MONTREAL — Twelve leaders of Quebec’s LGBTQ community are heading to Israel to take part in the Tel Aviv Pride Parade and events connected to the 40th anniversary of Aguda, the national LGBTQ association.
The June 6-14 trip is the first tailored specifically to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and queer community in Canada sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
The carefully selected group includes both those prominent in LGBTQ organizations and others with a public profile who belong to that community.
The participants, all younger francophones who have never been to Israel before, were chosen because of their openness to learn about an Israel not often portrayed in the media and bring the message back to Quebec that the country is exceptionally progressive when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
The group will be led by Carlos Godoy, president of Ga’ava, a Montreal Jewish LGBTQ organization, and Myriam Azogui-Halbwax, CIJA’s associate director of community and university relations.
“This mission, like all CIJA missions, aims to let participants see for themselves the realities of Israel across the spectrum,” said Azogui-Halbwax.
“We encourage them to build their own opinions and not rely on what the media reports. This particular mission is a great opportunity to highlight the diversity of Israel and the fact that it is the only democracy in the Middle East where gays are not persecuted.”
The group includes Martine Roy, president of the Fondation Emergence, an LGBTQ support and advocacy organization; actor and director André-Marie Coudou; Simon Rioux, president of the Groupe gai de l’Université Laval; television personality Pierre-Olivier Beaudoin; TV producer Mathieu Lalancette; and Olivier Poulin, a journalist for Fugues, a monthly magazine aimed at gays and lesbians with a circulation of 40,000.
Others include a female Montreal police officer, a well-known restaurant and bar owner, and a playwright.
The Tel Aviv Pride Parade is one of the biggest in the world, drawing many participants from abroad. This year, because of Aguda’s milestone, even more people are expected to arrive for a week of festivities that include an international conference from June 9 to 11 and a big concert at Bloomfield Stadium.
The CIJA group will officially represent Quebec at the conference’s opening gala.
The Quebecers are scheduled to meet with Israeli LGBTQ leaders, as well as Israelis from that community who hold positions in the military, the foreign service, academia and the media.
“The group will see that you can be gay and a colonel in the IDF or a TV personality or an ambassador, and that that is completely normal in Israel,” said Godoy, a public and government relations specialist. “We expect to meet the former host of Israel’s version of the reality TV show Big Brother.”
Although he heads Ga’ava (Hebrew for pride), Godoy is not Jewish. He’s Catholic, in fact, the son of a Latin American father and a French-Canadian mother.
In 2006, he was among 26 young influential Quebecers invited by CIJA on a trip to Israel. He was then vice-chair of the Quebec Gay Chamber of Commerce, as well as active in general youth and political affairs. In 2009, he was invited to join Ga’ava’s board – the first non-Jew so honoured – and soon after became chair and president.
Ga’ava is equally open to “allies” of the Jewish LGBTQ community, he points out. CIJA, with Ga’ava’s connections, has forged links with the Quebec LGBTQ community over the past few years and has supported Ga’ava’s participation in Montreal’s annual Pride Parade in August.
Fostering allies is a prime aim of the upcoming trip in the defence of Israel and in combating anti-Semitism, Godoy said.
However, he adds, “this is not like going to North Korea. They are not going to be constrained. There will be lots of free time for them to talk to ordinary Israelis on the street and make up their own minds.”
Critics’ charge that this is all “pinkwashing,” an attempt by Israel to play up its liberal attitude to homosexuality to detract from the conflict with the Palestinians, but the claim is quickly dismissed by Godoy.
“That’s an easy smear… Pinkwashing would only be true if equality for gays and lesbians in Israel was a sham, a marketing ploy,” he said.
“The reality is that it is not… It can’t be denied that Israel values democracy and human rights.”
He adds: “I challenge anyone to say that such a parade or conference could be held in Ramallah or Gaza City or Damascus, or that two guys could hold hands on the street there.”
Said Martine Roy: “This is an opportunity to see what is going on in Tel Aviv and to become aware of the intellectual capital accumulated over 40 years concerning LGBTQ pride and the fight against homophobia and transphobia.”
The Quebecers are leaving just as the results of a survey of 115,000 gay men in 127 countries have been released. Israel emerges as the seventh-best place in the world for gays in this study, which was undertaken by the dating service Planet Romeo and Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg University at Mainz.