Friday, April 30, 2010

MK Katz: Cancel 'gay pride meeting' at Knesset

In letter to Knesset Speaker Rivlin, National Union chairman says 'shocked' to receive invitation to event organized by Meretz MK Horowitz

National Union Chairman Yaakov Katz has asked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to cancel a gay pride conference organized by Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), which is scheduled to take place at the Knesset on June 1.

The meeting is expected to be attended by leaders of the homosexual and lesbian community in Israel, Knesset members, ministers and the family members of the victims of a shooting attack at a Tel Aviv GLBT club last August.

In a letter addressed to Rivlin, titled 'Protecting the Knesset's dignity", Katz wrote: "I was shocked and amazed to receive an email invitation from MK Horowitz to attend an event at the Knesset on the subject of 'pride day'.

"Alongside the strange name, which symbolizes the opposite of any normal ethical value a human being should aspire to, all the more so a Jew, the possibility that such a provocative event will be held in the house of Israel's lawmakers should concern every member of the Jewish culture.

"Our holy Torah, the Torah of life, sees the world's existence in its normal and healthy form as a supreme value. Our Torah referred to what this conference is meant to represent as an 'abomination'. Within a nation which is a source of inspiration, our role is to be the pillar of fire lighting the way for the rest of the world's nations, which are watching us and learning from us," Katz noted in his letter.

"We do not seek to impose a way of life on the individual, but it's unthinkable that the individual would impose his desires and way of life on everyone else and especially not on the general public's symbols."

Horowitz: Katz obsessed with gay community

It should be noted that Horowitz held a similar conference about a year ago, and that the Knesset speaker welcomed the initiative and even addressed the participants. Katz said he had not known about the event last year.

"Concepts which used to be holy and pure are wearing out, and there is a sense of confusion among young people influenced by a foreign culture… We must do the right thing and examines ways to encourage family values based on Israel's heritage.

Horowitz said in response, "The letter is disgusting. It should concern not only members of the gay community and their family members, but anyone who cares about Israel's existence as a democratic state. MK Katz and his friends from the extreme Right are leading an inciting campaign and seek to turn Israel into Iran.

"It is now clear that MK Katz, who is obsessed with the gay community, has learned nothing from the attempted murder at the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2005 and from the murder in 2009. The Knesset must face these words of defamation... and this is what will happen in the conference, which will take place in spite of the narrow-minded people."

Anti-Israel group could cost Toronto Gay Pride parade its funding

From Haaretz

The City of Toronto this month threatened to cut funding for its main gay pride event, following complaints by Canadian and Israeli gay rights activists who documented what they call acrimonious anti-Israel propaganda at the event.

Jewish gay rights activists from Toronto and Tel Aviv lauded the move, but the Toronto Jewish community's main body noted the city is yet to take any concrete action. Others, including prominent Canadian gays and pro-Palestinian campaigners, condemned the move as interference with free speech.

The municipality's general manager of culture, Mike Williams, told the Toronto Star this week that the city has received complaints following the use of the phrase "Israeli apartheid" at Pride Toronto. T-shirt slogans equating Israel to Nazi Germany were also reported, with some complaints coming from Israel.

He added the complaints pertained to the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid - or QuAIA - which may have violated the city's anti-discrimination policy in previous parades, and may do so again if allowed to participate this summer. This, he said, would have "very serious" repercussions for organizers.

"We have the right to disqualify [parade organizers] from future grants, so we certainly would look at that," he warned. In 2009, the city funded Pride Toronto to the tune of $175,000. Funding for 2010 has already been pledged, but the city may halt it in 2011.

Elle Flanders, the spokesperson for Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, commented that the T-shirts in question were not anti-Israel but rather anti-racist. ?There were no Nazi symbols?there were T-shirts that were worn by anti-racist activists with a NO to fascism sign (crossed out swastika) who marched with us, who have been marching in Pride for years,? said Flanders in an e-mail to Haaretz..

The decision by the city - which is among the world's gay-friendliest - came after repeated complaints by Martin Gladstone, a Toronto lawyer and gay rights activist, who made a film about QuAIA entitled "Reclaiming our Pride." In the film, activists at a Pride Tononto 2009 parade call Israel an "apartheid state" and one of them wears a T-shirt with a crossed-out swastika.

"How does demonizing Israel celebrate gay rights?" Gladstone said, adding: "It creates a hateful and exclusionary environment." Jonathan Danilowitz, a prominent, South Africa-born gay rights activist from Tel Aviv, praised the city's stand, which he defined as "going against hypocrisy."

Flanders, a Jewish filmmaker and artist who is also a PhD candidate in Toronto, rejected these accusations, adding that they were meant to "shut down the debate" and that she will "start a defamation suit against the next person who attempts to call us anti-Semitic."

Born in Montreal, Flanders, 44, said that she grew up in Israel with her parents before returning to Canada after her first year at Hebrew University. "Many of us in the group are Jews, many with long histories of Jewish activism and human rights work," she said.

Gladstone, the pro-Israel film maker, responded by saying that groups like Flanders' "always put the Jews in front to deflect the accusation."

Pro-Israel groups such as StandWithUs have in the past few years been mounting a concentrated effort to advertise Israel as a gay-friendly society in stark contradiction to its neighbors, where homosexuality is illegal and gays are often persecuted.

Flanders said that "when Israel flaunts its record on gay rights achievements, it does not excuse the occupation and/or other human rights abuses and war crimes.

Gay, Jewish, HIV-positive: Scott Fried speaks out

From Haaretz

Brooklyn-born Scott Fried was infected with HIV as a young man more than two decades ago and has devoted the last 18 years of his life to lecturing youngsters, primarily in the United States, about sex and relationship education.

A traditional Jew who attends a gay and lesbian synagogue in Manhattan, Fried had to live with the scourge of coming out as a homosexual and admitting he was HIV-positive at the same time.

The confession was difficult on both fronts, as "parents go into the closet when you come out" and he was forced to hide his HIV status to his extended family for many years.

But Fried has made it his mission to help youngsters, both those who have had to confront contracting HIV as well as those facing various other emotional struggles, who call on Fried's advice on a wide gamut of issues.

Fried, 46, says he prefers to tell the narrative of his life from his Jewish roots, because "when I'm talking to a Jewish audience I don't have to be apologetic when I speak about God."

He is the author of three acclaimed books geared toward teenagers, the latest entitled "A Private Midnight: A Teenager's Scrapbook of Secrets."

He describes the book as a "scrapbook and workbook of secrets for teens," essentially "10 questions I would have asked as a teenager: one is what miracles are we waiting for in order to establish ourselves? I answer it myself - my great uncle and aunt didn't make it to America before the Holocaust, and went through - and survived - Auschwitz."

"I would call it a communal anonymous voice for teens to share their deepest thoughts and feelings," says Fried. "I hope it can help parents and teachers crack the code of what it means to be a teen today."

Fried's own great uncle was on Schindler's list (Fischel Fried - number 624), a historical memory which seems to have served his own optimistic outlook. "When a teenager says 'I hate life', I say 'Look at their miracles'," he says.

When he began speaking to teens at schools, camps, synagogues and churches, Fried found he "related to them and that they opened up around me."

Thousands of teens have subsequently written and emailed him with their innermost thoughts as he "became their trusted adviser and friend."
Fried describes himself not as an AIDS activist, but as a sex and relationship activist - "empowering youngsters to make healthy choices."

"I'm healthy and still traveling all over the place in order to take up the challenge of educating youngsters about sexual health," he points out.

On Judaism

Fried says America's Orthodox community allows him "a place" in religion, as "they have a position that they don't want practicing homosexuals, but they know we exist."

"My culture is Friday night and a cup of Kiddush wine; I'm comfortable speaking under Jewish auspices because it gives me permission to talk about God, which I can't do in a university setting. But I can do so in a Jewish setting, in a non-apologetic way," he says.

Fried knows "a number of Orthodox Jews who have been infected [with HIV]" and says he has also been invited to a few Orthodox institutions - including once by NCSY [National Conference of Synagogue Youth] in Baltimore.

"However, most of the time it's Orthodox teenagers who approach me as part of a wider group such as a Jewish community centre or youth group."

Confronting HIV

Fried experienced a bombshell moment when he learned of his HIV status. "I got sick a few weeks after having unprotected sex in 1987 - an acute onset of symptoms. It was a flu-like thing," he says.

His initial test came back negative. "It takes three months for AIDS antibodies to come through. After six months I went for a test and it was positive: June 1, 1988:12.35, Wednesday afternoon. Sunny.

He pauses:

"I remember those details: 'Positive' ringing through my ears. The word trapped in my brain. I didn't hear a word that was said to me afterwards. I saw the back of my mother's head. My psyche wouldn't reveal a face as I imagined my father's words in my head saying - 'What have you done'."

Fried came out as a homosexual and revealed he was HIV-positive at the same time. "My family were supportive, but clandestine," he says. "Friends were supportive and worried."

At the time an off-Broadway dancer -"I never made it into Rent" - Fried remembers the show's director observing group support sessions and believes accounts used in the aforementioned musical come from what he said in those meetings.

He began his mission with the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education, before expanding his remit beyond New York.

Fried treated his condition solely through vitamins until three years ago, when he suddenly lost 14 pounds. He now takes three pharmaceutical drugs a day, as well as his course of 30 vitamins.

"I don't find belligerence, much more compassion and tolerance," says Fried on how people react to his condition. "The issue [of HIV] raises concern in the States. It's shocking the way HIV has been relegated as an issue since the mid-1990s; it's not talked about by people in the mainstream institutions, so people want as much info as they can get. As parents don't give advice on SRE to their kids they want it from me."


Fried spends most of his time lecturing in the U.S., a country he describes as having "a pretty miserable track record for teaching teens about comprehensive sexual heath".

He accepts that much of the debate about how to teach "sex education" concerns semantics.

"In America, we like to use the term 'comprehensive health education,' which would include both matters of sexuality and abstinence. I am not fond of the word compulsory as it has an unforgiving ring to it.

"Sex education should be offered, but not shoved down a teenager's throat," he add. "I do, however, believe that it's not solely the job of a school and teacher to deliver the information. It can be disseminated by a rabbi or priest, in a synagogue or church, extra-curricular after-school program, summer camp or volunteer mission."

"In this way, if and when compulsory sex education is removed from the schools due to political reasons, it won't have the same effect upon the teens as if the entire community was involved."

He is by no means a lone crusader, says Fried. "Others do what I do in America and people know about the epidemic. We had San Francisco in 1985 and Rent in 1988 - that was New York and my friends. "

And it's still the reality in 2010. "In the past seven months I?ve met four people who are newly infected, in their late 30s, all people who attended high school in the 80s, at the height of the epidemic."

Scott Fried is the author of three books: "A Private Midnight: A Teenager's Scrapbook of Secrets," "My Invisible Kingdom: Letters from the Secret Lives of Teens" and "If I Grow Up: Talking with Teens about AIDS, Love and Staying Alive."

LGBT community does Israeli PR in San Francisco

'Out in Israel' festival portrays gay, lesbian Israeli art in area generally considered pro-Palestinian

From Yntet

San Francisco's LGBT community has launched a PR campaign for Israel, in an effort to restore the state's image in one of the most pro-Palestinian areas in the US.

Until the end of April the Israeli Consulate, with help from Jewish LGBT organizations, will be holding a culture festival called 'Out in Israel', which features the best of Israel's gay and lesbian singers.

The festival, backed by the Foreign Ministry, has been receiving extensive media coverage as well as a number of very warm responses.

The festival exposes the San Franciscan public, generally wary of Israel, to its pluralistic and tolerant side. In a country with a "don't ask don't tell" policy, many are coming to appreciate Israelfor a policy in which one can ask and tell.

Israeli films are also being shown in the Castro District, generally recognized as LGBT territory, and one of the most influential suburbs in the US.

The halls generally remain full, and a dance event that took place on Saturday attracted hundreds. A small anti-Israeli rally was held before the Roxy Theater, but was immediately countered by a pro-Israel protest.

Among those appearing at the festival are singer Yael Deckelbaum and MK Einat Wilf, who took part in a panel on Zionism and gay pride. Gil Hovav held a cooking workshop, and Yossi Berg and Oded Graf's production, 'Four Men, Alice, Bach, and a Deer' was shown at the Herbst Theatre.

"It is only proper for the Israeli Consulate to try to expose proud Israeli culture in San Francisco, a politically influential area capable of appreciating such original and pioneering art," Consul Akiva Tor explained.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

IDF soldiers new attraction for gay tourists

From Ynet.

They are fit, tan, confident, and exude Israeli ruggedness that is hard to withstand. These qualities apparently make IDF soldiers one of the most sought-after tourist attractions for gay tourists.

In recent years, numerous and varied attempts have been made to market Israel as a country friendly to gay tourists. Two New York companies, Steele Travel and Lucas Entertainment, offer travel packages to Israel for the gay community.

Lucas Entertainment, a porn production company, recently played a winning card in the battle over tourists' wallets. In addition to sites popular to gay tourists to Israel, the company offers an attraction that many a gay tourist would not want to miss – a visit to an IDF base and a memento picture with a sexy soldier taken by a professional photographer.

While the IDF suffers from a particularly negative image in world media, Israeli soldiers themselves, it turns out, are a different story. At least, this is what Michael Lucas, a porn actor, producer and owner of Lucas Entertainment, believes.

"The Israeli photographer I work with knows a lot of hot soldiers. He has already photographed some of them. So we are going to get some of them together, and whoever in the group is interested can take a picture with them," assured Lucas on Thursday.

Lucas, who was born in Russia to a Jewish family and immigrated to the US when he was 25, often proclaims his love for Israel in interviews. Last year, he even arrived in Israel to shoot a porn film entitled "Men of Israel."

Now comes the next step. Lucas is marketing an organized, nine-day tour of Israel that will leave on May 26. For $2,800 (not including airfare), gay tourists can visit the sites in Israel as well as meet with soldiers. Thus far, 18 people have signed up for the trip.

"I donate to the Friends of the IDF in the US, and its more than acceptable for donors to tour bases when they come to Israel," explained Lucas. "I submitted a request, and we are working on organizing the visit. I want to bring the tourists to a military base so that they see Israelis are a peace-seeking people who aren't looking for war, but are just trying to protect themselves."

Friends of the IDF said in response that all donors are received on IDF bases.

Despite the Zionist message, Lucas makes certain to present the Israeli soldiers as a fantasy. On the website promoting the trip, muscular men are depicted wearing military pants. In another picture, Lucas is seen hugging a man as both of them are wearing IDF uniforms.

Lucas claimed that he is not organizing these trips merely for personal profit: "I don't see any problem with a group of gay tourists visiting an IDF base. I am doing what the State has not been smart enough to do – marketing the beautiful side of Israel to the world."