“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” That was the political legacy of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official; the movie about his life, which ended in murder as he predicted, was one of the most important films in recent times.
If the murder of a 26-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl at the gay center in Tel Aviv on Aug. 1 was indeed motivated by their sexual orientation, this is the gravest hate crime ever carried out in Israel based on this motive. Yet we must keep in mind that this was not the first case. In the 2005 Jerusalem Pride Parade, Yishai Shlisel stabbed three participants, all of whom survived.
Anyone involved or active in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in the Tel Aviv in the 1980s and 1990s is well familiar with the basement on Nachmani Street, the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association’s home and the community’s beating heart for many years.
With the passage of time, the community left the basement to embark on activity at various sites in the city and across Israel. In the past year, a significant part of the activity shifted to the gay community center in Tel Aviv’s Meir Park.
As the process of coming out of the closet has become more common, and often takes place at a younger age, there is no longer one place in Tel Aviv that draws everyone. However, the proud youth center run by the association, just like other activities, continued to be managed at the Nachmani Street basement, a place so many of us carry so many memories of.
There was nothing more important than the activity for youth, which aimed to deliver on the pledge we made to ourselves: making sure that the teenagers who follow us will know they are not alone in the world, that there are other boys and girls like them, that everything will be all right, and that one can grow to be a happy person.
We pledged to ensure that these youngsters would experience a safe and joyous adolescence where they can love and be loved. This activity grew and expanded, and today includes a large and proud youth organization and activities such as the weekly Saturday “teen bar” targeted by the murderer.
Nobody thought something like this could happen. Yet the stabbing attack in Jerusalem was a warning sign — and not only the stabbing itself, but also what took place (or rather, didn’t take place) in its wake: The homophobic statements made by ministers, Knesset members and others continued with no shame.
And the shame should be felt not only by the regular homophobes from the Shas party and other places, but also by those who kept silent.
Every prime minister and minister who did nothing when some of his government ministers expressed themselves in a violent and inciting manner against homosexuals, lesbians and transgenders should also be ashamed; anyone who grants homophobia legitimacy, as though it’s an acceptable view that is worthy of being heard in order to “counterbalance” other views; anyone who kept silent when we saw the “beast parade” — the haredi response to the pride parade — being held in Jerusalem.
All of these people should be ashamed today.
All those who keep silent because they do not wish to lose cards in the political game with haredis, and all of those who keep silent because they don’t want, heaven forbid, that someone will think they are like that, too.
And all this comes before we even discuss the fact that in broader terms, the hatred and violence toward those different than us — which at times manifests itself through indiscriminate fire — has become the norm.
The bullets that were fired and took young and innocent lives should therefore destroy the doors of many closets.
And we are not only talking about the closets of those who hide their sexual orientation. We are talking about all those who keep silent in the face of homophobia, and also all those who are gay or lesbian and have the power as public, political or cultural figures to make a difference in this area — yet find a thousand and one excuses not to show solidarity.
These bullets should also remind all those many thousands of community members who live outside the closet that the struggle is not over yet, and that they need to be part of it.
At this time, when there are still tears in our eyes, I wish to ask for the forgiveness of the two young people who were killed and the 11 who were wounded in Tel Aviv.
Sorry for telling you everything would be all right. Sorry we told you that you can feel safe. Sorry for not safeguarding you adequately.
I also wanted to say thank you. Thank you for the courage to be yourselves. I promise that we will continue to do everything so that this world will be safer for all of us.
Aeyal Gross is a law lecturer at Tel Aviv University who formerly served as a volunteer legal adviser for the LGBT Association in Israel. He wrote this piece for Ynetnews.com.