Coronavirus in Israel: LGBT-phobic cases spike, 1 reported every 3 hours

"LGBTQphobia does not disappear or diminish, but takes on a different form and adapts itself to the new reality to which we have become accustomed in the past year."

LGBTQ flag (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
LGBTQ flag
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
LGBT-phobic cases were reported once every three hours in 2020 in Israel, as 2,696 new incidents of hate and violence against the LGBTQ+ community were reported amid the coronavirus outbreak, a 27% increase compared to 2019, according to an annual report by the Nir Katz Center of the Agudah – The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel.
The center found that reports of incidents in and near victims’ homes increased amid social distancing restrictions, but also increased in the education system, despite much of it operating virtually during the outbreak.
Some 28% of incidents reported in 2020 occurred amid family and 25% of incidents reported took place in the area near the victim's home – three times the 8% reported in 2019.
As the pandemic raised tensions in many families, 315 youth were forced to leave their homes due to harassment or prolonged abuse concerning their sexual orientation or gender identity, a 16% increase compared to 2019.
"LGBTQ-phobia does not disappear or diminish, but takes on a different form and adapts itself to the new reality to which we have become accustomed in the past year," warned the report, adding that public figures used the pandemic as incitement against the LGBTQ+ community, with some rabbis blaming the community for the pandemic.
The pandemic turned homes into “pressure cookers,” bringing LGBTQ-phobia into the home and neighborhood and reducing the safe spaces that may have existed before the outbreak.
IN TERMS of demographics, almost half (48%) of the incidents were reported by lesbian and bisexual women (a 60% increase), 27% were by gay and bisexual men and about 25% were by transgender people.
The Agudah additionally reported a 26% increase in the number of women who applied for emotional assistance and support.
About 58% of the reports were by people aged 19-30, some 22% were by those 18 and under and about 14% were by 31-40 year olds.
While a large portion of the incidents were reported in the Tel Aviv and Gush Dan area (43%), the percentage of reports in other sectors of the country rose in 2020, with 22% reported in northern Israel; 10% in Jerusalem, the Shfela area and West Bank; 10% in southern Israel; and about 7% in the Sharon region. Last year, 60% of the reports were from the Tel Aviv area.
The percentage of reports from northern Israel doubled in 2020 (22% compared to 11% in 2019) and the percentage of reports from the Sharon region more than doubled (7% compared to 3% in 2019).
THE REPORT stated that it is likely that as awareness of the LGBTQ+ community has grown over the years, so has opposition to their presence in different geographical areas, leading to a steady increase in LGBTQphobia.
Despite the closure of much of the education system and the switch to distance learning, about 7% of the reports were in educational frameworks, whether in person or virtually, compared to 5% in 2019.
Amid the pandemic, transgender members of the community reported harassment in or near their homes (23.5%), cyberbullying (19%) and transphobia, discrimination and difficulty to exercise rights in the health system (23.5%).
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, many transgender people (55%-60%) avoided receiving medical treatment and experienced difficulty getting a job. With the social distancing requirements and stay-at-home orders brought by the pandemic, these issues were further exacerbated, with the need for survival outweighing other needs, according to the report.
After three years of hard work by transgender organizations, the Health Ministry's Mental Health System has developed procedures to make it accessible to transgender people. The system establishes that transgenderism is not a mental disorder and that there is no justification to conduct conversion therapy to attempt to alter gender identity or sexual orientation. 
The procedures also require that patients be addressed with their chosen pronouns. An inter-ministerial team was also established to advance the transgender spectrum,  presenting recommendations for improving responses by government ministries.
IN ARAB-ISRAELI society, the Nir Katz Center found that while usually issues concerning the LGBTQ+ community are silenced in Arab society, the past year has brought a major change in the attitude of the Arab sector toward the issue. All the reports received by the Agudah from Arab LGBTQ+ people concerned non-acceptance and violence from immediate family, leading to emotional and economic distress which intensified during the coronavirus crisis.
A number of significant events occurred in the Arab-Israeli LGBTQ+ community in 2019-2020, including the stabbing attack at the Beit Dror shelter; the cooperation between the Agudah and the Tahina al-Erez Company; the historic first demonstration of the Queer-Palestinian community with the participation of MK Aida Toma Suleiman; and the divide in the Arab Joint List created by the Conversion Therapy Bill when the parties did not all vote the same.
Some 96 Arab youth arrived at shelters after being thrown out of their homes due to their identity, compared to 74 in 2019. Some 30% of those staying in shelters are from Arab society. The cases reported among Arab society were severe, according to the Agudah.
The Agudah stressed that the reported cases were likely “just the tip of the iceberg” with hundreds or even thousands of other cases likely remaining unreported.
In 2020, the Agudah established a hotline in Arabic and an adapted psychosocial response, and encouraged the formation of a strong LGBTQ+ Arab community and cooperation with Israel Police for effective and direct treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Arab society.
THE RELIGIOUS LGBTQ+ community also had to deal with a variety of incidents during 2020 as well as LGBTQphobia designed to undermine the community, including statements and incitement by senior rabbis against it, such as the "Rabbinical Forum for Religious Zionism" which convened and called for action against LGBTQ+ families, and the Noam Party, which opened a fund to subsidize conversion therapy. 
The Religious Education Administration in the Education Ministry also withdrew support for in-service training for teachers providing tools and knowledge about LGBTQ+ students. The storm surrounding a bill against conversion therapy that passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset also generated incitement against religious LGBTQ+ Jews.
The report stressed that there has been an increase in the number of reports of LGBTQphobic incidents every year since the Nir Katz Center was established about a decade ago.
"The ugly hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community has reached new heights this year as it gets legitimacy from the top officials in the country,” ," said Ohad Hezki, director-general of the Agudah. “Hatred kills and injures the bodies and minds of thousands of young men and women who just want to be who they are. And you – the hatred – destroy the lives of thousands of LGBTQ+ people who want to live in security and dignity.
"While the governments of Israel have abandoned the LGBTQ+ community in granting basic rights and safeguarding our lives and security, hatred is rampant and elected officials from the diverse political spectrum must stop it – and soon,” he said. “As a strong community, we will continue to fight LGBTQphobia until it is completely eradicated. We ask anyone who has experienced an incident of LGBTQphobia to contact us. Reporting can save lives."
AGUDAH CHAIRWOMAN Nurit Shein, along with Hezki, called on members of the LGBTQ+ community to report incidents of LGBTQphobia to help the organization monitor LGBTQphobia and push for change and progress. 
"We are here, on every front and in every arena. We will not be erased from the public and governmental space and we will continue to protect the personal security of us all for a stronger, tolerant, just and inclusive society," Hezki and Shein wrote.
"This year we, as a community have faced a global epidemic, a fragile political situation and an LGBTQphobia that comes both in its 'traditional' forms that we have come to know and deal with and in its new forms, which have been influenced by the geopolitical reality that has befallen us," the report said. 
"We will continue to work to be a home, a listening ear and a helping factor for every member of the proud community – everywhere, every age, tendency and self-determination – who should not face loneliness and ignorance alone.”
Incidents of LGBTQphobia can be reported to the Nir Katz Center on the Agudah's website. The Agudah's hotline "There's someone to talk to" operates from Sunday to Thursday between 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and can be contacted through WhatsApp at 058-620-5591 or by calling 03-620-5591.