In March 2019, Israeli national Ms. Liana Ester Meirom Asif traveled to the U.S. for an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on “Human and Civil Rights for Marginalized Communities.” At the time, Ms. Meirom Asif was the International Funds and Resource Development Coordinator for IGY, Israel LGBTQ+ Youth. She has since taken on the role of Vice President, Resource Development and External Relations for IGY. Below, she reflects on her IVLP experience and what Pride means to her.
What have you been doing since your IVLP experience?
I have started new projects both at IGY, Israel’s LGBTQ+ youth organization, derived from our IVLP experience and in my personal life.
A memorable experience for me was our visit to Salt Lake City, Utah, which reminded me a bit of Jerusalem with its diverse population, cultures, religions, and LGBTQ+ life. To complement Jerusalem’s efforts to help garner more acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in religious communities, the IGY program has established two young adult groups—one for queer young people from the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community and the other for queer Arab young people in East Jerusalem.
Another IVLP inspiration resulted from visiting the Creative Visions Human Development Institute in Des Moines, Iowa. The CEO Ako Abdul-Samad inspired me to get in touch with rabbis and leaders of Jewish communities in Israel on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth. The outcome of these efforts led to the development of a conference that convened educators, social workers and professionals to explore the relationship between religion and queerness. IGY’s participants attended the conference to hear from key speakers such as Imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed and Rabbi Binyamin Lau.
My IVLP experience also showed me how crucial it is to create connections between activists and legislators in order to publicize cases in which queer people face discrimination or harm. While visiting the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, we learned that cases of inequality and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination have increased despite legislation. A similar example of this in Israel is a youth movement that aims to put an end to “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ+ minors. IGY participated in a lobbying effort this year that helped to pass the first reading in Israel’s parliament but has still not been approved. Our methods were very similar to those we learned in Washington, D.C. from the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBTQ+ lobby in Congress, which showed me the strength social organizations have in the fight for equality and advocating for their values in social and political arenas. The American LGBTQ+ community’s progress is certainly inspirational!
How has your IVLP experience impacted your work?
The society and democracy of the U.S. have inspired Israeli society, specifically its LGBTQ+ community. The Stonewall Riots, Harvey Milk, culture, music, influential figures, LGBTQ+ rights legislation, and more have been touchstones in American and international queer history, and are studied by IGY’s members, partners, and young participants.
The American Jewish community also provides us with inspiration in the way that it celebrates itself. I was able to see this illustrated beautifully in the temple we visited in Des Moines, where the congregation’s rabbi is a lesbian. This connection between queer identity, Jewish identity is a matter I deal with frequently in Israel.
I returned from the exchange convinced that we must unite the separate struggles within the LGBTQ+ community and among varying groups that make up Israeli society. Our meetings with social, political, and activist groups reinforced my sense that both Israel and the United States face a long road to reaching full equality, but there are people willing to dedicate everything they have in order to change their country and their society. If it were not for this IVLP trip, I would not have delved into the challenges facing American society and the inspirational stories of success I brought home with me.
I cannot forget the tour we took in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his strong bond with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the enormous solidarity between people and communities. I will also remember the meeting at Meridian International Center with Ruby of Casa Ruby, a home for LGBTQ+ youth. Nor can I forget the courage of the queer refugee youth who had come from Latin America on the caravan.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Israel, I remembered the conversations we had during the IVLP on the importance of solidarity and the strength of the LGBTQ+ community in helping even those who may hold prejudices or do not know a queer person. These recollections inspired some of the first actions by IGY to put together a team to deliver food to the needy, help elderly people with emerging online platforms, and join farmers in cultivating their land. All of this brought IGY’s volunteers closer to populations that generally do not come into contact with this community, as well as to help provide aid to activists who found themselves in need of food and medicine during the pandemic.
To this day, a figure who left the biggest impression on me during the trip was U.S. State Department liaison Alyce Hill, who escorted us through the entire trip. Alyce is a fascinating person whose presence left a mark on me.
What does Pride mean to you?
All of our lives are made up of moments of pride, big and small. When my son tells me so casually and without embarrassment that he has Mommy Yael and Mommy Liana, I feel pride. When I march with hundreds of IGY’s teenagers in the Jerusalem Pride March after a year and a half in a pandemic, I feel pride. When a Jewish teen and an Arab teen meet at an IGY seminar, I feel pride. When a transgender IGY participant writes a post about how important her IGY counselor was for her, I feel pride. And with each of these feelings of pride, I always remind myself that there are many more children and youth, queer and straight alike, from around the world who are still afraid, still persecuted, and still not free: even in these moments of joy, I remember.
Join the virtual IVLP and the Global Ties US network to discuss LGBTQI+ activism around the world.
📅: June 30th at 7PM ET