By Jacqui Benson
Recently a relative asked me why there was a Jewish Pride Shabbat, and why we need a LGBTIQA+ Pride.
A long overdue set of questions. Too many people have an opinion on Pride without addressing why it (still) matters — this applies to many of those who participate in it, too. Often it is portrayed, certainly by the media, as one big party with lots of risqué dress and varying degrees of undress. Few engage in what the challenges continue to be.
Historically, Pride came about in the US in 1959, in response to the Stonewall Riots, when police raided the Stonewall Inn, an iconic gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York. Since then, Pride Parades have taken place the world over. The first Jerusalem Pride Parade took place in 2002. Tel Aviv Pride began in 1993, the same year as Cape Town Pride, while Johannesburg Pride started in 1990.
Why does this matter today? Because homosexuality was illegal in many of the countries where Pride marches happen. The human right to love whomever you want has been dictated by heterosexual people, who determined that the only ‘normal’ intimate relationship/person you could marry was someone of the opposite gender. And although homosexuality is no longer illegal in the countries in which Pride Parades happen, the discrimination continues as people who grapple with their gender identity face untold abuse and violence.
Homophobia, Lesbophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia are all forms of discrimination that heterosexual people have never had to face. Pride, in short, is a way for people to publicly reclaim their space in society.
But why a Jewish Pride Shabbat? Well, practically, for those who are strictly observant, a Friday night shul service dedicated to Pride makes sense, since the Pride March is always scheduled for a Shabbat morning. Temple Israel has held a Pride Shabbat for the last 7 years — I am a member of a synagogue community that is open and completely accepting of my choice of partner. I don’t have to leave part of my identity at the door. All of me is welcome.
This isn’t true in many other facets of my life. I continually face institutionalised lesbophobia, when assumptions are made that I must have a husband. Most of our biggest fear is being rejected by our family. Mine was no different, although I engaged them about it. Even until the end of her life, my mother (z”l) would have preferred me to date a nice man, even a non-Jewish man was better than a woman. I can understand why — her dream of being a grandmother seemed impossible. For the record, however, she always did like my girlfriends.
But, just as I have to from time to time publicly acknowledge my Judaism, I more often have to ‘correct’ people who assume things about my sexual orientation. We live in a world where heterosexuality is institutionalised. Anything ‘other’ is not. Therefore, spaces where I can be fully myself are hard to come by.
Being Proud and able to celebrate all of who I am for one Shabbat in the year is truly beautiful. It’s the time I am most proud to invite all my family and especially my LGBTIQA+ friends to come to synagogue with me, so I can show off that there are faiths and spaces that are fully welcoming. It is also a time to celebrate the allies among us and their ongoing commitment to affirming us.
Until such time as my straight friends get asked “when did you know? (you were straight)” or “when did you come out to your parents?”, the need for Pride will endure.