Although Israel has yet to allow for civil marriages within the country (currently, you must either have a religious ceremony — any religious ceremony — or get a civil marriage outside the country that Israel promises to cross-honor), Israel is still the leading country in the Middle East regarding civil rights for those who identify as part of the LGBT community. In Israel, approximately 3/5 of all citizens support civil marriage for same-sex couples in Israel. Israel is one of five countries (the others are Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Cyprus), where homosexual intercourse between two consenting adults is not considered a crime.
Members of the LGBT community in Israel are protected under anti-discriminatory laws that affect the workplace, allow for adoption of children, allowed to serve as openly LGBT in the military, and are allowed to change their gender through HRT and SRS. In August 2009, when people inside Tel Aviv’s gay and lesbian youth center were massacred, Israeli former-president Shimon Peres and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence.
Last year, approximately 70,000 people marched in Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade.
Perhaps what epitomizes LGBT life is Tel Aviv, which is, in turn, epitomized by the flourishing queer cinema in Israel that takes place today — be it Tomer Heymann’s films about the LGBT community (such as Paper Dolls, which discusses a group of Indonesian transvestites working as dancers and cartakers to old Jewish men in Jerusalem) to Israel’s Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival (which is, ironically, floundering), LGBT cinema is thriving in Israel’s film industry.
In 2009, Gay Days, a documentary about the emergence of LGBT life in Israel, was released. Although I have not yet seen the film, you can do what I did and read the wiki on it here.
Tel Aviv, where 70,000 marched in this year’s Gay Pride parade, has long been a place where attitudes and dress codes are laid back and gay clubs are a prominent component of the city’s thriving nightlife.
So confident is Tel Aviv’s tourism association in the city’s appeal to the gay community that it recently launched a massive branding campaign, dubbed Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, hoping to entice gay and lesbian visitors from all over the world.
Tel Aviv hosts an industry that creates, produces and exports a disproportionate number of movies with gay themes and characters.
Despite Israel’s conservative government, Kamin points out, Israelis as a whole have been overwhelmingly accepting of the LGBT community — gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly in the Israel Defense Forces for far longer than Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell has been repealed.
Although the Jewish Orthodox community (the community that the Israeli rabbinate) has yet to fully accept the legitimacy of the LGBT community (this controversy is for a whole other set of blog posts entirely), the three other major branches of Judaism — Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist — have all accepted the legitimacy of the LGBT community (the Conservative movement insofar as they believe it to be no worse a sin than any of the other sins the members of its community face — their words, not mine). Despite this, however, Israel remains at the forefront of the fight for LGBT equality within the Middle East today.