Tel Aviv trumps New York to be named world’s
“Best Gay City”
Israeli metropolis beats New York and Toronto in poll naming best urban destinations for gay travellers
By GRAHAM SMITH
Tel Aviv has been named the world’s number one gay city. The Israeli metropolis beat out competition from New York to top a survey carried out by American Airlines and
GayCities.com to find the most popular destination for gay travellers.
It landed a staggering 43 per cent of the vote, way ahead of runner-up New York’s 14 per cent and third-placed Toronto with 7 per cent.
Gay and lesbian life in Tel Aviv is perhaps the most vibrant in the Middle-East, mainly attributable to the fact the gay community in Israel enjoys political freedom like in no other country in the region. Every June since 1998, the city has hosted a series of gay-themed events ending with the annual Gay Pride parade. For year-round areas of interest, website GayTLVGuide.com recommends Rothschild Boulevard, which it describes as a ‘buzzing centre of entertainment’ with several gay bars and clubs.
The city’s most famous gay-orientated area is Shenkin Street, a road that ‘seems to stretch out forever’.
October 28, 2014
Same-sex surrogacy proposal passes first reading in Knesset
Health Minister’s measure to allow LGBT, single-parent use of country’s surrogacy services on track to become law despite difficult debate.
After a divisive floor debate, the Knesset plenum approved legislation on Monday to allow same-sex couples to use surrogacy services on first reading. Health Minister Yael German’s proposal must still survive a second and third reading before it is passed into law.
The new amendment to the existing surrogacy law would cover single-parent cases and the use of surrogate mothers abroad. During the fractious session, 45 Knesset members supported the proposal, 15 opposed, and three abstained.
The proposal intends a dramatic change in surrogacy policy, easing the bureaucratic maze same-sex couples faced, specifically when the surrogacy process was undertaken in foreign countries.
Same-sex couples arriving from Thailand (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
German’s amendment does not explicitly address LGBT parents, but allows “every individual” to become a parent using the surrogacy services – up until the age of 54. The surrogate mother’s maximum age was raised two years to 38, while a Health Ministry committee would supervise the process, with costs limited to 160,000 shekels.
The initiative was supported by most factions in the coalition – Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beiteinu, Hatnua, and the Likud – while the opposition had internal disagreements. Zehava Gal-On, Tamar Zandberg, and Michal Rozin from Meretz opposed the proposal while Nitzan Horovitz and Ilan Gilon supported the amendment.
Labor chose to unanimously support German’s proposal, though some faction members chose to abstain to demonstrate their disapproval.
Naftali Bennet’s Bayit Yehudi stringently opposed the measure, claiming it would change the family structure in Israel – but the faction allowed its members to independently vote in order to quell disorder.
The religious party, Shas, spoke out against the proposal. “This is a corrupt law. Only sinner could support it,” said MK Nisim Ze’ev. “What is this import and export of babies? It’s like we’re talking about frozen meat. The law allows for the creation of a child without the approval of the father. What is this chutzpah?”
“Is it not immoral that a woman can do something behind her husband’s back? The law permits fraud and deception, encourages sins and crimes, and hurt the husband who doesn’t know that a baby was born that was not his.”
Tel Aviv Comes Out (BBC News)
Jerusalem holds annual Gay Pride Parade after multiple delays
Gay Pride Parade draws 100,000 in Tel Aviv
Daniel K. Eisenbud
Following postponements due to war in Gaza, under 2,000 march in capital without incident.
Amid a large contingent of police, including a helicopter apolice, including a helicopter and officers on horseback, a relatively small number of gay and transgender men and women marched through the streets of the capital Thursday night in the annual Jerusalem Gay Pride parade.
According to Jerusalem Open House, which represents the city’s LBGT community, while the event normally attracts several thousand participants, two postponements during Operation Protective Edge diminished this year’s showing.Nonetheless, roughly 2,000 people – gay and straight – marched downtown to support greater tolerance of the capital’s thousands of LBGT residents.“Both of my sons are gay, and I’ve been volunteering for years at Tehila [a gay rights organization], which supports parents of LBGT people and helps them go through the process of acknowledging and accepting their children,” said Nita Klausner.Asked to gauge the present level of tolerance for gay citizens, Klausner said she was heartened by inroads the city has made.“Jerusalem’s come a long way in my eyes in accepting gays,” she said. “A lot of work has been done by the Open House – which is partially supported by the municipality – including funding for support groups, lectures, and activities during the High Holy Days for those who can’t go home to their families.”Hannah, a heterosexual ex-pat from London, who requested her last name not be published, said she marched to encourage equal human rights for all the city’s residents.“I believe that gay rights are human rights, and as a Zionist and someone who gave up a lot to live in this country, I believe it’s important to build a society that exemplifies the Jewish values I was taught,” she said.
“I think that Israel needs to be a home for everyone who lives here, and it makes me sad that this is more of a demonstration than a parade.”
Yuval Sadan, a 30-year-old gay Jerusalemite, described the parade as an important reminder that a sizable gay community lives in the city and should be treated with respect.
“The parade is important in many ways,” said Sadan.
“It’s important that people remember that we want to live and prosper here. It’s also important that the gay community shows itself in the capital, especially at this time when there is a call for tolerance.”
Citing the rioting that engulfed the city following the murders of yeshiva students Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel – compounded by the revenge slaying of Muhammad Abu Khdeir – Sadan added that much work remains to achieve a truly pluralistic community.
“Jerusalem still suffers from a lack of tolerance,” he said wearily.
Noa Luzzati, an 18-year-old lesbian from Modi’in, echoed Sadan’s sentiments.
“Here people don’t accept gay people as they do in Tel Aviv,” she said. “One of the reasons is that the government is based here and many of the religious people are homophobic. So I don’t feel safe here.”
Meanwhile, Shira, a lesbian who made aliya from the US in 2001, said she intends to move to Tel Aviv in the coming months due to the capital’s treatment of the gay community.
“It’s kind of hard here because the religious community is not very open [to gay residents], and Tel Aviv is definitely more open, which is one of the reasons I’m moving there,” she said.
“If I have a girlfriend here, and am walking down the street with her, I don’t hold her hand or express affection because I’ve gotten negative comments in the past, which made me feel awkward.”
“At least no one was attacked during the parade this year,” she added.
Indeed, according to a police spokesman, there were no incidents of violence during this year’s march.
Mideast Dispatch Archive
October 9, 2013
GULF STATES TO INTRODUCE MEDICAL TESTING ON TRAVELERS TO ‘DETECT’ GAY PEOPLE A medical test is being developed by Kuwait to ‘detect’ homosexuals and prevent them from entering Kuwait or any of the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), according to a Kuwaiti government official. GCC member countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – already outlaw homosexuality, but are toughening their controversial stance, according to Yousouf Mindkar, the director of public health at the Kuwaiti health ministry. He told the Kuwait newspaper Al Rai: “Health centres conduct the routine medical check to assess the health of the expatriates when they come into the GCC countries. However, we will take stricter measures that will help us detect gays who will be then barred from entering Kuwait or any of the GCC member states.” Earlier this month, the Omani newspaper The Week was suspended over an article that was deemed to be sympathetic to homosexuals, according to the BBC. It’s illegal to be gay in 78 countries, with lesbianism banned in 49. Five countries have the death penalty for gay people – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and Mauritania. Since 1979, Iran has executed more than 4,000 people charged with homosexual acts. A non-adult who engages in consensual sodomy is subject to a punishment of 74 lashes.
Gay in the Turkish Army
Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse
Orhan Kemal Cengiz
August 22, 2013
Gay rights activists carry a rainbow flag during a protest at Tunel Square in Istanbul,
June 23, 2013. One gay man’s experience with the Turkish military highlights
anew the need for legal protections for the rights of LGBT individuals in Turkey.
Anyone visiting Istanbul’s Taksim Square on June 30 might have been misled into thinking that homosexuals enjoy great freedoms in Turkey. On that day, tens of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals poured into the area from all corners of Turkey, forming a human sea for a pride march. Waving colorful banners, beating drums and chanting slogans, the exuberant crowd was, in fact, painting a pretty deceptive picture of the status of homosexuals in the country.
In Turkey, homosexuals are sometimes the victims of “honor killings” and face severe discrimination in their social and work lives. The treatment they endure betrays a massive social hypocrisy and deep-rooted homophobia. For instance, in Turkey’s entertainment sector, many homosexuals and transgender people enjoy huge popularity, but these same people would find it virtually impossible to get a job at any average workplace. That is, Turkish society is happy to see homosexuals as singers in nightclubs or as actors on TV, but has no tolerance for them in daily life.
The ambivalent treatment of homosexuals is not limited to social life, but extends also to the country’s institutions. The Turkish military, for instance, subjects homosexuals to unequivocal discrimination.
The Turkish military is the only member of NATO that regards homosexuality as a psychological disorder. It is impossible for a homosexual to become an army officer, and if he or she somehow managed to, homosexuality would nonethless be grounds for expulsion. When it comes to compulsory military service, conscripts who can prove their “situation” are issued certificates indicating that they are “unfit for military service” and exempt from the draft.
To secure an exemption, however, homosexuals are required to somehow “prove” their homosexuality in a humiliating process. Until recently, individuals requesting such an exemption were required to present the army with photographs showing them “having homosexual intercourse.” This outrageous demand for “visual” proof was the subject of a memorable article in the German magazine Der Spiegel, which wrote, tongue-in-cheek, that the Turkish military owned “the world’s largest porn collection.”
As lawmakers in Turkey debate how homosexual rights will figure in the new constitution, the bilingual Turkish-Armenian Agos on Aug. 19 published the story of a homosexual man who went to do his compulsory military service after failing to obtain an exemption. The story of the soldier, identified only as U.G., aptly demonstrates the climate homosexuals faces in the military and how their lives can be turned into a hell.
According to Agos, U.G. reveals he is a homosexual when he is called up to be drafted. The doctors who perform the “tests” on U.G. are not satisfied with the results and report that he is “fit for military service.” U.G. is then assigned to a military garrison in Erzincan, in eastern Turkey. It is best to convey from Agos what happened next:
The news reaches the garrison before the soldier has even made it to Erzincan. He goes to another military doctor. Despite being aware of the soldier’s situation, the doctor does not shy away from psychological harassment and asks him what kind of an illness he has. “I have no illness. I’m a homosexual. I shouldn’t be here,” U.G. says. The reply of the colonel-doctor reflects a deep-rooted mentality: “So, what’s wrong then? You’ve landed in a paradise here!”
U.G. is conscripted against his will, yet they do not want him to be around. They find it objectionable for him to sleep in the barracks, so they place him in a hospital. But for how long? A week later, he is sent back to the garrison. Instantly, he is appointed as a clerk so he is not seen too much. An endless routine of daily abuse — both verbal and physical — begins. His comrades in arms fight each other to stand behind him or close to him at the canteen line! When he goes to the garrison shop, he is shunned if other soldiers are around. But if he is there alone, advances are commonplace: “Come in, I’ll give you anything you like.”
A specialized sergeant makes amicable gestures. Every day, he brings U.G. newspapers, inquires after his well-being, and pats him on the back. U.G. thinks he has finally found someone who understands him. But then, after he has completed his military service, he gets a phone call from the sergeant: “I’ve been relocated to Edirne. It’s about time we meet.” He manages to get through boot camp without dropping any hints about his plight to family members who pay frequent visits. He makes his mother happy at the oath of enlistment ceremony and is then dispatched to a skilled unit in Cyprus for the remainder of his military service.
He keeps in mind the name of someone who, the “helpful’ sergeant said, is “the sole person [who can] resolve your situation.” He wants to go to that person in Cyprus, but that’s not easy since the man is a “pasha” [general]. After much trying, he finally gets access. But the “considerate” pasha “can’t allow anything like that” in his garrison and U.G. is hastily dispatched to Ankara. The military refuses to pay for his travel expenses, so he spends his last money on a cheap plane ticket. At the military hospital in Ankara, he spends a week with soldiers suffering from various illnesses. Then, without even appearing before the medical board, he is asked to sign the papers that grant him his freedom. His plight, however, is far from over.
To get around his family, he tinkers with the medical report. With the help of friends, masters of Photoshop, the “psycho-sexual disorder” becomes “ulcer.” The family, however, is alarmed: “Who in the world gets discharged for an ulcer!” They come to believe their son has cancer and is trying to hide it. To convince them, U.G. goes from doctor to doctor. One of them finally persuades the family that “stress-related stomach disorders are commonplace among conscripts” and the “cancer” idea is put to rest.
Agos reporter Ulas Gurpinar ends his article with this note: “Even though U.G.’s story belongs to a recent time, his mind tends to erase a lot. During the interview, he had difficulty recounting the process and recollecting dates, events, people and places. Despite all he has been through, he still says he ‘got off cheap.’”
U.G.’s story about the military is just a small episode in the arduous existence of homosexuals in Turkey. In every realm of life, they are openly ostracized. Despite such discrimination, however, Turkish law contains no provision to protect individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.
LGBT groups have expended a great deal of effort to have “sexual orientation” included in the constitution and other law as a protected status for which discrimination is prohibited. They thus far have failed to achieve any concrete results. Perhaps more extensive media coverage of their plight, like the story of U.G., will help lawmakers realize that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a grave breach of human rights.
Orhan Kemal Cengiz is a human rights lawyer, columnist and former president of the Human Rights Agenda Association, a Turkish NGO that works on human rights issues ranging from the prevention of torture to the rights of the mentally disabled. Since 2002, Cengiz has been the lawyer for the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches.
Secret freedom at Tel Aviv’s ‘Palestinian Queer Party’
Firmly in the closet at home, Palestinian gay pride flourishes once a month in an underground Israeli nightclub
By Michal Shmulovich
April 20, 2012
Chiseled, scantily clad men danced onstage. Strobe lights flashed as the bass echoed. The smell of cologne wafted through the air. There were kisses — one on the right cheek, one on the left — and friendly embraces everywhere.
It could have been any Tel Aviv club, really, except it wasn’t. It was a Friday night and I was at my first Palestinian gay dance party in south Tel Aviv.
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People greeted each other in Arabic: Kif inta? Shu ’jdid? The stereo wailed, inti ‘omri! — you are my life! — as the DJ played hit after hit by Egyptian and Lebanese pop stars Amr Diab, Nancy Ajram and Sherine. No Eyal Golan or Justin Timberlake here.
And there were drag queens, dressed to the nines in high heels and short skirts, with bows in their very long, very straightened hair.
This did not, however, stop them all from carousing together. One of the drag queens yelled at me to stop photographing — it could be dangerous for them if someone sees the pictures, I was told, because many of those at the party are still in the closet.
In fact, a few people I met did not want to tell me their names or where they were from, or any detail that could link them to the fact that they were at the party. Hence, the names of people interviewed for this article have been changed to protect their identities, and the photos carefully selected.
The party is an anonymous safe haven. And that’s why it’s such a hit.
The group alQaws organizes the Palestinian Queer Party — its name for these monthly events. According to its website, alQaws works to “promote sexual and gender diversity in Palestinian society” throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The monthly Arabic music extravaganza is meant to be a kind of free zone for Arab men and women to be gay — in their own culture, yet outside of society’s proscribed sexual and gender rules.
It’s inclusive, meaning fans of the community are welcome, and yet it’s discreet. It’s also a meet and greet and, for some, it may be their only outlet to gay culture in their otherwise straight lives.
Call it activism or pleasure seeking: The party celebrates both being Palestinian and being gay.
It started about 10 years ago, originally taking place in Jerusalem on weekday evenings, when some 40 or 50 Palestinian men from the area would gather. The organizers moved it to Tel Aviv about five years ago, and now hundreds show up each month. People travel from all over: Ramallah, East Jerusalem, small Arab villages in northern Israel, Yafo, everywhere. Those traveling from Ramallah have their own ways of getting into Israel – some of them with official permits, but most of them without. (For the purpose of this article, Israeli Palestinian-Arabs and Palestinians from the West Bank are grouped together — broadly, in terms of social culture — and not to achieve a political message.)
Call it activism or pleasure seeking: The party celebrates both being Palestinian and being gay.
Some West Bank Palestinians request visitor permits to enter Israel, but the documents don’t always materialize. Often they need an Israeli to act as sponsor and even that won’t guarantee entry. The unofficial channels are still preferred.
Abbud, a young Palestinian man from outside Ramallah, smiled when I asked him how he got to Tel Aviv. “Oh, we have our ways,” he said, hinting that it was not the first time he’d made the voyage. I asked him how he planned to get home at the end of the night. “Getting out is easier than getting in,” he replied.
When I asked him if he thinks people come from Gaza, he laughed and said it’s too dangerous, but added that they would probably like to. There have been rumors of over a hundred gay Palestinians from Gaza who have crossed into Israel to live, to avoid persecution for their homosexuality. However, the move remains dangerous.
Yet crossing borders, it seems, is a minor hurdle compared to the challenges of daily life “back home,” living as a gay man in patriarchal Arab society, where tradition and family honor abound.
Under the radar
My pocket-sized knowledge of Arabic came in handy at the party: I introduced myself to Tamer, a soft-spoken middle-aged Arab man with piercing eyes, near the bar. Thank goodness for him — he was like the party mayor, popular and knowledgeable.
The first person he introduced me to was Hamad, his boyfriend. Probably 20 years Tamer’s junior, Hamad hails from a village outside Nazareth, where Tamer is also from. Nowadays, they live together in south Tel Aviv. Hamad is the energetic type, muscular and wildly handsome. He pranced around with his fellow revelers, kissing this one, dancing with that one.
In between songs, I tried to ask Tamer more questions about his life, and how he came to attend this event. “We dance first, talk later,” he joked. It was loud and hard to talk, so I agreed. I decided to soak up the festive beat and enjoy the attention. As one of the only girls at the party, I was fussed over.
Anonymous fun in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)
On our way out, Tamer stopped me. “You’ll come over for dinner next week, habibti” – my love.
A few days later, I went to Tamer’s for a delicious home-cooked meal. We were sprawled out on the floor for this feast. In between mouthfuls of tabouleh and seasoned rice with lamb, he began telling me about himself — just one life of the hundreds who regularly attend the dance party — a life filled with surprises.
“I used to be married to a woman,” Tamer announced. “And I have two kids. Two beautiful boys!”
He seemed to anticipate my reaction, and answered in a tone that was half-joke and half-cover-up: “I like men and women,” he chuckled, as if to tell me he wasn’t always gay, per se, it’s just something that came to him later in life.
But there was more to his story. Even if Tamer really is bisexual, he did not have much of a choice: To stay in Nazareth, he had to get married – to a woman, of course.
“My kids don’t know I’m gay,” added Tamer. “Why would I tell them? It wouldn’t add anything to their lives – or to mine. I do as I please, I don’t answer to anyone. I want them to live normal lives and to have everything they need,” he said, referring both to his being gay and to the emotional hardships his sons faced when he and his former wife split up.
So, Tamer chose secret freedom — in impersonal Tel Aviv, where no one really knows him — and he can do as he pleases, most of the time.
Hamad later told me that his family thinks he lives with roommates in Tel Aviv so that he can find better work opportunities and save money. In fact, Hamad and Tamer work together at a Tel Aviv restaurant; Tamer is a cook and Hamad washes dishes. They live with two other gay Palestinian roommates.
“They have no idea,” Hamad laughed. Only one of the four roommates has come out to his family: Saadi, a shy young man from the Golan Heights.
Tamer later told me he took Saadi as a roommate because Saadi’s family asked him to leave when they found out he was gay. “He had nowhere else to go,” Tamer said. Now Saadi supports himself by working at a convenience store in central Tel Aviv. He told me that he still visits his family on weekends.
The roommates radiated the warmth and closeness of a family — which makes sense, because in a sea of contradiction, they are each other’s support and social conscience. They provide each other with a barometer for normalcy between mixed identities — heterosexual, homosexual, Palestinian, Israeli.
“In our world it’s still very hard to be gay,” said Tamer, “and men do a lot of things to hide it.” He told me, for example, about a famous imam who had solicited him for sex once. If a Palestinian is gay, in most cases, their families don’t know about it. It’s one of the best-kept secrets.
While in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf being gay is less frowned upon, in Palestinian society homosexuality is barely acknowledged. Talal, a young gay man from a prominent family in Ramallah, agreed to speak to me for this article. Talal, who is dating a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem, says that although they run in the same social circles, barely anyone knows they are “more than friends.”
While in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf being gay is less frowned upon, in Palestinian society homosexuality is barely acknowledged.
Checkpoints are one kind of barrier but Talal’s politically connected family is the more threatening obstacle. It would be a major blow to his brother’s high-ranking position in the Palestinian Authority, Talal said, if the community found out about Talal’s sexuality. And so, the young couple plan to move abroad for a while, they told me, hopefully to Europe, to try to “live in freedom.”
And if being gay in Palestinian society is tough for men, the stigma for a Palestinian lesbian woman is harsher. Talal explained that in traditional Palestinian society, women don’t go to clubs and they abstain from sex before marriage — unless they’re very progressive or break away from their families altogether.
“Some [lesbians] move to Ramallah,” Talal said. “But, come on, everyone knows each other here,” he added, pointing to the fact that trying to live a secret lifestyle is no small task.
Even at the Palestinian Queer Party, there were only a handful of women.
Marriage – but to a woman
I asked Saadi, who had just finished gushing about his new boyfriend, what he envisioned for himself. “Are you going to stay in Tel Aviv?”
“No,” he answered. He wants a family, he said. “When I get married, I’m going to tell my wife I’m gay… so that it’s fair,” he added.
I asked him what he meant. “No façades,” he explained.
He stressed that he wants his own children. Marriage, for him, will likely serve as a pretense — a tool — to enable him to garner social status.
Karim, the fourth roommate, an outgoing nursing student from Akko with excellent English, chimed in, saying that he intends to marry a woman as well.
He said he used to have girlfriends, and that maybe he’ll marry a girl who is also a lesbian so they can help each other. “I’m gay, but I don’t want a serious relationship with a man anyway!” he joked, making light of his single status.
“Plus, I like women,” added Karim. He’ll marry, he said, so long as he can have fun. Fun, in this case, being homosexual encounters. I asked him if he would sleep with a woman, and he said that he hadn’t yet, but that he would.
It wasn’t that he didn’t recognize that he was gay. He was different, for example, from some men I had met while traveling in India, who slept with men but didn’t identify themselves as gay. Those men seemed to stumble upon it by chance rather than choice — out of proximity to other men or desperation from not having been able to sleep with women.
With Karim, on the other hand, I couldn’t be sure that he would consider himself “gay” in the future. Like he said, he might just do gay things once in a while, but live as if he were straight.
Perhaps Karim’s liberation comes from him not having to, or rather, not being able to freely define himself as either straight or gay — at least not to the outside world, meaning his world, in Palestinian society. The secrecy gives him room to live one lifestyle and explore another — all under the radar.
And Tel Aviv, the anonymous city, provides him with the perfect backdrop.
Drag star’s got Jewish roots under that blonde hair
Recently anointed by RuPaul, Jinkx Monsoon — born Jerick Hoffer — discusses her Jewish influences and why she’d love to visit Israel
Rachel Solomon August 15, 2013
After five hit seasons, American reality TV competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race” recently crowned its first Jewish winner, 25-year-old Jerick Hoffer, a.k.a. Jinkx Monsoon. From the first episode, Hoffer proudly declared himself “Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Jewish drag queen,” and — despite his sleep disorder — tirelessly battled other contestants, week after week, for the title of “America’s next drag superstar.”
Since cable’s Logo channel broadcast his win in May, Hoffer has made a whirlwind of appearances as Monsoon, who he describes as “the hardest-working single mother in show business.”
Hoffer’s currently starring off-Broadway in New York in “The Vaudevillians,” in which he plays Kitty Witless, a 1920s/’30s entertainer flash-frozen by an Antarctic avalanche and recently revived. Originally intended as a one-night performance, the show has been a hit with both critics and audiences, getting extended last week for a second time, through Oct. 29 at Manhattan’s Laurie Beechman Theatre.
Hoffer met recently with The Times of Israel to talk about drag as an outlet for both his art and his Jewish identity.
Equally admired by audiences and critics, Hoffer recently extended his off-Broadway run for two months, but is already working on his next project. (Courtesy of Jerick Hoffer)
Equally praised by audiences and critics, Hoffer recently extended his off-Broadway show, but is already working on his next project. (Courtesy of Jerick Hoffer)
Who is Jinkx Monsoon, and how was she born?
The idea behind Jinkx is that she’s a single mother and failed actress. One time she went out to a gay bar with her son, who’s a gay adult, and started singing torch songs on the bar and became a hit. Now she’s every gay boy’s favorite cabaret act.
What’s your Jewish story?
I was raised Catholic primarily by my mom’s side of the family. But at 18, I found out there was an adoption in the family, and that I was of Russian Jewish descent on my mom’s side. After that, I started to look more into the philosophies and culture of Judaism. Then, as I re-examined “Jinkx” in art school and developed her backstory, it just kind of made sense that she’d be Jewish. She became a way for me to explore that part of my heritage.
What made you decide to label yourself “Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Jewish drag queen”?
Well, I wouldn’t have announced myself as “Seattle’s premiere narcoleptic Catholic drag queen” because there’s a culture with Catholicism that doesn’t relate to Jinkx. I feel Jinkx identifies with the Jewish culture, and it’s a label she’s worn in Seattle for a while now.
On the show, Jinkx was called a “comedy queen.” Does she identify with Jewish humor?
Yes. Sarah Silverman has always been a huge influence on my comedy. I think Jinkx likes being in the ranks with Joan Rivers and Sarah Silverman.
Any thoughts on why there are so many successful Jewish comedy acts?
I can’t speak for the Jewish population, but I attribute my sense of humor to the tragic moments of my life. The best way to overcome certain tragedies is to develop a thick skin and sense of humor about things. Of course, I am very politically conscious and careful about my comedy. But when I do push an envelope, it’s with a purpose.
What would Jinkx Monsoon’s bat mitzvah look like?
In Jinkx’s head, she’s the countess of a villa, so hers would have an extravagant monarchy theme where everyone gets announced. The dukes and the duchesses would arrive and pay homage to Countess Jinkx. Her throne would be in the middle of the room, and she could behead anyone she wanted.
Tell me about your current cabaret show, “The Vaudevillians,” and your role as Kitty Witless, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant.
It’s a nod to the fact that in the ’20s and ’30s, there was a huge influx of immigration [to the US] that greatly enhanced the performing arts. In the original iteration of [“The Vaudevillians”], Kitty is a Hungarian Jew, and [her husband, Dr. Dan von Dandy] assimilates her. So she used to have an accent, which she slips into when she’s angry, and she puts Jewish curses on her husband. The current iteration of the show cuts those parts out to keep things shorter. But Kitty still makes her circumcision joke.
Tel Aviv is widely recognized as a very LGBT-friendly city. Any thoughts on traveling to Israel in the future?
I have two really close friends who went on Birthright trips to Israel, and it was an amazing experience for both of them. I wouldn’t claim my Birthright trip; being raised Catholic and discovering my Jewish identity at 18, I have mixed emotions about that. If they booked me for a show in Tel Aviv, I’d be all for it. I’m open to any kind of enlightenment I would get from traveling to different countries and bringing back new thoughts to my audiences.
What’s next for you, after “The Vaudevillians”?
Richard Andriessen [my co-star] and I are working on “The Inevitable Album,” which has original songs, comedy parodies and some standards from the golden jazz era. In the fall, I’m touring Europe as Jinkx, and this winter, I’m doing “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” in Seattle. After that, I’ll just keep my mind open to different theater projects, which I love the most.
After your year as the reigning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner, how you do think you and Jinkx will have changed?
Both of us have already changed immensely. Just going through the show itself, I became “Jinkx 2.0.” Before, I was stubborn and wanted my character to be decidedly more disheveled and crazy-looking. To step up to the plate of “Drag Race” and win, I had to make Jinkx a little more glam and fully realized.
As for myself as an artist, I now believe I can do the things I’ve always wanted to do. When you want to be a working artist, you’re told that there’s a high chance you won’t be able to make a living off of it, or you’ll get frustrated, torn down or quit. But now, for the first time in my life, I feel it’s 100 percent feasible. That’s the most amazing gift this year has given me — the assurance that this is what I was meant to do and this is what I will be doing for the rest of my life.
The anti-Israel lesbian avenger
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Roberta P. Seid
August 1, 3013
Dr. Roberta Seid, an historian, is Education & Research Director of StandWithUs and teaches at the University of California, Irvine
Today, we are witnessing an odd phenomenon: some LGBT activists are jumping on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement bandwagon (BDS) though its goal is the demise of one of the world’s most progressive LGBT countries, the only gay-friendly country in the Middle East, and the world’s only Jewish nation—Israel. It’s one thing to advocate for Palestinian rights, but what would turn a Jewish, “hard core” radical lesbian into an anti-Zionist leader?
Meet Sarah Schulman, noted for her combativeness, lesbian and AIDS activism, 17 books, and for co-founding the “fire-eating” Lesbian Avengers, which other LGBT organizers criticized as “extremist.” In 2010, Sarah suddenly turned her wrath on Israel though she admits she had never paid any attention to the Jewish state before. The catalyst was an invitation to speak at a Tel Aviv University LGBT conference. When a friend objected to her violating the boycott of Israel, she responded, “Never heard of it.” She asked her political cohorts for information and was directed to BDS leaders, and went on a brief trip to Israel and the West Bank. That was her research on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—information from only one side.
Within a year, she was calling for BDS, indicting Israel, and calling for the end of the Jewish state. She praised the “one state solution” and glibly claimed that New York City is “the best place in the world for Jews and I think they should all move here, and forget about Israel.” She attempted to bridge the non-sequitur of her new found cause and gay issues in a convoluted New York Times op-ed that accused Israel of “pinkwashing,” that is, highlighting its progressive gay policies to distract attention from its alleged violation of Palestinian rights. In 2012, she described her journey to anti-Israel activism in her book “Israel/Palestine and the Queer International,” and in 2013 she organized an Israel-bashing conference on “homonationalism.”
New information clearly did not cause Schulman’s transformation. Though she is a professor at City University of New York (despite never earning any post-graduate degrees) her book has no reliable facts and context is systematically distorted. Schulman simply regurgitates anti-Israel propaganda. She frequently admits, in almost giggly tones, how little she knows, and even confesses that she had never looked at a map of Israel until after she had committed to BDS.
For example, Schulman claims that in 2010, Israel still had settlements in Gaza when in fact, all Jewish settlements and even cemeteries had been uprooted in 2005. She argues that Israel’s administration of the territories after 1967 was a “detriment” to the Palestinian economy when in fact Israel helped modernize the area and turn it into the 4th fastest growing economy in the world in the 1970’s and 1980’s. She doesn’t understand Zionism, writing that Herzl was right that Jews would never be safe in Europe, but faulting him for “missing” the fact that “Muslims would never be safe there either.” The obvious difference is that before the reestablishment of Israel, no Jewish-majority state existed where Jews could seek refuge. In contrast, the Ottoman Empire then ruled over vast Muslim territories, and today there are 22 Arab Muslim states. Schulman writes that “People never claim that Israel’s action does not violate international law. That’s a given.” The only given is that Schulman did not research the many legal scholars who disagree.
Schulman erases context. She ignores the long history of wars and terrorism against Israel, claiming that its security fears are “manufactured.” The Palestinian terrorism campaign of suicide bombing known as the 2nd Intifada which murdered over 1,100 Israelis and wounded over 8,000, and the over 13,000 rockets that Palestinians have fired from Gaza into Israel’s southern communities are not mentioned. Consequently, she can write that Israel “decided” to build the security barrier for no reason and that the only purpose of the checkpoints is to humiliate Palestinians—not to protect Israelis.
The real “washing” is by Schulman who consistently whitewashes those most guilty of violating progressive and LGBT principles. She whitewashes Hamas, claiming she can’t judge the group because all she knows “was fed to me on American television” though she could have looked at Hamas’ founding document and leaders’ statements which call for the murder of Jews, obliteration of Israel and establishment of an Islamist caliphate, and liberally quote from the anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” She justifies participating in demonstrations with Hamas supporters because, she explains, she had also participated in gay parades with Republicans and Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, equating these groups with an internationally designated terrorist organization notorious for its suicide bombing and rocket attacks on innocent civilians. She attributed her concerns about Hamas to her “prejudice.”
Schulman told one interviewer that she wrote the book “mostly for Jews” so they would overcome their own prejudices and stop supporting the Jewish state. But to convince audiences that their concerns are “prejudice,” she consistently distorts reality and becomes an apologist for people, policies and views that are diametrically opposed to the values that have propelled her life’s work. She denies the reality of Arab homophobia, writing that “I caught myself internalizing ridiculous false stereotypes that depict whites as more pro-gay than Arabs,” ignoring the homophobic government policies and societies that have inflicted so much suffering on gay Arabs. She praises two Palestinian lesbian groups, sliding over the fact that they have had to make their base in Israel, not the West Bank where they could not function. Exquisitely sensitive to anti-Semitism, she writes that her belief that Europeans and Christians were fundamentally anti-Semitic was constantly reaffirmed, but she turns a blind eye to the pervasive anti-Semitism in the Arab world. When questioned about the incompatibility of her feminist values and Palestinian subjugation of women and honor killings, this ardent feminist simply dodged the issue, answering, “right now, that’s not my job.” She should have answered, don’t bother me with facts that conflict with my propaganda campaign.
Nor is Schulman above peddling her own prejudices against Jews and Israelis. The Israeli cousins she met as a child were “arrogant” and “did not identify with other people;” when she visited Israel, a religious Jew tried to help her “in that awful way I remember from my childhood.”
Despite her progressive values, Schulman does not encourage open debate. She rejected several papers submitted for her “homonationalism” conference that challenged her views of Israel , such as one that argued Israel was promoting itself as gay friendly to increase tourism, not to hide its treatment of Palestinians.
What made Sarah turn on Israel? Perhaps, in part, it was a reaction to her own bitter family experiences. Her Jewish family kicked her out when they learned she is a lesbian. Perhaps, too, she realized that advances in gay rights do not mean the progressive agenda has been achieved. Or perhaps the very success of the LGBT movement drove her. As she admitted, LGBT people are increasingly accepted by mainstream society. Indeed, the whole concept of “homonationalism” is that gays who have been integrated now identify with the “racial and religious hegemony of their countries.” Sarah, who had devoted her life to LGBT, may have been in search of a new cause, one with the same energy and defiance, and one that would keep her relevant.
BDS and the anti-Israel movement are now the chic radical cause for some. Unfortunately, it is destructive, anti-Semitic, and the antithesis of progressive values. Many prominent LGBT leaders understand this. Perhaps one day Schulman will be among them.
Erdogan: Gays ‘contrary to Islam’
March 26, 2013
Speaking in the Netherlands, Turkish PM fiercely objected to Dutch lesbian couple adopting a nine-year-old Turkish boy.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: REUTERS/Stringer
BERLIN – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called homosexuality a “sexual preference” and said it conflicted with the “culture of Islam,” according to a report last week in the Turkish daily Hürriyet.
The remarks rapidly became the subject of criticism on Monday in a widely read European gay media outlet.
Speaking in the Netherlands on Thursday, Erdogan fiercely objected to a Dutch lesbian couple adopting a nine-year-old Turkish boy named Yunus.
“We should hand over Yunus to secure hands. If we say ‘a six-month child cannot make such a decision so it is the judiciary who decides,’ then this could lead to us to a big mistake,” he said in the presence of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
The Dutch leader said the adoption dispute was an internal domestic matter.
According to Hürriyet, Yunus is a Dutch citizen and “was adopted by the Hague-based couple when he was a baby, but his biological mother told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that she wanted him back.”
On Monday, the German language Queer.de – an online news site covering gay issues – stated that Turkey had long been criticized because its conservative government consciously allowed discrimination against homosexuals. The website wrote that the European committee for social rights had criticized Turkey’s government over the last few months for failing “to adequately protect people based on sexual orientation.”
According to Queer.de, the authorities removed Yunus as a young child from his violent family. However, his biological mother demanded on Turkish television as well that Yunus be returned to her. On the television station, which Erodgan’s stepson runs, the program accused the Netherlands of “child abuse.”
As a result of threats, the lesbian couple has gone into hiding.
Pro-Gay and Anti-Israel? ‘Pinkwashing’ to the Rescue
Cinnamon Stillwell and Reut R. Cohen
March 25, 2013
What’s a pro-gay, anti-Israel activist to do when faced with the fact that the Jewish state is the only nation in the Middle East in which not only is it illegal to discriminate against homosexuality, but where homosexuality is celebrated with an annual gay pride parade? To such activists, the answer is obvious: invent a bogus theory called “pinkwashing” that accuses Israel of touting gay rights in order to downplay its alleged oppression of the Palestinians.
The University of California, Los Angeles’s Center for Near Eastern Studies recently jumped into the fray with a lecture comically titled, “Pinkwashing: Gay Rights and Queer [sic] Indigeneities” (the term “indigeneities,” an invented piece of academic jargon, is derived from “indigenous”). In a sparsely attended presentation rife with post-colonialist rhetoric, Nada Elia, a professor of gender and global studies at Antioch University in Seattle and a member of the organizing committee of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), attempted to align her support for “Palestinian queer activism” with her devotion to all things anti-Israel.
Stating up front that she prefers to be called a “scholar-activist,” Elia wasted no time describing Israel as “a settler-colonial power that violates human rights” and therefore, “has an image problem.” Despite the multicultural and multi-religious nature of Israeli society, she maintained that “a Jewish state is an exclusive state,” and that:
As [Israel] persists in its desire to be a Jewish state, it can only indulge in image-fixing . . . to cover up for the crimes it is unrepentant for.
In order to achieve these nefarious goals, Elia claimed Israel, “uses ‘gay-friendly’ as a mask to distract from the reality.” Worse, she noted, referencing a quote from Wayne Firestone, the president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, “the Foreign Ministry [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs] is sending out the ‘cool, hip people’ to distract from the reality of war.” She lamented that this “propaganda” is only “fixing the image, not the policies.” Never mind that Israel truly is a bastion for “cool, hip people” in the region, as its thriving economy demonstrates; to tell the world as much is considered criminal.
Pointing to the efforts of the Israeli government, Israeli and American citizens, and the Brand Israel group, a volunteer coalition of marketing and communications executives, to draw attention to Israel’s vibrant society, Elia concluded, “This is where the gay market comes in.” Although Israel is by no means the only nation or entity to engage in “gay tourism” and “gay marketing,” she attributes sinister motives to an endeavor that, as she put it, presents Israel as “gay-friendly, unlike the homophobic Palestinians. Israel is civilized; Palestinians are barbaric, homophobic.” Perhaps she should ask gay Palestinians themselves, particularly those who have found acceptance and safety in Israel—limitations based on security concerns notwithstanding—just how “homophobic” their culture really is.
Elia referred to the experience of “queer Palestinians” on several occasions, but only to bash Israel:
Israel may be gay-friendly for tourists, citizens . . . but not for Palestinians. Israel is the greater purveyor of institutionalized violence regardless of sexuality. . . . The queer Palestinian community in Israel has long known that it is disenfranchised not because it’s gay, but because it’s Palestinian.
This claim conveniently omits the grisly details regarding the “institutionalized violence” and “disenfranchisement” meted out to gays in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including honor killings by and of family members, jail sentences for sodomy (which was decriminalized in Israel in 1987), abduction, torture, rape, and murder.
Tacitly acknowledging the danger to gay Palestinians accused of collaboration, Elia still blamed Israel:
A lot of queer Palestinians are suspected of being collaborators. There is some degree of truthfulness because Israel knows—every Palestinian is spied on somehow—if there is suspicion that a Palestinian is gay, they are arrested and then recruited. They threaten to ‘out them.’ This increases the homophobia. It’s aggravating the circumstances of gays in Palestine.
Anti-Israel activists have been plying this conspiratorial charge for years, but Menachem Landau, a veteran of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency quoted in a 2003 Reuters article, questioned the logic at hand: “Gays are already treated with suspicion in Palestinian society. So what good are they for covert work?” Moreover, Palestinian police have been known to torture gays into spying on other homosexuals, while Palestinian terrorists groups—much as they do with “dishonored” women—have tried to coerce them into carrying out suicide bombings.
Elia’s criticism of Israel even extended to gay rights, as she claimed that, “pinkwashing denies there is homophobia in Israel.” Yet she admitted, in a rare moment of lucidity, that “I don’t know any country where there is no homophobia.” She later described “pinkwashing” as a “twenty-first century manifestation of the Orientalist agenda” and, alluding to Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden, added:
Prior to that colonial powers pretended to save brown women from brown men. Now it’s a matter of saving the brown gays from, primarily, the brown men. It’s the burden of the white gay international.
Actually, it’s left-wing academics such as Elia who see the world in “brown and white” terms.
Beyond peddling the “pinkwashing” meme, Elia proffered a revisionist history aimed at delegitimizing Israel. She denied that, “coming out of the Holocaust [Jews] had to find a safe place,” and instead cited “European” and “imperial expansion” as the impetus for Israel’s founding as a “colonialist-settler movement.”
Claiming, against all evidence, that the “Zionist narrative” viewed the early Arab inhabitants of Palestine as a “subhuman people who shouldn’t exist,” Elia invoked the well-known phrase—originated by nineteenth century Christian writers—”a land without a people for a people without a land” to imply that the early Zionists set out to destroy a civilization. In fact, Jews and Arabs coexisted in the region, despite tensions, long before Israel’s founding and could have done so afterward had the Arabs accepted the offer of their own state in 1948, or some of the many offers spurned since.
Elia ascribed malevolence to Israel’s founding and repeated the thoroughly debunked anecdote about two rabbis who, following a fact-finding mission from Vienna to Palestine in the late nineteenth century, were said to have sent back a cable reading, “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” That the story has no basis in history was either unknown or disregarded, both by Elia and her audience, which judging by its behavior during the question and answer period was made up primarily of sycophants. It included two academic members of the USACBI “organizing collective” who share Elia’s anti-Israel views: Sondra Hale, professor emerita of anthropology and women’s studies at UCLA, and Sherna Berger Gluck, professor emerita of women’s studies and history at California State University, Long Beach. Elia was in her element.
No audience member asked an obvious question: In light of Israel’s purported “settler-colonialism” and “pinkwashing” and the discrimination gay Palestinians face in their own society, what are the alternatives? Had they done so, Elia might have elaborated on her utopian proposal, outlined in the lecture’s announcement, for “a queer state, which allows individual citizens to define themselves as they wish, without losing power, entitlement, or safety.” Given the reaction that a Jewish state has elicited in the region, one can only imagine how a “queer state” would be received. Yet Elia and her fellow travelers prefer a fictional “queer state” to an actual country where gays are welcomed—a sure sign that, for them, bigotry trumps reality.
Reut R. Cohen (www.reutrcohen.com), a journalist, researcher, and photographer, co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.