Here’s a foundational timeline to show why Israel is the most gay-friendly state in the Middle East - thanks to hundreds of years of challenging the status quo.
The 19th Century
The Ottoman Empire’s regulations were actually way more LGBTQ friendly than modern day Turkey’s; in the land of Israel and Palestine, as part of Ottoman Syria, all previously existing sodomy laws were abolished. No surprise it was the most flourishing time for bath house culture.
The 20th Century
In the 1920’s the United Kingdom took over the territory and by default, existing laws in Britain against “buggery” (a more politically correct but similarly cruel word for sodomy) were set up by the colonial administration.
In the 50’s
Before the gender revolution started, Israel already had its first transgender activist: Rina Natan, trans citizen of Israel who wanted to go through the transition to become a woman. She was denied, so she performed the surgery by herself – after she literally cut off her manhood, the hospitals had no choice but to treat her.
In the 60’s
In 1963 it was declared that the sodomy laws of the British Mandate would not be enforced, yet society still wasn’t ready for the big change. Thankfully, there was someone ready to break the ice: in 1968 Amir Sharon opened up the very first gay club on Tel Aviv’s Yordey HaSira Street. By the end of the decade, Tel Aviv, and even Jaffa, was flooded with gay bars – including an infamous secret spot in the London Mini Store mall.
In the 70’s
In 1975 Israel already established the very first LGBTQ organization protecting gay and lesbian civilian’s rights. The activists of the group were responsible for arranging the country’s first Pride march – the event was called “Alizada”, referring to the Hebrew word “aliz”, meaning “happy”.
In the 80’s
In 1980, politician Shulamit Aloni brought LGBTQ issues to the table, and thanks to her fight sexual relations between persons of the same sex was officially made legal in the 80’s. The first gay movie was on its way; director Amos Gutman came out with Nagua – with its main character suffering from AIDS. By ‘88 it was officially illegal to discriminate against homosexuals at any job interview – the ship of freedom was finally sailing ahead.
In the 90’s
This decade’s guardian angel of LGBTQ subculture was MK Yael Dayan, who presented a passionate speech in the Knesset, quoting Torah passages regarding David’s relationship with Jonathan. By 1992 legislation prohibited discrimination on sexual biases for religious organizations as well. In 1993 we were ready for out first real Pride parade in Tel Aviv, and as a result the Israeli Parliament declared a ruling against the ancient military rules – authorizing gays to serve in the army.
In the 2000’s
Arriving to the new millennium, Jerusalem put on its rainbow- colored garb as well. The first Pride festival of Israel’s capital was held in 2002. Two years later the Nazareth Court ruled that same-sex couples have the same rights as straight couples in inheritance rights, and the Supreme Court soon joined the declaration of fair treatment: lesbian couples were able to adopt each other’s children. Homosexual men were not far behind. Former Knesset member Uzi Even and his partner could adopt their foster son, making them the first same-sex male daddies in Israel.
In today’s open-minded society, dozens of LGBTQ celebrities promote equality and gender rights: singers, actors, TV presenters come out in public, Tel Aviv’s Pride festival is one of the greatest celebrations in the universe, yet there’s still a lot of progress to be made. Surrogacy locally is still not allowed, and civil partnership is not recognized as marriage. However, looking back at the past 100 years, we can proudly say that we are on the right track, and say - with pride - we were born this way!