by Heather Cassell
The women are hot in gay old Tel Aviv and their party scene is even hotter.
Sheri Granite, 25, a photography student at Tel Aviv University, described the queer women’s scene as a “women’s paradise.”
“[The] best looking girls are here,” Sheri says.
Ten years ago, there was virtually no gay women’s scene when Alona Daum, a 37-year-old lesbian, who left Israel to live in New York. But six years later she returned to a dramatically different Israel. Today, a diverse queer women’s scene is flourishing with parties, bars and restaurants.
“Tel Aviv is in good competition with New York,” says Alona. “We do party a lot.”
Michal Enbari and her partner, Mor Halevi, both 28, agreed with Alona that Israel has the “best parties.”
Be’t Ha’Shoeva, a popular lesbian bar, throbbed with a mixture of American and European music spun by a DJ as women danced closely together in the small but chic space. The bar, which has gone the way many women’s bars have gone, is now out of business, but at the time it could have been any Western lesbian dive, down to being nearly smoke free (a designated smoking room was off to the left of the main entrance) as a way to draw American and European lesbian travelers.
“It is how Israel sells itself,” says one of the bar’s bartenders in between serving drinks to customers who packed the club for Tel Aviv’s Pride a few years ago. She was too busy to provide her name.
Popular lesbian-owned and -operated Juz and Loz is a bar and restaurant that reportedly always has a line out the door; it was closed when Girls That Roam attempted to see this legendary eatery.
One of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, Tel Aviv is often described as a bubble that attracts artists, commerce, and LGBTs to the garden city on the Mediterranean. Residents live openly, much like San Francisco, but without a designated gayborhood.
The pride is evident among the estimated 20,000 queer and straight participants as they marched through the center of the city cheering and dancing toward the Mediterranean where a large celebration filled the beach with rainbow flags June.
Israel has liberal policies toward same-sex couples, granting many of the same rights as their married straight counterparts, but the catch is none of the policies are codified into law, say LGBT rights leaders and activists. Many of the policies are simply court mandated and therefore can easily be taken away. An ultra-conservative faction in Israel has made attempts to roll back LGBT rights, according to Israeli LGBT leaders.
There are issues within Israel’s diverse LGBT community, especially sexism and marginalization of bisexual, genderqueer and LGBT Arab and Palestinian communities. The transgender and bisexual communities are small but are becoming more vocal.
Just beneath Tel Aviv’s glittering surface butch/femme and genderqueer life is bustling with political activity and roaming parties that remain underground but nonetheless just as vibrant as Tel Aviv’s glossy gay and lesbian mainstream.
“The gay community is not a united voice,” says Anat Nir, a partner in LesBizNess, a collective of lesbians that produce events from the lesbian film festival to the after-Pride women’s party, which drew 830 women who danced the night away under the stars June 14.
But Anat, a community leader, pointed out the absence of many LGBT voices, including transgender and Arab Palestinian gays and lesbians, within the community.
She is often one of the few lesbian voices heard in the crowd of gay men’s and straight male voices.
Queer Women In The Movement
“There are not enough women in power that are out and that’s a problem here,” says Alona, echoing many queer women’s observations about the male-dominated Israeli society.
Sarit Michaeli, a 40-year-old lesbian who works for a human rights organization, agrees with Alona and other queer women about their disempowerment.
“Lesbians are central to the LGBT movement,” says Sarit.
Gay men serve in the Knesset: Uzi Even, sworn in 2001, and Nitzan Horowitz, sworn in 2009.
In spite of the deeply dividing issues within the community, many queer women expressed a profound passionate love for Israel and their LGBT community.
“There are a lot of issues in Israel, but we love Israel,” says Michal while holding her girlfriend, Mor, with pride. “It is our country and we will never go anywhere else.”
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Originally published in the Bay Area Reporter.