children. When we are pricked, we too bleed the same red blood and we love just the same as you.
I marched in Jerusalem Pride, not to make you uncomfortable, but because our struggle isn’t over, because we will never stop marching until we have equal rights and protections but most of all, I marched to send that Haredi girl at the window and everyone like her a message: “No matter how much discrimination you may face or how difficult your life may become, you are not alone and there are over 20,000 people marching on your street waiting to embrace you when you’re ready.” Your discomfort was an unfortunate but irrelevant consequence and it always will be.