The Pride Zone

Project's Field:Community
Project's Status: Active
Initiation Date: May 2020

“The Pride Zone” is a social, educational, and community initiative and project that supports the LGBT population in Mitzpe Ramon and its surroundings.

It was established in 2021 by the local gay community and operates as a sub-division of Keshet NGO.

Since its inception, the project has organized cultural and art events, established activities for both youth and adults, created and operated various professional support systems for the LGBTQ population in Mitzpe Ramon, and produced an annual pride and tolerance parade in town.

“The Pride Zone” was established to strengthen the local LGBTQ population and assist those who are denied access to public services due to intentional discrimination by Mitzpe-Ramon’s local council, to raise public awareness of the importance of the issue of equality and to change the existing reality in the town and its surroundings. The project closely cooperates with the relevant government ministries, the various community organizations, and opinion and policymakers in the Negev and Israel.

How did it all begin?

In 2021, campaigners in the Mitzpe Ramon’s gay community discovered that the local council had refused to accept a dedicated budget for the gay community from the Ministry of Education and Social Equality. The ministry had allocated funds for LGBTQ communities to municipal authorities nationwide. Moreover, Mitzpe Ramon’s local council also refused to use the budgets received from the Association for Community Centers and the Association for the LGBT in Israel allocated to carry out social-educational activities.

The campaigners who exposed the council’s refusal to organize any activities for or on behalf of the local LGBTQ community responded by staging a protest march against the council’s discriminatory behavior and to raise public awareness. They consequently turned to Keshet NGO for moral, organizational, and budgetary support. Together with Keshet, a crowdfunding campaign was launched to raise the funds to cover the costs of the Pride Parade.

A few days later, however, the head of the local council at the time, Roni Marom, published two public letters – one in his capacity as the local council’s head and one a titre personnel. In those letters, he argued and tried to claim that the gay community does not exist and echoed fundamentalist and homophobic messages in line with the ideology of the extremist “Noam” party. At the time, these party’s representatives were his coalition partners in the local council‘s plenum

The letters caused a public uproar in Israel and exacerbated the pace and rate of donations to Keshet’s crowdfunding campaign. Consequently, Mitzpe Ramon’s first Pride and Tolerance march was realized. The funds also helped fund Keshet’s activities for and in the LGBTQ community. By doing so, Keshet provided independent funding, as the local council was steadfast in its refusal to accept the financing of LGBTQ community activities from the Ministry for Social Equality.

The second pride parade in 2022

The road to equality is strewn with objections and harassment

In 2021, the first Pride and Tolerance Parade was forced to march on Route 40 outside town instead of through the main arteries of Mitzpe Ramon. In 2022, toward the second Pride and Tolerance Parade, the local police approved the route through town.

However, shortly after the parade producers received approval for the route, the Local Council head, Ronni Marom, Zvi Kostiner, the rabbi who heads the local High Yeshiva “Midbara ke-Eden,” and the head of the “Torah Nucleus” group turned to the local police.They threatened that members of the high yeshiva could be expected to turn violent violence against the marchers. They argued that they, as leaders, could not prevent this.

Consequently, in response to these threats, the police recanted and demanded that the route of the parade be diverted. Michal Rumi and Raz Gluzman, the parade’s organizers, decided to petition Israel’s High Court. They petitioned the court against the decision of the Israel Police with the support of the “Free Israel Association.” The petition was successful, and the Israel Police was ordered to fulfill its role and ensure the marchers’ safety along the approved route. The police ultimately ended up arresting a man who threatened to kill the organizers.

In the year 2022, the activists Shahar Braun-Cohen and Raz Gluzman held a protest rally against the words of Rabbi Kostiner published in the media in which he called to harm the gay community. The rally was held in collaboration with the Youth Society. It resulted in increased public awareness of the severity of the things that were published.

Kostiner later issued a public letter in which he claimed that the gay community does not exist, similar to Marom’s claims, and went on to claim that these are women who have not undergone treatments to change their sexual orientation, as hepublished the conversion “treatments” used in his yeshiva, which belongs to a group of yeshivot that supports these practices. Later, the people of the “Garin Torani” and the local council jointly produced an anti-LGBT event at the local community center,close to the publication of the book by Rabbi Tau, the president of a group of extremist yeshivot, in which he calls for an all-out war against the gay community.

In a survey issued by the local authority regarding the LGBTQ population in 2022, it emerged that 85 percent of the youth asked for information in the areas of sexuality and gender, as they too experienced large-scale insecurity in the domestic and public space, as described by the local LGBTQ community in the local council’s territory. In addition to withholding the Ministry of Social Equality’s funding budgets, it was discovered that the local council’s welfare and education department refused to address the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity in the school curriculums. In addition, the local council continued to allow for a discriminatory and offensive public attitude towards the gay community; until early 2024, no action was taken on the issue by the local council.

The local council and the end of discrimination

Close to the date of the third parade in 2023, following public pressure exerted through a public letter signed by over 150 leaders and opinion makers from all the communities in Mitzpe Ramon, we were informed that the local authority surrendered and signed with the Ministry of Social Equality to operate the project for the local gay community. Although the implementation of the plan has not yet started at the beginning of 2024, this is a tremendous achievement and another step toward changing the discriminatory policy and recognizing that until now, a local community has been treated discriminatorily in its own home.

“The Pride Zone” continues throughout the year to provide professional support, the production of events, and the holding of an annual Pride and Tolerance parade, which is a leading event for raising public awareness and restoring legitimacy to the local gay community as equals, and is a symbol of the resilience of discriminated minority populations, in the face of continuous opposition and severe incitement on behalf of elected officials and public representatives.

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with a monthly or one-time donation

Meet the people of Keshet

Lecture for groups on environmental and social activism in Mitzpe Ramon and the Negev Highlands

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