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Legal Fight Unfolds Over Remembering a Beloved Jerusalem Trans Activist

May Peleg Friedman

The Jerusalem LGBT community mourns the death by suicide of a pioneering transgender activist and business owner.


How to remember a beloved transgender activist in Jerusalem who died by suicide on the same night as the Paris attacks is now being fought over by her attorney and family members that never accepted her.

The well known nightclub entrepreneur, May Peleg Friedman, died by suicide on November 13 in Israel, reports The Keshet blog. The 31-year-old parent of three children and a former member of a religiously observant Jewish faith community, Peleg Friedman was the cofounder and former owner of Jerusalem's only queer nightclub, Mikveh, and the first transgender chairperson of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, a prominent local advocacy organization for Israeli LGBTQ equality.

On her Facebook page, she clarifies that her first name is May and her last name is Peleg Friedman. Her death came on the same evening as the Paris attacks.

Peleg Friedman's pioneering work came despite hardship. After she embraced her true self as a trans woman, her religious family shunned her, reportedly cutting off ties with her children, according to Keshet. She lived on the streets of Jerusalem, built up her life, started the nightclub, and fought to make Mikveh an affirming, welcoming space for those who shared her commitment to honest, open living.

In the wake of Peleg Friedman's passing, her family continues to resist her rights to self-determination. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency notes that Peleg Friedman's mother is a proponent of Haredi Judaism, a form of strictly observant Judaism that rejects core elements of modern secular culture.

Peleg Friedman's mother has fought efforts to cremate her daughter despite the fact that Peleg Friedman "filed a will with attorney Yossi Wolfson the day before her suicide stating her desire to be cremated," as the JTA says, relying on reports from Haaretz.

Peleg Friedman's will asks that a memorial be held among her friends and that her ashes be scattered at sea and under a tree that is to be planted in her memory. But her mother filed an injunction in a Jerusalem court, according to the JTA -- an injunction that misgendered her daughter, accused Peleg Friedman of suffering from a "mental crisis," and contested Peleg Friedman's will.

"Since I have no contact with my biological family and since I fear that after my death there will be those who [will] try to obstruct my final wish to be cremated, using various arguments, I ask you to represent me in court and be my voice," Peleg Friedman said in a letter to her attorney, as both JTA and Haartez report. She also paid the Aley Shalechet funeral home in advance for her cremation.

JTA reports that her attorney continues to fight for her rights, releasing a public statement that says the following: "Everyone in Israel has rights over their body. Just as her family could not request the court to prohibit May from tattooing her body, cutting her hair the way she wanted to or changing her sex, the family cannot interfere with her wishes regarding the disposal of her body. May acted with consideration and detailed logic. She knew who would object and what their reasons would be and she preempted this with her stated objections."

Peleg Friedman was known for her sharp mind, her caring disposition, and her nurturing demeanor among the many individuals for whom she created a safe social space. She studied sociology and communications at the Open University in Israel and, as her photographs on Facebook attest, she adored animals, teddy bears, and her children.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

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Cleis Abeni

Cleis (pronounced like "dice") is a former correspondent for The Advocate.
Cleis (pronounced like "dice") is a former correspondent for The Advocate.