Dozens of Jewish students and their friends joined Vancouver’s Pride Parade August 1, celebrating equality in Canada and Israel. The Pride event, with 600,000 spectators and participants, is the province’s largest parade and one of the largest annual events in Canada.
“We had a blast,” says Jonathon Lerner, the past-president of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi and coordinator of Hillel’s participation in the parade. “Now, 600,000 Vancouverites know that Israel is the freest place to be gay in the Middle East and the one place in the Middle East where GLBTQ people are legally equal and free to be themselves. And they know that Hillel is a welcoming, accepting, diverse Jewish and Zionist organization.”
Hillel, with the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Temple Sholom, the Jewish Family Service Agency and other community allies, took to the streets with candy, bubbles, signs and flags representing Israel, Canada and gay pride.
“The response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic,” says Lerner. “Hundreds of thousands of people were cheering us. We could not be happier with the reaction of the crowds.”
Students held signs declaring: “Israel: Gay Mecca of the Middle East”; “The World Needs More Shalom”; “We Stand with Israel Because Israel Stands with Us”; and “Twice Blessed.”
Hillel handed out thousands upon thousands of postcards created for the occasion, educating spectators about Israel’s record of human rights for gays and lesbians.
“The theme of the parade was ‘Educate, Liberate, Celebrate,’” says Lerner. “Our message was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the parade and the crowds responded fabulously.”
The postcards, which outlined Israel’s gay rights record on one side, gave homage to the parade’s theme on the other, and publicized Hillel’s new website, created just for the occasion.
Ed ucate: Learn about GLBTQ rights in the Middle East at www.israelissogay.com; Liberate: Fight to make all places as free as Canada and Israel; Celebrate: The only multicultural democracy in the Middle East that shared Canada’s commitment to queer equality: Israel.
The website, www.israelissogay.com, was created in part to counter the extremist position promoted by a parade entry a few metres behind the Hillel contingent. So-called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid handed out materials accusing Israel and Hillel of “pink-washing” Israel’s human rights record.
“The crowd’s response to the anti-Israel extremists – silence, for the most part – indicated that the half-million people who came to see the parade know a thing or two about world affairs and weren’t taken in by the propaganda,” says Lerner. “When we can join a Pride parade in Ramallah or Gaza City, then we can truly celebrate. Until then, we will continue to defend Israel as the one tiny oasis of freedom in the region for GLBTQ people.”