Today, Israel hosted its annual Pride Parade in Tel Aviv—the largest such event in the Middle East. Over the past 50 years, Israel has emerged as a world leader in upholding the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Israel’s citizens and government work in concert to ensure the equality and inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community in all aspects of civil society.
Israel’s pride parades enjoy significant support.
Each year, Israel hosts more than 200,000 people from all over the world for “Tel Aviv Pride,” the largest LGBTQ pride parade in the Middle East and Asia.
Tel Aviv Pride held its inaugural parade in 1997. The event has since grown from a gathering of activists to a significant celebration of Israel’s LGBTQ community.
The theme for Tel Aviv Pride 2018 is the “Golden Age,” celebrating LGBTQ seniors and longtime community members. People of diverse sexual orientations and religious affiliations are expected to attend the event, including many politicians from across Israel’s ideological spectrum.
For decades, Israel has pioneered LGBTQ rights.
Since 1963, Israel’s Supreme Court and Knesset (parliament) have secured the protection and equal treatment of the LGBTQ community through court decisions and new legislation. Under civil law, Israeli same-sex couples enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples. As such, they are recognized as legal units for spousal benefits, including tax breaks, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, housing aid and litigation.
Israel’s national LGBTQ task force—the Aguda—was founded more than 40 years ago to provide legal, political and social services to members of the community.
For nearly two decades, members of the gay and lesbian community have openly served in all branches of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Discrimination in recruitment, placement or promotion based on sexual orientation is illegal. As of 2015, the IDF recognizes the full rights of same-sex partners, regardless of marital status, on matters including parental rights, inheritance rights and entitlement to leave.
In 1992, the Knesset legally enshrined workplace protection for members of the gay and lesbian community, amending the Equal Employment Opportunity Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Today, discrimination in recruitment, placement or promotion based on sexual orientation is illegal—and laws against discrimination are strictly enforced.
In 2013, the first openly transgender woman enlisted in Israel’s military. As of 2014, the Israeli military ensures any enlisted soldier wishing to transition is eligible for army-funded therapy, hormone replacement treatment and gender affirmation surgery.
The Gan Meir Gay Center in Tel Aviv, which opened 10 years ago, is a municipally-funded gathering place and resource center that is the first of its kind in the Middle East. The center hosts an LGBTQ youth movement, provides health and support services, offers cultural, athletic and recreational programs, and supplies other critical resources for the community.
In 2018, Haifa became the first city in the Middle East to host a Queer History Festival. Inspired by similar events in the U.S. and U.K., the festival used film screenings, guided walking tours, lectures, an academic conference and more to highlight and celebrate Haifa’s queer history with the general public.
Members of Israel’s LGBTQ community are leaders in Israeli government and society.
Israel’s first openly gay elected official, Michal Eden, was elected to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council in 1998. Upon entering the Knesset in 2002, Uzi Even, from the left-wing Meretz party, became the first openly gay member of Knesset. Today, officials who identify as LGBTQ serve throughout government.
Support for LGBTQ rights in Israel transcends party politics, from right-of-center Likud to left-wing Meretz. Upon entering the government in late 2015, Amir Ohana of Likud became the first openly gay, right-wing member of Knesset. Another openly gay member of Knesset, Itzik Shmuli, is part of the left-of-center Zionist Union.
In May 2017, Chief Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek became the first openly gay member of the IDF General Staff, formally coming out in an interview in which he stated that he wanted to be a role model for LGBTQ soldiers.
Most major Israeli political parties have a gay caucus that advocates for LGBTQ issues and gives voice to LGBTQ Israelis. The Knesset also has its own Gay Pride Lobby, an alliance that brings together Knesset members from multiple parties to promote LGBTQ equality.
Israel has a number of openly LGBTQ musicians and celebrities, including the famous 1998 Eurovision winner Dana International. Twenty years ago, Dana was the first transgender performer to enter the prestigious European singing competition.
In May 2016, Talleen Abu Hanna won Miss Trans Israel, the country’s first transgender beauty pageant. A Catholic Israeli-Arab originally from Nazareth, Abu Hanna represented Israel and won second place in the Miss Trans Star International pageant.