by David Cohen

Last Tuesday, June 22, I was invited to attend the Major’s Gay Pride Reception at the Cultural Center here in Chicago, where many members of our community showed up (as they usually do every year) to celebrate PRIDE month. The biggest surprise that evening was Daily’s announcement that Israel is, for the first time ever, marching at The Chicago Gay Pride Parade on Sunday June 27. I just stopped breathing; I just couldn’t believe the news. With tears in my eyes and mixed emotions, I was happy to hear the good news. As an Israeli-born and raised man, 35 years ago I made one of the biggest decision of my life–to leave the “Milk and Honey” homeland and to move to America, the land of “Gay freedom.” At least that’s what I though those days. Well, 35 years passed by and I’m still waiting for that “gay freedom” to happen…

The next day, while reading my emails, I came across one from Renie, the press officer at the Israeli Consulate to the Midwest. Her message confirmed the news I heard the night before: Israel is joining the parade and Pride Fest. Israel is “Out & Proud

I moved to the USA because I thought America was more advanced than my home country of Israel. But, oh boy, was I wrong. Israel today is one of the world’s most progressive countries in terms of equality for sexual minorities. In recent years, Israel has produced more progressive legislation and court decisions regarding sexual orientation and GLBT rights than many Western countries. Israel has an active gay community, and it is by far the most tolerant Middle Eastern country towards homosexuals.

Israel is recognized as a world leader in LGBT rights. Israeli law gives equal rights to gay couples in the areas of social security and inheritance, and recognizes gay marriages performed in countries where marriages are legal as valid ones. Since 1993, the Israeli Army has banned all forms of discrimination against soldiers and officers on the basis of their sexual orientation. The first openly gay member of the Israeli Parliament was elected in 2002.

All I can say today is I was wrong. What I can say is keep your eyes and ears open and learn from my old land, the land of “milk and honey,” from Israel the country of gold.

Happy Pride!