'Attack has set acceptance of gays back many years'

Those who counsel teen homosexuals say they will fear to seek help.

Saturday night's deadly shooting attack on a youth club for gay teenagers has set their acceptance in Israeli society back many, many years, Avner Bafni, director of the Israeli Gay Youth Organization, said Sunday. In the midst of setting up emergency support services for a dazed and very scared teenage population, Bafni told The Jerusalem Post that the national organization, which has branches in some 20 cities countrywide, has already been engaged over the past few years in a huge battle to establish itself as a safe haven for teenagers coming to terms with their sexual identities. "Recently we have been able to move onto fighting for acceptance in additional areas," Bafni told the Post. "But now we are going back to simply fearing for our lives." Bafni said social workers supplied by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry had already started working to help those affected physically and emotionally by the attack at the BarNoa youth club in the heart of Tel Aviv. "Israeli society is moving backwards," commented Sarit Meirovich, director of Beit Dror, an emergency center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in Tel Aviv. "We thought we were making progress but this shows what Israeli society really thinks about us." Funded in part by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, Beit Dror provides a safe haven to gay teens cut off from their families due to their sexual orientation. The center also runs other support programs for gay teens. On Sunday afternoon workers at Beit Dror, together with social workers, reached out to all those who have passed through its doors offering counseling services to anyone shaken by Saturday's shootout. "People here are in shock," Meirovich said. "This is only the beginning and we are still coming to terms with what has happened. The magnitude of it all will probably only hit us in a few days." Meirovich said the biggest fear now is that young gay people will be too scared to seek out help from the center or join other such youth clubs. "We just have to hope that everyone remains strong and that people will be able to carry on with their lives," she said.