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.

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.