|The organizers of Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 (left to right) Noa Sattath, Daphnay Stroumsy, Fatima Amarshi and Hagai El-Ad.
â€śJerusalem WorldPride 2006 will gather people from all over the world to bring a message that is needed throughout the Middle East and beyond: that human rights transcend cultural and ethnic boundaries, that our differences can be respected peacefully, and that love knows no borders. There is no better place in the world than Jerusalem to make that statement, and perhaps no city that needs to hear it more.â€ťÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â - Jerusalem Open House
To be, that at least is certain. One only need meet with Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of Jerusalem Open House (JOH)â€”the group which has, among many other things, organized the annual Jerusalem Gay Pride March for the past four yearsâ€”to understand that Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 (JWP) will take place in their City. How will the queer communities around the globe support or obstruct the organizers? What are the concerns of those who have reservations regarding the event? What will Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 actually look like? What the hell is WorldPride anyway? I caught up with the Hagai and his colleagues, as well as some of those who harbor qualms regarding JWP, at the recent annual InterPride convention held in Minneapolis and got some answers to these and other questions.
WorldPride is an interesting proposition, to say the very least, and follows the model established in Europe of EuroPride in 1992. In both instances the event is encouraged to highlight a specific injustice and propel this into an international arena. This stimulates awareness and applies pressure for change. Whereas EuroPride is held every year, WorldPride is not held annually or to any cycle. It happens when InterPride, which licenses the title, is persuaded that it is necessary.
WorldPride 2000 was held in Rome and JOH seeks to follow in that tradition. Hagai explains, â€śThe struggle for acceptance and pride is particularly pointed in Jerusalem, a city that is home to three of the worldâ€™s great religions. The greatest traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism affirm the dignity of all human beings and our creation in the divine image. Yet these same faiths have often been sources of hostility and intolerance for LGBT people. WorldPride 2006 will bring thousands of us to Jerusalem to confront preconception with reality, prejudice with an opportunity for understanding, in a way that will capture the attention of the world. Together we will proclaim that in this ancient religious cityâ€”and in this regionâ€”we too belong.â€ť
At its annual convention in 2003, held that year in Montreal, Interpride voted during an energetic final plenary session to award the WorldPride 2006 title to JOH. As Hagai recalls, â€śDue process was followed and the speeches were dramatic. Interpride made a significant choice when all the shouting was done. People actually gave some serious thought as to where we were going as a movement. Interprideâ€™s decision to award the WorldPride title to us says, â€śWe are still a political movement and until we are all equal the struggle continues.â€ť
â€śThis is the Holy Land, not the Homo Land,â€ť was the message from an interfaith conference held in Jerusalem in March of this year, explains Hagai, â€śtheir hatred of us is the one thing that unites religious fundamentalists. Four days prior to Jerusalem Gay Pride 2005, the Mayor of Jerusalem filed a brief in District Court attempting to stop it. The brief described the event as â€śpornographicâ€ť and â€śa massive fondling.â€ť The Judge, thankfully, threw the complaint out and the march took place. Ten thousand people attended, up from 4,000 the prior year. While an empowering moment, others see this lack of civic support as a signal to proceed with caution regarding the event. Robert Kastl, President of the European Pride Organizersâ€™ Association, spoke to me saying, â€śWorldPride Rome 2000, at least, had city support no matter how much the federal government and the Pope railed against it. Jerusalem doesnâ€™t. The mayor is going out of his way to prevent Pride and certainly WorldPride from happening. The organizers now have both religious leaders and the city authorities working against them.â€ť
He has a point. How can WorldPride be accomplished successfully under these circumstances? Hagai and his colleagues answer that Pride has taken place in Jerusalem for the past four years despite the lack of governmental support and in terms of what is proposed the approval process for the march and other events which will make up JWP isnâ€™t markedly different.
Violence struck Jerusalem Gay Pride this year. An assailant attacked participants with a knife and stabbed one of those marching, Alan Russo. Should this be a warning to those contemplating attending JWP? Alan doesnâ€™t think so. The very same day he was attacked, from his hospital bed, he sent a message to those who would intimidate and those who had gathered at the Festival following the march, stating â€śI want to march in the front line of WorldPride in Jerusalem in 2006â€ť. Courageous stuff you might think, and youâ€™d be right; but rousing words alone, as well as energizing the activist spirit and shaking the fist of defiance are not enough to quell the fears for personal security that many have of entering a war zone and wearing their rainbow boxers.
As Robert Kastl puts it, â€śIsrael is a country at war and unlike the U.S., that war is being fought on their home soil. There were attacks already this year and three people were stabbed. Now raise the importance of a normal Jerusalem Pride to the tenth power and imagine how likely a target the event will become for Moslem, Jewish and Christian zealots alike.â€ť To be fair, Alanâ€™s attacker was arrested and his trial begins this month. Hagai recognizes peopleâ€™s concerns on safety and was brutally honest stating, â€śMarchers at Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 will come to participate in a demonstration, make no mistake,â€ť adding, â€śWe have an excellent working relationship with our local law enforcement agencies who will be responsible for policing the march, as the incident with Alan Russo demonstrates. Alanâ€™s attacker was immediately arrested, charged and awaits trial. No Pride organization can guarantee the safety of its attendees. The real question is whether intimidation and fear will deter organizers and attendees for standing up for their basic human rights. If those in the Stonewall Inn had given into intimidation and fear, where would we be now?â€ť
He, too, has a good point and, what of the scary religious fundamentalists we have in the USA who would have us run, shrieking with fear, back into the closet. Are their threats of violence going to stop us from having Pride in our own communities? Of course not.
So if you are looking in your forward planner for the early part of August next year and surfing the El-Al website, what can you expect? Basically, a weeklong of satellite events, both cultural and political, culminate in a march on Thursday, Aug. 10. Collaborative events already being organized include a Human Rights Conference in association with Amnesty International and an Interfaith Clergy Conference. Arts events and an open-air party following the march are also in the program.
So whoâ€™s supporting World Pride? Interpride for starters. Interpride Male Co-President, Russell Murphy, stated, â€śInterPride has licensed the title WorldPride to the Jerusalem Open House, a member organization in good standing. In as much, and the fact that they have not violated the terms of the licensing agreement, we stand behind the event fully.â€ť When asked what that means exactly and, specifically what InterPride would be asking itâ€™s members to do, he added, â€śInterPride will be assisting in the grassroots, word of mouth promotion of WorldPride 2006.Â Primarily, we will be asking our member organizations to either provide press contact info to the JOH or assist them in disseminating press releases to their contacts.Â We will also ask members to share in-kind ad space with the JOH to promote the event.Â For those member organizations that have their events before August, we will ask them to provide space in their Pride Guides (for those that publish one) to the JOH and WorldPride 2006.â€ť
Locally, San Francisco LGBT Pride remains at best ambivalent about the prospect of WorldPride in Palestine and has adopted a position of â€śneutrality.â€ť Neutrality between whom and as to what is unclear, only that SFLGBTPCC is â€śneither supporting the event nor working against it.â€ť Fudge anyone? Itâ€™s no coincidence that many of the loudest voices in opposing Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 have come from the Bay Area and the Pride Committee is, understandably, sitting on the fence at this point. Notwithstanding the potential backlash, NCLR, GLSEN, NGLTF and HRC have all endorsed the event.
Reading between the lines and listening to many activists who have been resolute in their opposition to the occupation of Palestine there is the contention that supporting and/or endorsing Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 somehow lends added legitimacy to the Israeli Government and props up the State of Israel.
One wonders if, by implication, Gay Pride in New York or San Francisco props up the Bush regime or gives added legitimacy to the US occupation of Iraq. The notion is ridiculous, and those peddling this argument should question whether it may appear at best as a double standard or at worst as racist. Speaking of Pride in San Francisco, New York and other mega-celebrations that occur in Europe and the USA, these events might be wonderful and inspiring, yet they cannot help someone from the Middle East in a way that an event in their region can. The real significance of Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 will be for those from that region attending. For many of them, JWP will be their first opportunity to see something different and affirming. I know from speaking to those Pride organizers from the US who have attended Gay Pride in Jerusalem that they rediscover their power, courage and the meaning of what it is we are all fighting for around the globe.
International and or Global Pride events are rarely non-contentious. All sorts of issues from both within and outside of our communities beset organizers, diverting them from the actual planning and execution of the event itself. One need not look far for examples: Stonewall 25, The Millennium March on Washington, numerous Gay Games, many of the Europride events and World Pride Rome 2000 all ended in tears and ripped tights, leaving millions in unpaid bills and the organizers lynched and/or in the booby hatch. I hope that Hagai and his colleagues have a good grasp of the â€śback endâ€ť of things too. Their track record would certainly suggest so, but as the Mario Mielli Foundation in Rome found to their cost, WorldPride can turn out to be the cuckoo in the nest. Mario Mielli survived the crisis, but in comparison to JOH it is an organization with a much longer history and one that enjoyed corporate support as well as donations. The situation in the Middle East is not, however, comparable to that in Italy, and mere acknowledgement, let alone sponsorship of â€śgay stuffâ€ť is a dream yet to be realized. So faced with this dilemma, what is JOHâ€™s game plan for dealing with any shortfall? For those with an interest in such things, a proposed budget for the event is eagerly awaited and long overdue.
Robert Kastl also expressed frustration that he and others had received in getting basic information regarding the event and summed it all up by saying, â€śI would like to see WorldPride in Jerusalem for all its historic value, but at the same time I am greatly concerned that by endorsing the event openly we, as fellow pride organizers, may be lulling people in safety that the situation in Israel is just as fine and dandy as back home. The lack of specific event information and apparent shortcomings of the organizers have certainly not helped to alleviate this concern.â€ť
He has another good point, if not several, and inspirational words alone will not quell the rumblings of discontent. Itâ€™s time for a budget and some specific event information, at the very least. Perhaps even some additional assurances regarding security stating that additional safeguards (without specifics for obvious reasons) are being put in place would help alleviate some of Robertâ€™s concerns.
To me, the belief and sense of purpose exhibited by Hagai and his colleagues is inspiring. Without trying to sound over-simplistic, given all the obstacles in their way that they still want to do this makes me think why not let them?