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Navigating the queer community as an Israeli-American

After feeling excluded from the LGBTQ+ community, I found connection with queer and trans Zionists on social media

As a graduate student at Columbia University and an openly gay, Zionist woman, the past few months have been a tumultuous whirlwind of emotions and experiences. Too often, individuals like myself are challenged to reconcile two integral parts of our identities. At a time when the mainstream pride movements, once a source of refuge, appear to be at odds with us, our voices are incredibly crucial- now more than ever.

Recently, Dyke Marches across the United States sought to ban Israeli flags, dismissing them as “nationalist symbols.” The impact was dire, sending shockwaves through our community. These actions, followed by the exclusion of American and rainbow Star-of-David flags – popular symbols of pride for Jewish queer and trans individuals – reveal a troubling contradiction within the movement. Rather than fostering acceptance and inclusivity as these groups passionately preach, such policies breed division and isolation, reflecting a narrow political agenda.

Our identities shape our narratives and perspectives, and that is something to celebrate. Having come to terms with my sexuality years ago, I have always cherished the rich diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. However, my perception of my own community has drastically shifted after recent events. It is disheartening to witness fellow community members blindly adhering to the mainstream narrative, dismissing nuanced discussions and resorting to baseless accusations upon learning of one’s ties to Israel. 

Shortly after starting my studies at Columbia, I was deeply disturbed to see the on-campus lesbian affinity group blatantly exclude Zionists and trivialize the Holocaust. Shortly after, other queer-affiliated organizations stood in swift solidarity with these statements as the news spread rapidly throughout campus and on social media. I found myself tucking in my Hebrew necklace and lowering my gaze, fearing ostracization from my classmates who championed social justice in the classroom. After October 7th, suddenly everyone held an impassioned position on the Middle East conflict, eager to vocalize their stances on the topic, which soon became a focal point in my classes.

When our campus was rocked by large demonstrations, groups like “Queers for Palestine” and other feminist-identified collectives repeatedly and openly downplayed and denied instances of sexual violence and abuse. It was deeply unsettling to come to terms with the reality that my classmates and peers, whom I had believed shared common ground with me prior, were preaching such rhetoric in the name of queer activism. This hypocrisy sharply contrasts with the pride movement’s proclaimed dedication to fighting hatred and violence, especially considering that a significant majority of Jews identify as Zionists and support the existence of a Jewish state.

In response to these challenges, I sought solace and hope by connecting with queer and trans Zionists on social media. Our WhatsApp group, now thriving with members of diverse backgrounds, has become a beacon of support and unity. This space has introduced me to resilient LGBTQ+ individuals worldwide who share my values and advocate for my family’s right to live in peace. Supporting Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East does not preclude advocating for better futures for Palestinians. Israel, with its imperfections, symbolizes a homecoming for many of us, one which we will never stop fighting for. No one can ever take that away from us.

With June just around the corner, many of us are grappling with whether to attend LGBT Pride Month events this year. Pride movements, it is time for some deep introspection and evolution. If acceptance requires silence on anti-Semitism and Hamas crimes, I will take no part in it. We’re here, and we stand tall in our rightful pride. It is the vibrance of the community, including diversity of thought, which many of us hold so dear to our hearts that is worth celebrating. Queer people are not a monolith.

As Jews, it is essential to create spaces for meaningful dialogue about antisemitism, Israel, pride, and joy, as those are increasingly difficult to come by these days. Many single friends lament the challenges of online dating as Zionists, while others share experiences of exclusion and assumptions about our identities solely based on our support for a Jewish state. However, in defiance of attempts to silence us, we share news, laughter, pet pictures, and playlists in our group chat – a testament to our resilience. Despite efforts to homogenize our identities, we will always rise above and continue to foster and nurture truly inclusive spaces. Am Yisrael Chai.

About the Author
Becca Baitel is a dynamic freelance writer and English educator, who is currently pursuing her Master’s degree at Columbia University in New York City. Beyond crafting narratives that blend culture, identity, and personal history, Becca aims to weave communities together and foster empathy, understanding, and action. Becca's works have been featured in The Jerusalem Post, Blending Magazine, To Write Love on Her Arms, and the evocative poetry anthology "From Angels to Rebels." When she is not teaching or piecing together her first novel, she can be found typing away at a cafe, devoting herself to the daily crossword, traveling, hiking, or tackling her next puzzle!
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