Israeli education system must protect its homosexual youth

Queer youth are vulnerable to damaging attacks that can lead to anxiety, depression and suicide, as both Israeli and worldwide research indicates.

July 3, 2013 21:35
2 minute read.
Pride flags being waved next to Israeli flags

Gay Pride flags 370. (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

The Knesset, Israel’s governing body, has introduced a crucial amendment to the Student Rights Law. On Sunday, June 26, 2013, a coalition led by Knesset member Dov Henin proposed to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the education system.

The Student Rights Law, originally drafted to ensure the rights of those in the education system, currently stipulates that it is a criminal offense to discriminate against a student on the basis of religion, socioeconomic background or political ideology.

Dov Henin’s coalition seeks to add sexual orientation and gender to the list of protected identities, citing figures that show the education system in Israel is rife with instances of heterosexism and transphobia.

The proposed bill addresses an important and difficult problem facing Israel. Queer youth find their identities condemned by a large part of Israeli society. Here, an MK can openly assert that people are homosexual because they were abused as children. The top rated Israeli reality show Big Brother features a violent contestant who recently aimed venomous anti-lesbian comments at another contestant.

Currently, the Israeli queer community is mourning the loss of two of its members to a hate crime in Tel Aviv.

The effect of this hatred is immediate and unavoidable.

Queer youth are vulnerable to damaging attacks that can lead to anxiety, depression and suicide, as both Israeli and worldwide research indicates. An Israeli study reveals that half of queer youths are exposed to anti-queer verbal violence, a quarter have been sexually harassed at school, and 10 percent subjected to physical attacks. Additionally, many youth report that teachers do not condemn verbal violence and slurs, and a quarter of youths have had homophobic and transphobic remarks hurled at them by teachers themselves.

The proposed amendment is crucial to empowering queer youth. It ensures that schools are legally obligated to disown the warped messages about gender identity and sexual orientation that are imparted to youth via society and the media. It promotes the values of respect, tolerance and human dignity in the realm of education. Significantly, this bill will affect all youth in the education system, including those who are often relegated to the periphery in the queer community.

In recent years, privileged members of the queer community have introduced bills which address their own needs while ignoring and sometimes trampling the interests of disempowered subpopulations within our community.

Powers in the Knesset prevent members from supporting the queer community fully, and members often carefully choose which measures to support. We fear that MKs would be more inclined to vote for heavily promoted bills like same-sex marriage that would mark them as progressive and socially just, while ignoring the more marginal, highly localized and less glamorous bill proposals.

Thus, it is absolutely necessary to support this amendment and to promote it vigorously.

This amendment means working toward the safety of queer youth in the education system. It means introducing children to the spirit of respect and human dignity from a younger age.

It means progress toward a safer, more just Israeli society.

On Wednesday, July 5, 2013, the proposal will be brought for a preliminary vote at the Knesset’s general assembly. We thus call on you to send letters to MKs, asking for their support for this important piece of legislation.

The author is an English major at Bryn Mawr College. She is working as a summer intern at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.

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