A Personal Message For Gay Pride From Surat Knan

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Summer‘s arrived, and Pride season is in full swing. For London LGBT* Jews and friends, the annual Chavurah (this year it’s at West London Synagogue) and Pride March is something to get excited about. Well, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has started making plans – which events to go to, whom to meet up with, or which outfit to wear (rainbow kippah again?).

I guess some of us will opt this year for bridal dresses and wedding suits, and we’ll have hundreds of selfie tweets under a makeshift Pride flag chuppah. There’ll be lots of hugging, kissing, dancing and flirting, and by the end of it most of us will be more plastered than at their worst Bar Mitzvah party. Indeed, we have much to celebrate here in the UK. We can get hitched legally – even at the synagogue – we can find a hot date via HotSaltBeef and we have lots of other socials, groups and events to choose from. It’s all jolly. Yes, Pride somehow has become a big, fun fairground rave cum catwalk. Colourful ads all over the London Underground; everyone loves it. I had to ask myself: is it still relevant?

As part of the Rainbow Jews oral history project, our team interviewed many Jewish people, who took part in the first few Pride marches in the 1970s. Homosexuality in Britain was illegal until the late 1960s, and such events were set out as a political stance against homophobia. We’ve certainly come a long way here in Britain, and we can perhaps only grasp what injustice felt like when harking back into our own dark past and listening to the stories of our pioneers who have paved the way to equality today. Pride seems to have lost its purpose as political tool. Yet, in spite of everything, I believe Pride is still as important as ever. Here’s why :

1. It’s about friendship and support. Remember, for many Jews ‘coming out’ is still a daunting thing to do, and Pride may be one of the few opportunities to hook up with like-minded people. Or, some may prefer to stay hidden in the crowd and enjoy the joyful atmosphere. Letting everyone be themselves regardless should be one of the main rules of Pride.

2. It’s a reminder of what’s been done, and a push to keep working toward a better future. Official UK stats show that hate crime numbers are still high, and suicide and self-harming is sadly not unusual – especially among youths. Although we do not have any conclusive figures in our Jewish community, we all know someone who knows someone to whom something like this has happened; often with a bit more awareness and a better support net a bad outcome could have been prevented. There’s still more work to do.

3. True community can only exist when all who want to be included are able to join in. Whilst Lesbian and Gay Jews are being largely accepted and integrated into the mainstream (albeit not all strands of Judaism are as welcoming as they should be!), trans* Jews are still for the most part invisible and have been on the side lines of the Jewish queer movement. Bisexual Jews have also reported to the Rainbow Jews project that they feel ostracised, especially when having chosen to be in a heterosexual relationship. Let’s check in with ourselves at Pride what we have done to make others feel included.

4. Others can’t celebrate Pride safely and openly. Whilst Israel, Europe and North America have seen huge improvements when it comes to civil rights and equality, other countries such as Russia, Iran, Uganda and Nigeria, have in the past couple of years experienced huge setbacks when it comes to LGBT rights. Sweden marched last year ‘for those who can’t’. Pride has been and will always be political; Pride is about solidarity toward our friends and allies worldwide.

5. It’s important to have public backing. There’s something really special about seeing non-LGBT* allies and other supporters at Pride events. Some individuals such as parents of LGBT* Jews are often silent supporters all year round, and being present at Pride can mean the world to them and be empowering for others. Having straight/cisgender allies can help create awareness that LGBT* issues are in fact not just for LGBT* people themselves, but concern the whole community. We still lack public awareness that LGBT* issues are about Human Rights and justice. Celeb lobbying can also be an important tool for LGBT* campaigning.

Show your support by marching with us this year. After all, celebrating diversity can have an empowering effect and create ripples of love and peace across our beautiful planet.

Happy Pride 2014!

Surat Khan

The Asterix (*) linked to Trans* signifies that it is an umbrella term that refers to all identities within the gender identity spectrum.

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About Author

Contributing Editor - Surat Shaan Rathgeber Knan is a UK-based LGBT campaigner who has recently been described by one of the largest Jewish mainstream newspapers as belonging to a ‘new crop of (sometimes controversial) LGBT Jewish leaders making waves around the world’. Surat works for Liberal Judaism and runs the landmark initiative Rainbow Jews. Profile photo courtesy of Ajamu

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