I remember it like it was yesterday: the night in May 1998, when Dana International, an Israeli transgender singer, went on stage in Europe waving my country’s flag and winning the Eurovision Song Contest representing Israel. She brought Pride to Israel (in both meanings of the term) as well as the Eurovision contest to our capital, Jerusalem, the following year. At that time, I was a closeted gay teen who already knew he wanted to serve his country as a diplomat but I was afraid that, because of my sexual orientation, I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my dreams. There have been so many teens like me throughout history: fearful, silent, in search of role models.
But this week I, an openly gay Israeli diplomat, visited the “Speaking Out for Equality” exhibit at the National Constitution Center. I found it moving and touching to see the transformation that American society has gone through. While even today, LGBTQ people are persecuted and even executed in many places around the world because of their identity, I feel blessed to live and work in countries that embrace the core values of accepting people for who they are and which serves as a beacon of hope, promoting tolerance and love.
Here in Philadelphia, on July 4, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Annual Reminders demonstration, in which gays demanded equal rights outside Independence Hall in 1965. The city, which enshrined the ideas of freedom and liberty for the world through the Declaration of Independence, once again was at the forefront of the struggle for equality, this time for the LGBTQ community. And just last month, in my homeland Israel, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the “Aguda,” the Israeli LGBT Task Force during Tel Aviv Pride week.
These two celebrations also serve as a reminder that we have much to learn from one another: The American LGBT civil-rights movement, which inspired so many around the world with its groundbreaking demonstration in 1965, clearly crossed the Atlantic Ocean, helping to birth an identical movement in Israel. But this has been a two-way learning process: Israel’s Defense Forces cancelled its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy back in 1993, which then served as a role model for LGBT activists around the world including in the United States and, 17 years later, the same policy was cancelled in America.
I feel humbled when I think of so many people who have dedicated their lives so that we would have the rights that people sometimes take for granted. As an Israeli and as a gay man, I thank the brave pioneers of the LGBT civil-rights movements, both in Israel and the United States, who inspired their counterparts around the world. Our communities are a living testimony to their contributions. Together, we stand as allies and as friends, overcoming the same challenges and rejoicing in the same triumphs. I’m proud to be an Israeli diplomat who honors, cherishes and helps spread the message of freedom, equality and love, from the birthplace of America, the City of Brotherly Love.