Jerusalem’s World Pride conference, intended to counteract religious incitement against gays and lesbians by conservatives within the city’s three main religions, proved one more victim of the war of Lebanon. With a far smaller turnout than the 20,000 expected by Jerusalem Open House, the chief organizer of the August 6-11 event, and almost no Muslim participants, World Pride’s second effort at international action appears to have had little impact.
The first World Pride, organized by Italian and international groups in Rome in 2000, challenged Pope John Paul II’s views on homosexuality while millions of Christian pilgrims were in Rome to celebrate the Catholic year of Jubilee.
This time, the signature event was to be a march through Jerusalem’s streets. But with war raging, Jerusalem’s government said there were not enough soldiers to protect the marchers. This was no meaningless claim; the year before, during a gay pride march, 18-year-old Adam Russo was stabbed in view of thousands.
Instead, organizers planned for a quiet rally in Liberty Bell Park. It began peacefully, with a few hundred gathering, many carrying signs saying “Love Without Borders,” World Pride’s official theme and a nod to the Palestinians who could not come to the event because of the Barrier Wall.
While hundreds of police and soldiers looked on, the rally got little attention from ordinary Jerusalemites. Knife-wielding religious maniacs never materialized either. Verbal assaults came from only a handful, like Orthodox New York Rabbi Yehuda Levin and Jerusalem City Councilwoman Mina Fenton. Fenton called World Pride “disgusting in war time,” when “our sons are giving their lives and blood is pouring in the north.”
That very war stopped the rally when several anti-war gay groups took over. They included those who attended the Tel Aviv-based Queeruption and Red-Pink, a gay communist organization. They denounced the war in Lebanon, the barrier wall, and finally, Israel itself, prompting the Jerusalem Open House contingent to pack up early.
Gay Muslim groups like ASWAT, a Palestinian lesbian group, and the US’s Al-Fatiha boycotted the event feeling it did not do enough to address both Muslim issues and Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Gay South African Imam Muhsin Hendricks planned to go, but cancelled as the war, perceived by many as anti-Muslim, escalated.
One positive result of Gay Pride was its demonstration of the fact that gays and lesbians have a voice in Jerusalem, and can even keep the religious right from preventing them from exercising their right to gather openly. But until there peace in the Middle East, there is little likelihood that gay rights will find a prominent place on any government or religious group’s agenda.