After an extraordinary performance, Dana International, an Israeli transsexual singer, wins the 1998 Eurovision song contest with the song "Diva". Mistakenly considered by many to be a religious and conservative country, Israel stunned the European crowd, being the first country to send a transsexual as its official performer.
This historic achievement had an effect on the Israeli crowd nonetheless, turning Dana International from a controversial representative to a national symbol overnight. As an out transsexual, Dana's success promoted the presence of the gay community in Israel to a whole new level, inspiring many people and creating a national sense of pride.
Historic performance. Dana International after winning the 1998 Eurovision song contest, wearing bird feathers costume by Jean-Paul Gaultier.
It was on that same year that Wigstock, Tel Aviv's annual drag festival, turned into a clash with the police, that many define as the "Israeli stonewall". As a result, the gay community in Tel Aviv organised a large pride parade that has become an annual event, attracting many tourists from all around the world every June.
But this radical revolution did not come out of nothing. It is a result of a 40 years long struggle of LGBT activists, who had to face a rather traditional, intolerant society that defined homosexuality as an illegal and obscene.
In 1975, after an ongoing legal struggle, Jacob Pezi founds "The Aguda" ("The association"). At the time, homosexual relations were forbidden by states law, and the Israeli society ironically referred to gays and lesbians with the rather controversial euphemism of "Ne'imin va'Neimot" (plaisants et plaisantes). The problematic legal status, and absurd lexical void, forced the newly established association to pick a more general title - 'The Association for the Protection of Individual Rights', thus avoiding a public encouragement of illegal acts. However, "the association" dealt only with homosexual rights, placing the foundations for the growing, influential LGBT community as we know it today.
The first public demonstration supporting LGBT rights dates back to 1979. The protestors, who gathered in Malhei Israel square (modern Rabin square), publicly demanded equal rights for LGBTs for the very first time in Israeli history.
First signs of struggle.1979 demonstration in Tel Aviv for homosexual rights.
At that same time, Amos Guttman, a gay Israeli film maker, releases his first short films which deal with homosexual lifestyle. In the following years, Guttman will release many other short and full length movies, presenting the traditional Israeli society with a groundbreaking peek to homosexuality in Tel Aviv.
Sneak Peak to homosexuality. "Drifting", a 1983 film by Amos Guttman.
"Klaf" – a Community of Feminist Lesbians is founded in 1987, and offers support lesbians in personal, social, legal and political aspects. Together with the Aguda, Klaf will play a heavy role in elevating LGBT rights to a public discussion, protecting and reinforcing the LGBT community.
In 1988, Knesset Member Shulamit Aloni presents the Israeli parliament with a new penal code, proposing adapted legal definitions for sexual offences. Aloni, member of a liberal social-democratic party, intentionally erases homosexual relations from the list of illegal acts. Unnoticed by other parliament members, Aloni's proposition is approved, consequently legalising homosexual relations in Israel.
This historic legal action opened the door for many more laws aiming to protect LGBT rights: prohibition of discrimination at work (1989), equal employment opportunities (1992), prohibition of discrimination in fertility treatments (1996), memorial rights (1996), prohibition of sexual harassment due to sexual orientation (1998) and many more.
The legalisation of homosexuality has inspired many Israelis to come out of the closet, including many public figures, who set an example to the Israeli society and encouraged a more tolerant environment.
The first pride event in Tel Aviv took place in 1993 with a very unique theme: large closet was placed in the middle of Sheinkin Street, inviting the participants to literally "come out". One of the participants, a soldier in the IDF, was photographed as he opens the closet in uniforms, and was therefore judged and punished for inappropriate behaviour. However, on that very same year, the IDF erased all references to homosexuality from its commands, allowing many homosexual soldiers to openly fulfill their military duties. Nowadays, many gays and lesbians serve openly in the Israel Defence Forces, and many become officers and commanders.
Ask, tell, and serve! Official photo published by the IDF spokesperson for 2012 pride month.
This exceptional phenomenon encouraged Eitan Fux to film Yossi & Jagger (2002). The movie tells the story of Yossi and Jagger, two gay combat officers, who share a discreet love affair in a military compound on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The original soundtrack for the film was made by Ivri Lider, an iconic singer in the local scene and a member of the gay community.
A moving wartime romance. Yossi and Jagger.
Despite the abovementioned progress, the gay community still has a long way to go. Gay marriage, adoptions and other fundamental rights still lack the legal recognition to ensure equal rights for gays and lesbians. Homophobia rarely raises its head and is highly condemned. In 2009, hate crime in the gay youth centre resulted in the death of Nir Katz and Liz Troubishi. This rare and extreme homophobic hate crime is a reminder of the vast progress of LGBT right in Israel, and of the long way that is yet ahead.
In that context, Tel Aviv-Jaffa has become the unofficial capital for the gay community in Israel, with the foundation of the Gay Community Centre in 2008, allowing many organisations to operate in the field of LGBT rights, including a significant education and information centre and a gay youth organisation.
The Tel Aviv pride parade is held every June, attracting many tourists from all over the world, with the support of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality. The successful Tel Aviv Gay Vibe tourism campaign turned Tel Aviv to an exotic destination for gays and lesbians from all over the world, who rewarded Tel Aviv with the 2011 GayCities award for Best Gay City in the World. The Hilton Beach is the official gay beach of Tel Aviv, attracting many gays who wish to cruise around and relax in the city's eternal sun. Symbolically, the adjacent Independence Garden was the centre for gay cruising and nightlife in the 1980's, and has an historic significance for the rising community.
Walk proudly! Ivry Lider and and Jonathan Goldstein, aka TYP, on an invitation to the 2012 Tel Aviv pride parade.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa has no gaybourhood, yet it carries a city-wide sense of pride. It is a free, tolerant environment for LGBTs anywhere and at any time.