Eitan Ginzburg, Israel’s First Openly Gay Mayor, Talks LGBTQ Issues in Israel

Eitan Ginzburg during a visit to the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia
Eitan Ginzburg (Eric Schucht)

At 26, Eitan Ginzburg was the youngest person ever elected to the city council of Ra’anana, a Tel Aviv suburb of about 80,000 people. At the time, he worried how people would accept him coming out as a gay man.

“When I was elected, there was fear that it would ruin my career. It was going to ruin my life,” Ginzburg said. “I didn’t know how to deal with that. But time has changed. It was a process for myself; it was a process for the community.”

In 2018, he was elected Ra’anana’s mayor, making him the first openly gay major in Israel’s history. And today, Ginzburg, 42, is a member of the Knesset.

On June 27, the Consulate General of Israel in New York arranged for Ginzburg to attend a community discussion at the Germantown Jewish Centre for Pride Month. Attendees used the opportunity to ask the guest of honor about LGBTQ life in Israel.

Ginzburg’s family immigrated to Israel from Argentina when he was 18 months old. At age 10, they moved to Ra’anana. He served in the Israel Defense Forces, reaching the rank of major by the time of his discharge. It was around that time, Ginzburg said, that he began to identify as gay. It took some time, but his family eventually accepted his sexuality.

“After the army, I understood that I’m gay. I understood myself as gay, but I did not accept myself as gay. But, it came afterwards,” Ginzburg said. “It was hard in the beginning, but like everything in life, you get used to it. And today [my parents] are accepting, they love us, they love me, they love my kids.”

After studying political science at Tel Aviv University, Ginzburg went on to serve on the Ra’anana city council for 15 years, six of them as deputy mayor. In March 2018, the council elected him as major after incumbent Ze’ev Bielski resigned to head the National Housing Authority. Ginzburg said he was well qualified, but some in the community weren’t so welcoming of their first gay mayor. This became apparent when Ginzburg ran for reelection.

“The gay issue was on the table. It was an issue. Some members of my community didn’t want me as mayor,” Ginzburg said. “They were afraid of me, afraid of my way of life, afraid that I would shift something, of a new structure of family, two moms, two dads and, on election day, some people were shouting at me, ‘There will not be a gay mayor [in] Ra’anana.”

Ginzburg lost his reelection bid in October, but was later elected to the Knesset with the Blue and While political alliance.

He’s one of a record-breaking five members of the LGBTQ community among the 120 elected lawmakers in the 21st Knesset. Previously, there were only two. In addition, Amir Ohana, an openly gay man, was appointed justice minister, a first for any Israeli government minister position.

While his time in office has been brief, Ginzburg has already had an impact.

As reported by Ynetnews, Ginzburg refused to a sign a form during orientation regarding common-law spouses. The politician has lived with his partner, Yotam, for 15 years, raising two children together, Itai and Emma, both born via a surrogate mother in Portland, Oregon. Ginzburg refused to sign the form because the document’s terminology referred to a family unit as a husband and a wife.

Officials agreed to change the term from “husband and wife” to “couple.”

Earlier in June, Ginzburg was invited to be a part of Ra’anana’s first ever Pride parade. An estimated 1,000 people participated, and city council member Eliyahu Alush resigned in protest of the march.

Regardless of how others felt, Ginzburg said being able to march with today’s youth in front of the synagogues that were not accepting of him as an openly gay member of the Knesset was “gorgeous.”

“To tell you the truth, yeah, Israel is very advanced in all the LGBTQ issues these days, but it wasn’t like that 20 years ago,” Ginzburg said. “It was so nice to understand that those young people are going to be our next leaders in Israel and, for them, the LGBTQ issue, it’s a nonissue. So it was really beautiful to see that, to understand that.”

One of Ginzburg’s goals is to guarantee the rights of LGBTQ people in the law and protect them from discrimination.

While Israel is the region’s most LGBTQ-friendly country, there are still things to work on in the field of marriage equality and gay adoption.

“We have a lot of achievements, but we still have a long way to go with legislation,” Ginzburg said. “In the end, I know me becoming mayor made a difference. For lots of youth and others, me being a mayor, the first to openly be gay, it was symbolic for them.”

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