TEL AVIV – In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre which left at least 50 people dead, representatives of Israel’s LGBT community are struggling to come to terms with what they describe as ongoing homophobia and hatred.
Yuval Eggert, director of the Tel Aviv gay center, believes that adding another memorial day to a calendar replete with marking tragedies among the LGBT community – including honoring those who died from AIDS or those who were murdered just for being gay, from the Holocaust until today – runs the risk of preventing the community from simply getting on with the business of living.
“If we do too many memorial days, too many events, it’s hard to know when we just have days to live,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Eggert as saying.
Eggert said the community was reeling from shock and disbelief – not only from Sunday’s shooting spree at the “Pulse” nightclub, but also from news of the arrest of a suspect armed with an arsenal of explosives and guns en route to the LA Gay Pride Parade.
“If this attack had happened, it would have been the 9/11 of the LGBT community,” Eggert said.
For Eggert, Sunday’s attack was less about homophobia and more about taking the West to task.
“They want to attack the free world. I think the connection to the LGBT world is secondary. It’s not homophobia. It’s real hatred and the brainwashing within Islamic extremism. They are showing that they are attacking symbols of freedom,” he said.
Amir Ohana, the Likud’s first openly gay Knesset member, concurs:
“This time it was the LGBT community. But the Western world and the free world are the targets. They don’t just hate gays; they hate also what gays represent,” Ohana said, adding that the Orlando attack was no different to the shooting spree in Tel Aviv on Wednesday which claimed the lives of four people. The targets in both instances were “all those who do not adhere to their radical worldview. This could be other Muslims; it could be Jews, Christians.”
For Tom Canning, the director of Outreach and Development at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the timing of the Orlando attack is auspicious as it happened just as the Israeli capital is gearing up to commemorate another tragedy among the LGBT community – the death of Shiri Banki, a lesbian who was murdered by an ultra-Orthodox Jew at last year’s pride parade in Jerusalem.
Yishai Schlissel was released from prison just days before the parade after serving ten years for the same crime of stabbing several people at 2005’s Gay Pride march.
Banki’s memory will be honored at this year’s pride march in the capital on July 21, along with the victims of the Orlando massacre.
Canning notes that fear among Jerusalem’s LGBT community is unrelenting, and is only intensified by the fact that gay “safe spaces,” like clubs and marches, are no longer safe.
“The community in Jerusalem already has fear on a daily basis, especially since last year,” he said.
“It reminds us of how much we are hated, how much people want to hurt us, and it worsens the feeling that this can happen in any place.”