Wearing white emblazoned-maroon tee-shirts announcing in Hebrew and English across the front: “We are everywhere” a representative group of slightly more than a dozen members Israel Gay Youth was officially received on Wednesday at the President’s Residence by President Reuven Rivlin.Headed by Mindy Michaeli, the national CEO of IGY, the group was accompanied by former MK Nitzan Horowitz, who is openly gay and was warmly embraced by Rivlin; Gal Uchovsky, a television and print-media personality and prominent member of Israel’s gay community; and Yaniv Weizman, who holds the gay portfolio on the Tel Aviv City Council.Rivlin reminded them that 22 years ago, he had been the first MK to accept the gay community as equals who can contribute to society. Reflecting on the possibility that gay attorney Amir Ohana, who is a major in the IDF reserves and was in 32nd slot on the Likud list for the current Knesset, may move up in the ranks, Weizman was excited that there may soon be a gay Likudnik in the Knesset.All previous gay MKs were members of Meretz or its precursor Ratz. The first was Marcia Freedman, an openly lesbian MK who was elected on a Ratz ticket and served from 1974 to 1977; the second was Uzi Even, a Meretz MK elected in 2002; and the third was Horowitz. who was elected in 2009.Rivlin said he was happy, on what was the first anniversary of his election as president, to be the first president to officially welcome a gay delegation.“We’re the pioneers,” he said in a satisfied tone, commenting that Israel, today, is a much more open and accepting society than it was 22 years ago.Michaeli told him how IGY clubs around the country are a home away from home for thousands of gay youngsters, many of whom are still in the closet and speak openly about their orientation only when they are among other gay youth. Rivlin, who was particularly curious about whether pressure is put on young people to come out of the closet, was told by various members of the delegation that no one is pressured to come out, that it is purely up to each individual concerned.Uchovsky said, however, that when someone with leadership qualities who can represent the gay community well and benefits from its services but opts to remain in the closet, some pressure is applied because it is unjust that such a person should only take but not give back to the community.While Tel Aviv is outstandingly accepting and tolerant of gays, the same cannot be said of peripheral towns and cities where attitudes are not only ultra conservative but can be downright hostile.Mayan Gordon, a 17-yearold boy from Haifa said it is much easier for him to walk down the street with his boyfriend in Tel Aviv in Haifa where he suffered greatly from homophobia at school.“It’s much easier to remain in the closet,” he said.The worst to suffer, Rivlin was told, are 12-year-olds, who have not come out, but whose sexual orientation has been recognized by their heterosexual classmates, who bully them mercilessly, destroying any sense of self worth they might have.“It’s very difficult for kids who are outside the norm to meet these social challenges,” said Michaeli. “We give them the environment in which they acknowledge who they are and where they can learn to love themselves.”One of the younger members of the delegation complained that a curse word – even in Tel Aviv – in the school yard or the classroom is to say to someone “Ya Homo!” The teachers go along with this, he said, and do nothing to stop it. Rivlin and his guests agreed that much more education is needed to make people aware that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, but rather derives from genetic and hormonal influences.