By Josie Usow
I did not know what to expect when meeting participants on Rainbow Tours. I have found that each group greatly varies. Some are Birth Right Trips filled with young people excited for their free trip to Israel. Others are LGBTQ+ groups whose identities connect personally to Rainbow Tour’s topics. Others include adults trying to grasp Israel and understand its culture and people. Each one brings a different dynamic and perspective. The ways in which the groups differ are what help fulfill Rainbow Tour’s mission of building educational bridges between different communities and thus unpacking Israel’s and the queer community’s complexities.
Even in the most uninterested groups, I watch as, throughout the tour, they become competitive playing trivia and laugh as the participant volunteers act out a scene. Even if participants initially feel disinterested in Rainbow Tour’s topic of Queer life in Tel Aviv, I hope that they eventually reflect on the diversity of sexuality in this city and the queer experience in general. For some, even just witnessing someone secure and joyful in their Queer sexuality could help them accept themselves.
Through these tours I relish the opportunity to make small connections with people. I talked briefly to a Transgender Birth Right Staff leader while on a tour. She told me about the need for representation on trips to Israel. I spoke with queer adults aged 26 to 32 about their opportunity to be in Israel for Pride. Because of their age, they felt deeply appreciative to have the opportunity to celebrate Pride in Israel among other Queer Jewish people. One of my favorite moments was when a woman aged 27 told me that she liked going on Birth Right in her late 20s because the group “was past the point of trying to act cool and everyone could just be themselves.” On tours with Queer groups, some knowledgeable participants teach the group about Stonewall or American Queer activists. I also watch as their eyes light up learning about LGBTQ+ activism in Israel. These moments feel special as the Israeli tour guides learn from them and of course they learn Israeli Queer History as well. Thus, they both gain insight about the other’s history. We cannot know the true long-term positive effect of exposing people to new perspectives. However, it has been powerful to see people’s passion and curiosity in our short encounter.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States will have devastating impacts for the LGBTQ+ community. According to the National Library of Medicine, Queer women report higher rates of pregnancy from a “forced sexual encounter” than cis-gender straight women. Also, according to the British Medical Journal, trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse people also were already at higher risk to attempt ending a pregnancy on their own. Of course, the impacts of abortion being illegal will be felt even more by Queer people of color. Being informed about Queer people from other countries will help Americans understand and fight against their own systems of oppression. We hope that our tours inspire action to help the Queer community thrive everywhere. Standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community connects us.