A transgender woman was barred from praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem after the self-appointed modesty volunteers refused to let her into the women’s section on Monday.
Kay Long, a stylist in Tel Aviv who was crowned Israel’s top drag queen for three years from 2011 to 2013, said she visited the Western Wall with an out-of-town friend on Monday morning.
“When I got to the women’s section of the Western Wall, there was someone at the entrance and she didn’t allow me to enter [the women’s section],” Long told the Times of Israel. “I told her she can’t decide who is a woman and who isn’t. But I didn’t want to cause a scene, so I decided to leave. I went to the men’s area because that’s where my friend was, but they also yelled at me not to come near, that the woman’s section was on the other side.”
Long, who was born male, identifies as a woman and visited the Western Wall in a black dress. She is two meters (6’7”) tall “without heels,” she said.
Long said she realized only afterwards that the woman who barred her entry is a self-appointed “modesty volunteer” who is not associated with the Western Wall.
“The Western Wall is really for everyone, and it’s my right to go there,” said Long.
Elinor Sidi, the director of Jerusalem’s Open House, a community center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said Long’s experience was not unique.
“Gender separation at the Western Wall is harmful for transgender people. This is not the first story that we know of with transgender religious people that wanted to go to the Western Wall and pray and couldn’t,” said Sidi.
But she said that the Western Wall is one battle that will be very difficult for the GLBTQ community to fight.
“In Israel and definitely at the Western Wall the monopoly is completely Orthodox,” she said. “We see that with the Women of the Wall who are looking for egalitarianism and equality and who can’t pray there.”
A spokesperson for the rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, said he was unaware of the incident and therefore could not comment.
The “modesty police” who barred Long from entering the women’s section are not associated with the rabbi of the Western Wall or the administration of the site. They are a group of female volunteers who stand at the entrance to the women’s section to ensure that visitors are dressed sufficiently modestly according to their Orthodox standards.
“I didn’t go to the Western Wall to pray, I’m not a religious person and I don’t know the prayers,” said Long. “But I learned from a young age that anyone can go there and put a note in the Wall.”
“I’m not angry at religious people,” Long was quick to point out. “I understand what this event was about. I’ve gotten so many responses, emails and Facebook messages, and many are from religious women inviting me to the Western Wall to pray with them.”
Long said she wasn’t sure whether she would take them up on her offer.
Long also said she was unaware of the new egalitarian section built in part to accommodate Women of the Wall and Reform and Conservative groups, which is not divided by gender, but said she hasn’t decided where she will enter next time she visits. Regardless of what she chooses, she said she won’t allow anyone to tell her where she can or cannot enter. “My message is to stand up for yourself, don’t change for anyone, and don’t let anyone decide who you are for you,” she said.