Planned Jerusalem gay pride parade changed to stadium rally

WORLD DIGEST

November 10, 2006|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM -- After midnight at Shushan, the only gay bar in Jerusalem, Tallulah Bonnet, a local drag queen, was on stage, lip-synching another number before an enthusiastic crowd.

Spirits were high, but there was an undercurrent of apprehension after plans for a gay pride parade today set off violent street protests in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and raised fears that the marchers might be attacked.

"Who's afraid here?" an announcer asked from the stage. "Who's going to march even though they're afraid?" A cheer and a forest of hands went up in the darkened room.

There have been gay pride parades in Jerusalem in recent years, but this time the planned march triggered particularly fierce opposition from ultra-Orthodox Jews, who said the public display would defile the holy city and deeply offend its residents.

In a compromise reached yesterday, parade organizers agreed to hold a stadium rally rather than a procession through downtown streets that would have required a more extensive deployment of police.

Last year, an ultra-Orthodox assailant stabbed three participants in the gay pride parade as it wound through downtown Jerusalem.

Every night over the past week, youths and riot police have squared off on the streets of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

The protesters burned garbage bins, blocked roads with flaming barricades and pelted police with rocks.

There were also protests from Muslim clerics and from the Vatican, which in a statement issued Wednesday said that a gay parade in Jerusalem would "prove offensive to the great majority of Jews, Muslims and Christians, given the sacred character of the city."

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, said the event threatened coexistence among the city's ethnic and religious groups.

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