Pride in a Pandemic: The LGBTQ+ community adapts to coronavirus

While the LGBTQ+ community worked to adjust to the “new normal” of coronavirus, a number of challenges affected the entire community.

Picture of an online IGY activity during the coronavirus lockdown. The sticker at the bottom of the screen is of a detail in the work of Keith Haring. (photo credit: ISRAEL GAY YOUTH)
Picture of an online IGY activity during the coronavirus lockdown. The sticker at the bottom of the screen is of a detail in the work of Keith Haring.
(photo credit: ISRAEL GAY YOUTH)
As Pride Month begins in the shadow of coronavirus around the world, LGBTQ+ organizations in Israel are preparing to celebrate the month without the traditional pride parades and events and with the newfound challenges and opportunities created by the pandemic.
For Israel Gay Youth (IGY), the lockdown opened a number of new opportunities. As the youth organization switched from in-person meetings and activities to digital alternatives, tons of youth who had previously not joined the organization suddenly were asking to join, as the digital alternatives allowed them to join the organization without the complexities of having to physically participate.
“We were amazed ourselves that so many youths were not involved in our activities, but they do know about them,” Ofer Neuman, the CEO of IGY, told The Jerusalem Post. “They were just waiting for this digital platform because it doesn’t require telling their parents, arriving to the activity, everything involved in being an actual member in the physical activities which, a lot of times, requires confrontation with reality.”
For the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the lockdown meant moving their psychosocial services, such as social workers and psychotherapists, and youth and adult groups to online platforms as well, explained Interim Executive Director of the Open House, Alon Shachar, to the Post.
The Open Clinic, also run by the Open House, stayed open throughout the outbreak while following Health Ministry guidelines. The clinic provides treatment, consultations, check-ups and HIV tests in a non-judgmental, friendly environment, a service that remained relevant and necessary throughout the lockdown.
While the LGBTQ+ community worked to adjust to the “new normal” of coronavirus, a number of challenges affected the entire community.
Many LGBTQ+ youths were suddenly stuck in difficult environments and homes. “The house became a prison,” Neuman explained as youths were trapped with disapproving, discriminatory and even violent families. Shachar described the situation as a “pressure cooker” in many homes, with youths losing the little freedom they may have had outside of their homes.
“There was a 27% rise of the emergency calls and complaints [to IGY] about suicidal intentions, depression, LGBTQphobic violence in the family and in the home,” said Neuman. “If on one hand we were really happy that the coronavirus enabled a lot of youths that were never in the activities to come, it also ruined the lives and the routines and the only places that a lot of youths had to feel at home.”
Some youths, especially those in Haredi neighborhoods and Arab villages, tried or were forced to leave their homes during the lockdown as well. IGY worked with Gag HaVarod and Beit Dror to find housing for these youths, but the conditions of the lockdown made finding solutions a lot more difficult. For youths in Jerusalem, the situation was even more complicated, as no such hostels exist in the city and those who needed to find a new housing situation needed to move to Tel Aviv.
The elderly population in the Jerusalem LGBTQ+ community was also heavily impacted by the virus, as the regular issues that affect the elderly population more so than the rest of society, such as the fact that they’re more alone, have less connection to a nuclear family, don’t live in couples as much, don’t have as many children and are in a not as good economic situation, were “multiplied” by the quarantine, Shachar explained.
The situation was also made more difficult in the community as many were already hesitant to seek medical care, as they may have been thought of as criminals or insane or abominations in the past, and the dangers presented by the coronavirus and the effects of the lockdown, especially to the elderly population, were made even more extreme for those in the LGBTQ+ community.
Looking forward, the situation is looking a bit more bright as the country adapts to the “new normal” of coronavirus.
Despite the gradual return to routine, pride events, such as the Jerusalem Pride Parade, have been put on hold in the meantime. Once the situation allows for larger gatherings, a new date will be organized for Jerusalem Pride. In the meantime, the Open House is planning a series of events and projects around the city during Pride Month, culminating on June 28, the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, with a special Pride movie.
IGY is working together with companies such as Reebok and Unilever to run campaigns during Pride Month. A portion of the income from the campaigns will be donated to IGY. Neuman explained that it was “very exciting” to find out that large companies were understanding the importance of LGBTQ+ safe places and of creating such environments and atmospheres of equality and love.
While much of the Open House remains online, the organization is planning to release a new website and new logo as part of Pride Month. While the psychosocial services provided by the Open House have returned to face-to-face meetings, while following Health Ministry regulations, the youth and adult groups have remained online as the guidelines presented for group meetings remained too unclear to comfortably return to group meetings, according to Shachar.
Neuman stressed that IGY, like every other youth organization, is anxious to get back to physical meetings, but is also looking to invest further in its digital options “to create new and long-lasting platforms that will serve this kind of audience that is not available to come out of the home and become a regular member in what we have created through the years, but has the same desire to create for themselves an LGBTQ+ equal, fun, secure environment, even if its two-three hours a day or week.”
   


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