This Pride, queer Jews are feeling the strain — and sometimes unsafe — over Israel
Jewish LGBTQ groups march at Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., June 8, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Rabbi Josh Maxey

By Andrew Lapin
June 18, 2024

(JTA) — After finding themselves on the receiving end of a socialist group’s “Naming and Shaming” campaign, two married Jewish organizers of a Cincinnati-area Pride group resigned from their roles last week over concerns for their personal safety.

“Individuals and Organizations have targeted our board members, including [with] threats of violence,” Cincinnati Pride said in an Instagram statement.

The incident — an apparent act of revenge after socialist groups were removed from a June 2 Pride event in northern Kentucky for distributing flyers calling Israel’s conduct in Gaza part of a “Final Solution” against Palestinians — was a prominent example of the tensions arising for LGBTQ Jews during Pride month, as the ongoing Israel-Hamas war continues to induce divisions in progressive spaces.

A growing opposition to Israel among queer activists, who increasingly view anti-Zionism as a cause for the LGBTQ community to align with, has created an uneasy dynamic for many Jews who also identify as LGBTQ. In the not-so-distant past, Pride organizers chiefly had to worry about being targeted by anti-LGBTQ groups. Now, queer activists have themselves disrupted or boycotted Pride parades; targeted Jewish and pro-Israel parade organizers on social media, and called for all “Zionists” to be expunged from Pride spaces.

While some activists express this as an extension of their desire to keep general nationalist and corporate sentiment away from queer spaces, others are specifically targeting Israel as unacceptable. Critics say this is creating an atmosphere of antisemitism or Israel-related “litmus tests” for queer Jews, caught between two marginalized identities whose communal politics are growing further apart.

“We’re now in a very, very serious moment when we need all hands on deck,” Ethan Felson, executive director of LGBTQ Jewish group A Wider Bridge, said earlier this month during a Pride-focused community briefing with the Jewish Federations of North America.

Comparing the spike in anti-Zionist sentiments at Pride to the recent wave of pro-Palestinian campus activism, Felson said such groups “want to take Pride away from all of us.”

Tensions in overlapping Jewish and LGBTQ spaces over Israel had been mounting long before Oct. 7. In 2019, the D.C. Dyke March, a left-wing LGBTQ group, temporarily banned Pride flags emblazoned with the Star of David saying that they were “nationalist symbols,” setting off a broader alarm among LGBTQ Jewish groups about whether they would still be welcomed in queer spaces. Last fall, an LGBTQ student group at Rice University cut ties with the local Hillel, citing its support for Israel, weeks before the Oct. 7 attack.

Such dynamics are now resurfacing during this year’s Pride, as a normally festive time for the LGBTQ community unfolds against the backdrop of a war that has galvanized much of the left in support for Palestinians. Some queer activists have embraced slogans like “No Pride In Genocide,” seen on signs held by activists who briefly interrupted Philly Pride. Similarly, this year’s New York City Dyke March scheduled for June 29 is centered on the theme “Dykes Against Genocide.” (Israel strenuously denies that it is committing genocide in Gaza.)

Even with increased tensions, Jews who attended several large Pride gatherings already this month, from Boston to Miami Beach, told JTA they passed without incident. In Washington, D.C., a viral video taken by LGBTQ Israeli actor and influencer Yuval David showed Capital Pride participants and parade-watchers booing him and other pro-Israel marchers. On the other hand, Rabbi Josh Maxey of Bet Mishpachah, a queer-inclusive Washington, D.C. synagogue, said that his own experience at the event was “really positive.”

A protester holds a sign condemning Israel for its war in Gaza during the Pride parade in Portland, Maine, June 15, 2024.
Photo: David Himbert/Hans Lucas via AFP/Getty Images

A collection of Jewish groups, including several congregations and the local federation and Jewish Community Relations Council, happened to be placed near each other in the parade. Maxey said they decided to form an impromptu unified Jewish “float,” with some flying Star of David-emblazoned Pride flags without incident.

“As we were passing the main announcing stage, the announcer greeted us [with] ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ and encouraged the entire crowd to say ‘Shabbat Shalom,’” Maxey recalled. “It was a really beautiful moment.”

Still, New York and San Francisco’s marches, which fall at the end of June, are drawing concern. SF Pride, to be held June 30, found itself briefly in hot water earlier this month after announcing that no Israeli floats would be participating. Following criticism from Jewish groups, SF Pride issued a follow-up statement to say that Jews and Israelis were welcome.

And earlier this month some LGBTQ groups called for a boycott of Queens Pride. Some who had planned to participate accused its Jewish organizer David Kilmnick of “pinkwashing genocide” after Kilmnick, who founded the Queens-based LGBT Network, accused LGBTQ groups in a JTA op-ed of hypocrisy for backing Hamas (“an organization that persecutes, tortures and kills LGBT people”) over Israel.

“We must not forget that Pride is a community-led movement against police brutality and violence, not a place for Zionists, cops, elected officials, and corporations to wash away their complicity in profiting off of Israel committing genocide in Gaza,” the Tibetan Equality Project, one of the boycotting groups, wrote in a statement. The group linked to an online explainer from the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace about “pinkwashing,” or the belief in some progressive circles that Israel highlights its LGBTQ inclusiveness to distract from its treatment of Palestinians — a common talking point for pro-Palestinian groups.

This kind of rhetoric is concerning to broader Jewish communal groups, even as some acknowledge they themselves have not always been there for LGBTQ Jewish individuals in the past. “At a time when our Jewish community wasn’t as accepting of LGBTQ identities, those individuals leaned on the broader LGBTQ community,” Nate Looney, JFNA’s director of community safety and belonging, said on the federation webinar. “And so post-Oct. 7, to be in a time period where that community starts to feel a little bit foreign, there’s some emotional strain that comes as a result of that.”

Speaking to JTA later, Looney described a shift in JFNA’s priorities around Pride. The first two years JFNA hosted its Pride webinar, the focus had primarily been on how Jewish communal groups could make themselves more accommodating of and respectful to LGBTQ Jews — a topic that remains relevant as some observant Jewish communities continue to exhibit hostility toward LGBTQ causes.

But this year, Looney said, he had spoken with “quite a few LGBTQ Jews” who “were questioning whether or not they would even want to attend Pride.” Such concerns led him to refocus the federations’ efforts on safety issues for Jews at Pride, and on communicating with both Pride organizers and local law enforcement on the best ways to keep Jews safe — a growing shared acknowledgement that Jewish communal groups and LGBTQ Jews are feeling more of a kinship post Oct. 7 than ever before.

“What I have seen is a little bit more ingathering of LGBTQ Jews within broader Jewish society. There’s more of an understanding that for LGBTQ Jews, our Jewish community is essential to us,” he said, a sentiment other LGBTQ Jews also expressed to JTA. “And at a time when Jews across the board are looking around and saying, ‘Who’s with us? Who’s supporting us?’, LGBTQ Jews are asking the same thing.”

For the organizers of Keshet, another LGBTQ Jewish organizing group, some Israel-related protests are to be expected at this year’s Pride.

“What Pride commemorates is a protest, and so Pride has always been a site of protest about lots of social issues,” Idit Klein, the group’s president and CEO, told JTA. “And a sociopolitical issue that is very central in many people’s lives right now relates to the war between Israel and Hamas.”

The dynamics have led Keshet in some directions that Klein said she never thought the community-building organization would go, including holding safety trainings and “talking points” for Jewish Pride representatives, and, alongside A Wider Bridge, issuing a list of actions for Pride organizers to take to protect Jews.

“Keshet has never prepped for Pride in the way that we prepped this year,” Klein said. “We never asked the question, ‘Will we, as Jews, be safe at Pride?’”

On the list, the Jewish groups pushed Pride organizers not to “gatekeep” Jewish presence at the events by only allowing Jews with anti-Zionist perspectives to attend. They also implored Pride event organizers to allow “displays of Jewish pride.” Still, Keshet noted in the guidelines, “We are asking our own marchers not to bring national flags (Israeli, Palestinian, American etc.) given the volatile climate, but we do support them in marching with signs that show pride in Jewish identity.”

Whether Pride can remain a safe space for Jews will depend, some say, on whether queer Jews can still take it upon themselves to have both their identities fully visible at Pride.

“We have to show up, and we cannot be afraid to show up as our true and authentic selves,” Maxey said. “That is the point of Pride, right?”

  • Post category:News
  • Post comments:0 Comments

Leave a Reply