Sometime in the late 1970s / early ‘80s, someone at the Netherlands Embassy in Israel (perhaps the Cultural Attaché?) hosted a friendly dinner for several of the leaders of the then still-very-closeted local LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community. It was a gesture of outreach, with the Embassy’s approval, that surprised us all. The Attaché moved on, the community moved on and that special dinner was forgotten. Until now.
Fast forward to 2014. In January of that year Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai unveiled a memorial in Meir Park in memory of homosexuals persecuted and murdered by the World War II Nazis. Among those present was Germany’s ambassador to Israel. He gave a moving speech on behalf of the embassy, sharing the pain, and offering his country’s apology. That same year, the US ambassador to Israel hosted at least two events at the ambassadorial residence to honor LGBT community members and visiting US guests.
Ditto at the Swedish ambassador’s residence. Diplomatic LGBT recognition was snowballing. At each of those events (there were more, hosted by ambassadors and diplomats), there was a notable diplomatic presence, if not by other ambassadors, then by senior consular officials. LGBT issues were out of the Israeli diplomatic closet.
Last week, in cooperation with LGBTech, the movers and shakers in Israel’s highly successful technology and start-up industry, H.E. David Quarrey, British Ambassador to the State of Israel, hosted a reception at his official residence to honor the LGBT community and especially to recognize outstanding Israeli and British community members.
It was a scintillating affair; not because of the fashionistas and VIPs present, but because of the extremely “happy” atmosphere. (I can’t use “gay” here – last week was after all Gay Pride Week in Israel.)
The keynote speaker was Claire Harvey. Claire, a trained psychologist with a criminology, forensic and management background, is a graduate of Cambridge University. In 2008 an accident left her in a wheelchair for life. She lives with her partner Helen, and is a senior consultant at KPMG in London – one of the world’s biggest auditing/accounting companies. She is also the CEO of “Diversity Role Models”, a charity to end homo-, trans-, and biphobic bullying in schools.
She could have been “invisible” in today’s straight, macho world: she’s a woman, a lesbian, and she is in a wheelchair. Her story astounded us. Only two years after taking up sitting-volleyball, she became the British team captain at the 2012 Paralympic Games, and one of only two openly gay Paralympians. And she holds a position in a major company where being macho is de riguer.
Her inspiring message told of inclusion of all minorities, of overcoming her physical pain after the accident and the psychological pain of discrimination – and how important it is for “out” people to show others, particularly LGBT youth, that life really is imaginable. “We are all role models and our passion is contagious. With commitment and positive steps we can help make the ‘if only’ dreams of others come true. No child should ever feel ashamed or lost because of who they are”, she said. She also noted how LGBTech has become a “family” of support for all.
The applause was deafening.
In his brief address and welcome, LGBTech founder Shachar Grembeck reminded the guests how the organization had begun – picnics in the park for about 15 people – and how it has grown to encompass over 1500 members. “Our aims are professional networking, promoting diversity in the workplace and supporting the wider LGBT community”.
Welcoming the assembled guests to the event, Ambassador Quarrey also introduced his spouse, Aldo Oliver Henriquez, and noted that that same evening was their eighth “together” anniversary. Mazal Tov!
The first week of June was officially designated as Pride Week in Israel, culminating with the 200-thousand-something pride parade on Friday. For the first time, one of the parade floats was sponsored by an embassy; the British ambassador and his partner were there to wave to the ecstatic crowd. The USA Embassy, on the parade route, was adorned with two giant rainbow flags. Both embassies had large contingents marching in the parade.
The Deputy Chief of Mission of the USA Embassy also hosted a reception at her residence last week for leaders and activists of the Israel LGBT community. Surprising the assembled guests, even the new US Ambassador to Israel made an appearance, much to everyone’s delight. The atmosphere was spirited and gay in every sense of the word.
Welcome to 2017, a year of inclusion.