With Tel Aviv Pride
fast becoming one of the most popular and talked-about LGBT (Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) events on the global calendar, it would
appear that Israelis have a lot to be proud about in terms of gay rights
and acceptance. Thousands will take the streets on Friday to celebrate,
waving flags and carry signs from the dozens of organizations that
actively support the LGBT community in Israel. However, there is a small
subsection of Israel's LGBT community that is finding it hard to get
its voice heard.
While the plight of religious Jews or Arab
minorities from the gay community has received widespread attention and
formal groups are in place to help them, the status of LGBT olim
(new immigrants) who make aliya from around the world is slightly more
ambiguous. Many gay olim may not encounter prejudice and are free to
live their lives as they choose, but still feel as if they are
underrepresented in an official capacity.
New oleh Roy Freeman
is on a mission to change the situation and after being in Israel for
just over a year has made significant progress on the issue. He talks to The Jerusalem Post
about his initiatives to help the LGBT oleh community and build formal
networks in order to help past, present and future olim.
Freeman, who was born in the UK but moved to Sydney in 2001, made aliya from there in April 2012. He was involved in Dayenu
Sydney's Jewish GLBT Community group, where he organized regular social
events, as well as the group's float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian
Mardi Gras Parade each March and a communal dinner for around 120 people
at Emanuel Synagogue on the eve of the Parade.
background in LGBT community projects, Freeman was ready to dive straight
in when he came to live in Israel. However he very quickly realized that
this would be impossible until he was completely fluent in Hebrew.
wanted to meet LGBT Israelis but, other than the very well-advertised
party scene and 'dating sites' like Atraf, there were no opportunities
for meeting people in a purely social way," he explains. "Building a
good network of friends can make the difference between a new oleh or olah
deciding to stay in Israel or going back home."
many straight olim also struggle to find their place in Israeli society,
but for LGBT olim there's "also the worry of coming out to people." For
many olim who were out and proud in their home countries, dealing with
issue of coming out to a whole new set of people in a new country can
cause anxiety. "You never know what reaction you're going to get," he
As with most communities, the LGBT community in Israeli is
strongly represented on Facebook with numerous pages and groups.
However, Hebrew is the main language for these groups. There are also a
number of pages and groups for new olim, many of which are in
English,but none of them focus on the LGBT community. "The LGBT oleh
community is unique," Freeman notes.
Realizing these problems, Freeman was quick to act. He started the Facebook group LGBT Olim
back in April, and it already has almost 300 followers. The idea behind
it is to bring together LGBT people who have made aliya, across the
entire country, either recently or a long time ago, he explains. It is a
platform to share information and experiences about aliya with the goal
of making the process easier for new olim. As well as this, members of
the group also share information about upcoming events that might
attract LGBT olim. LGBT English Speakers
is another social group that caters for members of the gay community,
which focuses mainly on people in and around Tel Aviv. It was started in
mid-2012 by two psychology students at Tel Aviv University as a social
and support group. Freeman explains that an organizing committee was
created by some of the more regularly attending members, including Arn
(surname witheld), as well as Dar Harel who organizes events for women.
The group now holds around three events each month and welcomes LGBT
English-speakers, whether they're olim, Israelis or visitors.
highlights the need for these groups by stressing that people need
support networks in their lives. "Moving to a new country is difficult,
more so when learning a new language is involved, so I believe it's
important for people to find a community in which they feel welcome and
safe," he says.
Tackling the notion that support groups such as
these may force the LGBT olim community further away from Israeli
society, Freeman responds by suggesting that "Israeli society isn't
purely about whether or not you speak Ivrit so having groups like ours
doesn't mean that we are not integrating." He says it's unrealistic for
Israelis to expect new olim to forget their heritage and simply fit in.
"Many new olimmove back home within the first three years of making
aliya, so groups like ours can help increase the success rate for new
With Gay Pride Month in full swing, the LGBT English
Speakers and LGBT olim groups have realized the need to cater for the
specific community that they represent. The LGBT English-speakers group
(ESG) will be at Gan Meir on the morning of the Tel Aviv Pride March.
The group will be sharing a stall with the Society for the Protection of Personal Rights for Gay Men, Lesbians and Bisexuals in Israe
known as the Agudah. Freeman says that members of the group manning the
stall will be able to tell people about the social aspects and the
events that they run.
Joining the dozens of the other
organizations that will be represented at the March itself, the ESG and
LGBT Olim groups will hold banners and call on anyone who identifies
with them to walk proudly and "know that they're in good company."
the first official event hosted by LGBT Olim, there will be a social
meeting in a gay-owned cafe after the March. "We are hoping that LGBT
olim from all over the country will be stopping by for some food, drink
and a chat," says Freeman.
Aside from holding events, Freeman
explains that the main aim of the LGBT Olim group is to bring people
together, whether in person or virtually. "There are LGBT new olim who
feel isolated - maybe because of their location or because they're not
completely out of the closet," explains Freeman. "The Facebook page
gives us a place to communicate with like-minded people and I am hoping
that many people will come from all over Israel to Pride to meet each
other and make connections."
He aims to build a community where
people feel comfortable and welcome. "Making aliya can be very difficult
and people need friendships and support networks."
and making connections is a big part of LGBT Olim, but Freeman has other
goals. He takes issue with the fact that while LGBT organizations in
Israel provide a high level of service for the community, the majority
of the material and communication is in Hebrew. On the other hand, he
highlights that the various organizations in place to help new
immigrants "haven't even considered that a proportion of the people they
help to make aliya are LGBT and so none of their services cater for our
Wasting no time, Freeman has already been in
contact with the Jewish Agency and has explained that their current
support offerings at best ignore or at worst exclude LGBT olim.
a Facebook page like LGBT Olim has helped them understand that there is
a demographic that they have missed and we're already in the process of
fixing this by designing a program that will provide information and
support specifically for LGBT new Olim," he proudly states.