Center to combat LBGT abuse opens in TA

Center opens on 3 year anniversary of murder of 2 at gay youth center; operates helpline to field abuse complaints.

August 2, 2012 03:27
3 minute read.
Mourners gather around the grave of Nir Katz

mourners gather around the grave of Nir Katz 390. (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)

Three years to the day that a gunman killed two people and wounded 15 at a Tel Aviv center for gay youth, a center to fight abuse against the LGBT community began operating on Wednesday evening in the city.

Named after Nir Katz, the 26- year-old youth counselor who was murdered in the shooting at the Bar Noar center along with 16-year-old Liz Trubeshi, the new center will operate a helpline to field complaints of homophobic abuse, as part of an effort to compile statistics on hate crimes against Israel’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

Shai Doitsh, head of the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, said on Wednesday that the center will allow them to compile statistics on anti-LGBT violence to present to Israel Police by next summer.

Doitsh said the incidents on which information will be compiled will range from violent actions to verbal abuse such as a teacher who makes a comment to an LGBT student in school, a nurse who will not allow same-sex couples to be together in an emergency room and verbal abuse from police.

“Our goal is to gather all of this data together for the first time ever, and in August 2013 we will reveal what the community faces in Israel today,” Doitsh said. “Every governmental office in Israel, the army, the Education Ministry, the police, they all say there isn’t a problem with homophobia in Israel, and part of this is because we don’t have any statistics on it.”

When asked about whether the statistics could tarnish the image of Israel as an enlightened country in terms of its treatment of the LGBT community, Doitsh said, “What we present to the world is not a false picture; we are one of the most advanced countries in the world in regard to treatment of the community, in some ways even better than the USA. With this, it doesn’t mean we have to accept the situation here.”

He said he believes that the report the organization will submit in August 2013 will show that the situation in Israel is less severe than in most places in the world.

“But that doesn’t mean that we should hide the problems that we have here just like other places; that young [LGBT] people are thrown out of their homes into the street, or that students drop out of school because they aren’t accepted by society.”

Doitsh said the center, which will be open from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, will also provide counseling and legal advice. He added that the center opened with an NIS 400,000 annual budget, and has received no state funding.

He said that counselors will help those who call in to deal with problems faced by members of the LGBT community around the world, including “the difficult process of coming out of the closet, feeling that there is something wrong with you, that you’re alone, living in sin, and you ask yourself is this the life I’ll have? Will I be alone all my life?” He said the community deals with dozens of suicides each year, not only among teens but also of elderly Israelis, who in many cases suffer from isolation in old age.

He added that the situation in Israel has not been helped by anti-gay statements made recently by lawmakers such as Anastasia Michaeli (Yisrael Beytenu) and Uri Ariel (National Union), saying “words have power, and no MK can know how their words will be taken.”

On Saturday evening, a ceremony is scheduled for Meir Park next to the Tel Aviv LGBT center, to mark the three-year anniversary of the shooting.

Speakers will include Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who was tortured and murdered in a remote area outside Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998.

Shepard’s murder was a watershed event that inspired the US Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in October 2009.

No suspects have been charged in the Bar Noar shooting, though there have been reports of advancements in the case, the police have refused to comment on them.

Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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