J'lem gay center hires armed guard

Deadly attack on Tel Aviv community center prompted Open House leadership to heighten security.

gay pride jerusalem 88 (photo credit: )
gay pride jerusalem 88
(photo credit: )
For the first time in its 12-year history, there is an armed guard posted at the door of Jerusalem's only gay community center, The Open House. A gunman's deadly attack on a community center for gay teens in Tel Aviv earlier this month prompted Open House leadership to heighten security and take threats more seriously, Yonatan Gher, the center's executive director, said on Wednesday. "We realized the day after the vicious attack in Tel Aviv that we might have been a little naïve in our expectation or how our surroundings react to us and the level of violence and hatred facing us as a community," said Gher. "We realized there were more steps we needed to take preserve our own community." In addition to employing an armed guard who carefully unlocks and relocks the door after searching each visitor, Gher said the center had also installed emergency buttons around the building linked to a private security firm, was strengthening its ties with Jerusalem police, and had implemented other undisclosed security measures. Gher said that though tension in Jerusalem between the LGBT and some elements in the Orthodox community had recently eased, in part because of a truce bartered with Haredi leaders in 2008, opposition toward the community center and its membership was still manifest. Open Center leadership have received "concrete" death threats, said Gher. Along with other gay centers around the nation, the Open House, also received an anonymous threat of a grenade attack on vehicles headed to a rally for victims of the August 1, shooting in Tel Aviv. Gher said smaller signs of opposition to the LGBT community also persist. Signs marking the entrance to the Open Center are invariably vandalized within 24 hours of being posted, said Gher. Now the center remains unmarked except for Pride Flag flying far out of vandals reach. "We are strong when we are together," said Gher. "But we are still not so safe when we are walking alone in the streets. Walking hand-in-hand for us is not so easy in Jerusalem - and it should be." Gher said the location of this month's attack in Tel Aviv, thought to be the most gay-friendly city in the Middle East, has amplified the message to Israel and the world. "I have a feeling that many people thought this is something that should have happened in Jerusalem," said Gher. "If it had happened here I don't think we would have heard so much public condemnation. We would have heard some level of blame, that it's our fault for living in this city. "But because it happened in Tel Aviv that is, in part, why the message is so strong," said Gher. "It can't be our fault anymore because Tel Aviv is it. We have our back to the sea. If not Tel Aviv, than where?" Meanwhile, the perpetrator of the attack in Tel Aviv, which killed two and wounded 13, remains at large.