„Here to stay!”
Yishai Schlissel should remain in prison for the rest of his life, says Tom Canning from Jerusalem
by Tom Canning
Canning is the Associate Director of the Jerusalem Open House, the LGBT community center of Jerusalem (MÄNNER-Archiv) and organizer of the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance.
Today, the Judges of Jerusalem will make their ruling for the second time on the case of Yishai Schlissel, the Ultra-Orthodox attacker at the 2015 Jerusalem Pride March. He was given a disgracefully short sentence of 10 years after stabbing three people in a knife attack at Jerusalem Pride in 2005, only to be free to attack the LGBT community of Jerusalem a second time a few weeks after his release just less than a year ago, on July 30th, 2015. In his second attack he was more effective than his first attempt, killing Shira Banki, an innocent 15 year old girl from Jerusalem while severely injuring 5 other marchers. In the wake, an entire community was left traumatized, still not able to comprehend the levels of hate against them and worried of future attacks.
The LGBT community in Israel will continue to be on edge, waiting for the next hate crime against us
Israel is not in the same place it was ten years ago. The justice system and our society are less tolerant of homophobic hate crimes. Yishai Schlissel should remain in prison for the rest of his life. But while he lives his life in prison, Shira is still dead. The LGBT community in Israel will continue to be on edge, waiting for the next hate crime against us. Like a broken record, another homophobe will go to prison, but the next attack still feels inevitable.
In Tel Aviv this summer, just some 50 kilometers from Jerusalem, we celebrated our freedoms and strength as a community in a huge display, as 200,000 participants marched in the Tel Aviv Pride Parade. Despite the short distance between them, the cities are starkly different. Jerusalem has more in common with the Vatican, in its uncompromising attitude towards change and progress. On the other hand, Tel Aviv is more like Berlin or San Francisco in its full embrace of the LGBT community.
But even those cities are not immune to hate. In 2009, Tel Aviv witnessed a horrific hate crime in the shooting at the LGBT Youth Club, a case that remains unsolved to this day. Similarly, the incomprehensible attack at the Pulse Club in Orlando was the latest in a wave of terror against LGBT people (MÄNNER-Archiv). Even countries like the United States, which recently lit up the White House in rainbow colors as it approved same-sex marriage and has elected leaders who repeat their commitment to LGBT equality, the community is not free from persecution.
Our community cannot rest without our safety assured
Marriage, parties and celebrating our sexuality are beautiful distractions, but what is all that worth if we are still the target of attacks and violence? We do not have the privilege to ignore the hatred that exists towards LGBT people. The Jerusalem LGBT community did not think a violent attack could happen again here. But in the year since the murder at our Pride March, I have realized the signs were obvious: from the hateful remarks by right-wing politicians to glares and whispers about the LGBT couple holding hands on a park bench, our community cannot rest without our safety assured.
Important advances towards acceptance
It is true we have made many important advances towards acceptance. Just last week, while I was looking for an apartment with a friend, an older religious man told us he did not believe it was a problem to rent his apartment to a gay couple, a stark contrast from the situation ten years ago. But as long as homophobia exists within even a small minority of society it can easily threaten LGBT people in a way that we feel on a regular basis here in Jerusalem.
We must remember the fragility of our comfortable lives
Homophobia runs deep in the veins of western society. Like anti-semitism, it might not be visible at all times. It might be careful in how it is expresses itself, but it can rear its ugly head and even become prevalent in certain circumstances. I often remind myself of the revolutionary LGBT community in Berlin during the 1920’s. While the community slowly gained cultural and legal acceptance and had a bright future ahead, a few years of Nazism overturned that progress. LGBT people in Germany were murdered in the Holocaust as if Magnus Hirschfeld never existed (MÄNNER-Archiv). Despite how visible we are and despite our political achievements, we do not have the privilege to lower our guard. We must remember the fragility of our comfortable lives. While some dangerous homophobes will go to prison, others remain free and willing to harm the members of our community.
We will march again in Jerusalem!
This notion is very clear to us today. From moments after the attack at Jerusalem Pride, it was clear to us. We might not be able to live with a complete sense of security, but we have no intention of going away. On July 21st, we will make that very clear. We will march again in Jerusalem, as we do every year, this time under the message ‘Here To Stay’ and in memory of Shira Banki. Marching with pride is not only our obligation, but the obligation of all LGBT communities around the world. Zichronam L’Vracha, may the memories of those who have lost their lives in our fight for freedom and equality be a blessing.