Targeted youth

Thousands, gay and straight, gathered in Tel Aviv last week to remember the victims of the shooting attack at a gay center and show their acceptance of diversity.

By INBAL AHARONI
August 11, 2011 14:56
Ayala and Nir Katz: Nir was shot at age 26.

Ayala and Nir Katz: Nir was shot at age 26.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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It is two years almost to the day since a masked man walked into the nondescript white building that houses Israel’s LGBT Task Force offices in Tel Aviv.

Most people know the story by now – the gunman walked down to the basement floor, into the Bar Noar (Youth Bar), and began shooting indiscriminately. The attack left 26-year-old volunteer counselor Nir Katz and 16-year-old Liz Trubeshi dead, and several more wounded. The shooting remains unsolved.

This past Saturday, thousands of people from throughout the country – gay and straight alike – gathered in Tel Aviv’s Meir Park to remember the victims of the Bar Noar attack and show their acceptance of diversity. The event, titled “Love Has Many Colors, Hate Has Only One,” featured guests including musicians Yehuda Poliker and Adam; Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a taped message, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.

The Bar Noar shooting was an event that shook the Israeli LGBT community, leaving a mark on its psyche, but ultimately strengthening its roots.

“Before the shooting, there was a sense of openness, not necessarily everywhere, but in Tel Aviv,” explains Avner Dafni, executive director of Israel Gay Youth (IGY), an organization running leadership and outreach programs. “There was a feeling that being gay wasn’t much of an issue.

“But then the shooting happened and people were very stressed. The kids were afraid to come to activities, and we put a guard out. Every time you didn’t see him, the kids asked, ‘Where is the guard?’”

But, according to Dafni, although youth participation throughout the country dipped immediately after the shootings, it wasn’t long before it skyrocketed.



“It was surprising, overwhelming, to see a youth group in Netanya of 12 to 15 kids before the shooting go up to 40 kids when the group reopened in September 2009. We had so many kids coming out after the shooting, because they realized that tomorrow they could die, and they just couldn’t leave it inside.”

Coming out wasn’t the only thing in which the LGBT community experienced a rise. Irit Zviely-Efrat, the CEO of Hoshen, the educational body of the LGBT community, notes that there was an “immediate increase” in the desire to volunteer.

One of those who found himself even more motivated to get involved was 24-year-old Chen Langer. Prior to the shooting, he was pursuing a career as an actor and volunteering as a youth counselor at Bar Noar.

Langer was one of the counselors there the night of the attack, and he was shot in both legs. Doctors thought he might never walk again.

Today, Chen walks, though he lives with painkillers. But he says the shootings helped him find a new purpose in life.

“I realized that being an actor was not my goal – I realized that I wanted to make a change in the LGBT community.”

This is something Langer says he understood a week after the shootings, at the memorial rally held in Rabin Square.

“Every TV station and network wanted someone who was there at Bar Noar and would talk. And I decided I did not want to just say words from a script.”

Today Langer is a newly elected member of the board of the Israel LGBT Task Force.

Ayala Katz is another who found herself compelled to act. The mother of murdered counselor Nir Katz, she lost her first husband in a military training accident, when Nir was just seven.

“Before this happened, I didn’t know the gay community. I knew there were organizations, I knew my child, and his boyfriend, and the people who came home. Though there was a lot of anti, I didn’t realize how deep homophobia went.”

After the events at Bar Noar, Katz says she finally understood. In addition to her own experiences, she says, “It made evident a lot of the distress you didn’t see, of the kids and families. I felt I didn’t want to just sit at home.”

She joined Tehila, a nonprofit group offering support for families of LGBT persons, eventually serving as the group’s chairwoman.

Part of the problem, according to Katz, and also part of the motivation in homophobia, is “There are a lot of people who think if they say something against homophobia, it will be translated to mean that they’re supporting the broader LGBT community. [As for violence,] you can think whatever you want, but violence doesn’t support anything. It especially hurts your kids. And the bottom line is we are all human beings.”

With all this motivation within the community to be involved, Shaul Asael Ganon, Bar Noar’s manager, still finds himself worrying about its very existence.

It’s a weeknight, so Bar Noar is empty, the front door closed. Ganon sits in a small office off to the side, in front of the only air conditioner that is working. For the first time since the week after the murders, the following Saturday night – the usual Bar Noar activity night – the doors would not open.

Ganon says this is due to lack of funding. The doors will remain shut until money is found – to pay for airconditioner repairs, a security guard, and for the kids – Wi-Fi, cola, bread and cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches…

As the only socially oriented, no-drugs, no-drinking safe haven run for LGBT youth in Israel, Ganon says Bar Noar’s current situation is a disgrace. He calls on the LGBT community to make as much of an effort to assist financially as they do to volunteer.

“There are so many things to do, and too few people give donations.”

And while Ganon worries about Bar Noar shutting down, Zviely-Efrat is very concerned about something else: the prevailing attitude among straight youth toward those who are LGBT.

“The youth we come into contact with in the schools are less accepting than what I would have expected, and that worries me,” she says. “We get some very difficult questions. I would expect youth to be more open and understanding, and we see that the picture is not exactly that.”

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