Israel’s major city Tel Aviv is renowned as an LGBT friendly destination, with a legendary Pride festival and famed gay-friendly nightlife. But Tel Aviv said a final goodbye to its last gay bar this week – leaving the city with no dedicated gay destinations.
Evita, which was opened in 2004, hosted a final party Saturday before closing its doors for good.
Hundreds attended the goodbye party, and on the bar’s Facebook page users left affectionate reviews of the venue. “Probably the last queer place in Israel that has the old gay feeling”, one man wrote; “Beautiful people, gave me one of the best nights in my life”, another said.
But just as many commenters expressed annoyance at the price of the drinks in the bar.
38-year-old Shay Rokach, one of the founders of Evita, described the twelve year lifespan of the bar as “wild”. “This place has raised generations of people from the community… For many people Evita is the first place they went to, the first kiss, the first love and the place that accepted them without being judgmental,” he told Haaretz.
The decline of Evita follows a pattern that’s been seen globally as technology, trends and decreasing marginalisation has changed the LGBT community. Apps like Grindr mean people can easily meet others for hookups or relationships online, and straight and mixed venues have evolved to be more welcoming for people of all genders and sexualities. Omar Benjakob, a Haaretz editor, commented that “The city's last gay bar just shut down because every bar is now pretty much a gay bar”.
But the celebration of the LGBT community in Tel Aviv is more complicated than the rosy picture might suggest. Religious groups are in serious opposition to the celebration of diverse sexuality, especially in the holy city of Jerusalem. There, the annual Pride Parade requires tight security, and in 2015 an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man went on a stabbing spree at the event.
Some pro-Palestinian activists also accuse Israel of “pinkwashing” – using its favourable gay rights record to distract from abuses against Palestinians – including LGBT Palestinians.
In interviews, the bar’s managers were reluctant to share reasons for the its closing, aside from the end of the lease. But they promised that more would come from the team behind Evita.
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