The Growing Political Influence of Israel’s LGBT Community

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post. You can see the original post here.

A gay pride parade in Jerusalem sounds preposterous: the same city that is the capital to three world religions and a millennia-long touchstone of strife and violence. Even those who are aware of Tel Aviv’s internationally known gay culture, which attracted a record quarter-million marchers to its own pride parade in June, would scarcely consider venturing out in their colorful tanktops to march down Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.

And yet, this summer saw exactly that: a record twenty-five thousand Israelis of all stripes emerging onto the streets of the Holy City with rainbow flags and painted faces, marching proudly and resolutely for what was billed as the “Jerusalem March For Pride and Tolerance.” Coming one year after a stabbing attack that killed Shira Banki, a 16 year-old straight ally who marched in support of her LGBT friends before being murdered by a fanatic ultra-Orthodox Jew, it was a sobering yet empowering moment in a community where LGBT individuals have long scratched out an existence by keeping a low profile.

When Athletic Competition Collides With Hate

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post. You can see the original post here.

It’s the video that has taken Israeli social media by storm.

Released by Al Jazeera last week, a media outlet widely associated with coverage highly critical of Israel, it shows a young Iranian wrestler preparing for a fight at the World Youth Championships in Hungary. The video description states the tournament’s stakes in no uncertain terms: “success in championships like these, for a rare and lucky few, is a stepping stone to becoming an Olympic winner.”

As the Iranian team coach approaches and discretely grabs Peyman Yarahmadi’s arm, he looks confused. “What are you putting on my hand?” Peyman asks. “The problem is if you wrestle against Israel, your name will be crossed out from the team forever,” the couch reminds him. “I am putting ice on your hand so we can forfeit due to medical injury.” The wrestler begs, as tears stream down his face, “Let me go on the mat! I’ll beat him if you let me!”

The clip ends amidst slow music, clearly designed to illustrate the heartbreaking tragedy of the situation. A chyron explains, “Iran doesn’t recognize Israel as a state. By common practice, Iranian athletes don’t compete against Israeli athletes.”

La Paz’s beloved zebra crossing guards endure — here’s what it’s like to be one for a day

This piece has been republished with permission from Mic. You can see the original post here.

It was late April, and the pulse of morning rush hour traffic was just beginning to pick up as I trotted out onto the street, my tail dragging behind me. I had just finished an hour-long orientation complete with a guided meditation and role play designed to transform me into my new identity for the day: a zebra.

As the traffic light turned red, I promptly took my place on Avenida 16 de Julio, at one of the busiest intersections in the center of La Paz, Bolivia, and began to implement what I’d been trained to do. I danced up to the nearest car, my arms extended out front to signal “stop” as a young boy wearing a backpack and a baseball cap crossed the street with his mother. The boy looked at me, and sprung from his mother to give me a hug. His mother and I each held one of the boy’s hands as we ushered him across the street.

Another woman followed, smiling as she met my high-five in the air and continued on her way. When the light turned green, I kept pedestrians at bay as the cars thrust forward.

Orlando, a shattered complacency

I’m a proud gay man.

I came out of the closet publicly three months after my 15th birthday, as a freshman in high school, and was met with overwhelmingly positive support from my friends, family and total strangers. I’ve marched in half a dozen pride parades around the world, from New York to Chicago to Tel Aviv. I’ve been on the steps of the Supreme Court during the most consequential arguments and decisions on LGBT issues in our country’s history. I’ve been to gay bars and clubs hundreds of times, including Pulse. I’ve loved, and been loved.

Tonight was my first time out at a gay club since Orlando. Tonight was the first time I glanced at the emergency exit, just in case, and made note of places to hide in case I couldn’t escape in time. Tonight was the first time I was scared in a gay space. Tonight was the first time, as Carlos Mazza so painfully and eloquently wrote earlier this week, that I was afraid of dying.

Far From Buenos Aires’ Tourist Traps, Street Artists Are Giving a Voice to the Voiceless

The late-day sun illuminated the street around us as we stepped out of the car in Isla Maciel, a predominantly poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. As we ascended a nearby set of stairs leading to the entrance of an elementary school and made our way through the lobby, a mural in the corner jumped out at me.

It depicted a skeleton with spiked shoulder straps, his face pointed down toward a microphone. He was draped in a distressed American flag, his eyes projecting rage. With his sharp features accentuating his boxy figure, it was reminiscent of a documentary I’d once seen on Cold War propaganda.

Isla Maciel lies just a stone’s throw across the river from Caminito, a well-known tourist trap boasting $15 crepes, tango dancers that sensuously wrap their legs around you for tips, and local craft shops with a suspicious number of “Made In China” labels. For the past several years, a compelling story has been unfolding in Isla Maciel, home to nearly 5,000 residents boxed in by the river on one side and a bustling highway on the other.

A diverse group of young artists have been working to create better conditions for the people living here, and they’ve proposed an unusual solution: to cover every inch of this blighted neighborhood with street art and murals like the one in the school’s lobby, which was painted by a 13-year-old. Their hope is that the art will bring a source of pride to a community with no landmarks to speak of, and help give a voice to people living on the margins.

You can read the full piece at Mic here.

CreativeMornings Chapters Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Reposted with permission from CreativeMornings.

CreativeMornings/DC is a behemoth, with tickets selling out in minutes and venues holding hundreds of people, usually time to meet and talk with just a minuscule number of the interesting people assembled for any given event.

When I visited CreativeMornings/BUE, I found myself in a much more intimate setting, located in a government-funded industrial park that houses varying creative initiatives throughout the city. I arrived in the midst of a downpour, but the host of the chapter, Laura Marcello, was nonetheless beaming as I walked through the doors. “Thank you so much for coming,” she warmly welcomed, her six year old son in-tow. Pedro scurried around the two dozen assembled participants, acting as the unofficial CreativeMornings greeter and serving up a natural dose of caffeine as we waited for the coffee to arrive. It almost felt like CreativeMornings was being hosted in Laura’s living room, an intimateness that served as a nice shift from the hustle and bustle of previous cities.

Coming Up For Air

Where did the past three months go?

I’ve found myself uttering those words a lot to myself lately. It feels like just the other day that I’d taken my seat at an outdoor cafe in Montevideo and penned my characteristically optimistic post “looking over the horizon” of Remote Year. The glimmer in my eyes was a reflection of the monumental leap that I had just made. I knew my life was about to change in a dramatic fashion, but there was a perspective of romanticism I’d already taken for how the next year would pan out.

But amidst my glaring positivity, I penned a graf to my future self:

…There’s something inherently powerful about writing down your goals while on the cusp of a transformative new experience, full of optimism and possibility. Perhaps most importantly, it can serve as a place to continually return to, when that optimism gradually makes space for the adversity that inevitably evolves from taking risks.

Waking Up With CreativeMornings/Montevideo

Reposted with permission from CreativeMornings.

The purpose of embarking on my CreativeMornings World Tour was to explore one central question in-depth: what do creative communities look like around the world?

It seems fitting that the first stop of my CreativeMornings tour was Montevideo. In many ways, Montevideo sits at the opposite of what I’ve become accustomed to in Washington; it’s the sleepy coastal capital of Uruguay, a country whose entire population (3.4 million) barely composes one-third of the Washington metropolitan area. It’s laidback, insular culture serves in sharp contrast to the fast-paced and deeply internationally-minded nature of Washington.

Vale Pi, the bubbly CreativeMornings/Montevideo host, invited me out to meet her CreativeMornings “All-Star Team” the first night that I landed in Uruguay. I arrived to Futuro Refuerzos, a bustling sandwich shop and bar overlooking the coastline, right at the end of their monthly planning meeting, where they had been discussing ideas for the upcoming event. The intervening hours were spent with Vale drinking and learning about the local CreativeMornings chapter: how she’d first been exposed to CreativeMornings/Barcelona before returning home and pooling together volunteers for the application; that she’s already begun saving up money to attend the CreativeMornings Summit for volunteer organizers later this year; and the process of building up the local chapter to where it stands today.