Waiting outside the ICU for news of their friends

Teens stay in the closet, parents don't now where they are.

Huddled, crying and speaking in hushed tones, two dozen 16-year-olds waited outside the Intensive Care Unit at Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital) in Tel Aviv on Sunday. The youths are friends of those wounded or killed on Saturday night when a masked man, dressed in black, burst into a gay youth center at the corner of Nachmani and Ahad Ha'am streets in Tel Aviv and fired an automatic weapon at teenagers while they were talking and playing board games. The friends waiting at Ichilov were not at the center but came to the hospital as soon as they heard of the attack. A boy with long hair and nose, eye and ear piercings explained, "As soon as I heard that my friends had been hurt, I had to come to the hospital. I arrived at about 12:30 last night and haven't left since." Many of his friends were in the same situation. Three of the four teenagers still being treated at Ichilov remain in "serious but stable condition in the hospital's intensive care unit. All three underwent different life saving and limb saving operations throughout the night, and they are no longer on death's door. They are stabilized but remain [in] serious [condition]," said Dr. Dror Sofer, chief of the trauma unit at Ichilov. At least one of the victims remains in a coma. The fourth patient from shooting is "in a better condition" and has been moved to a trauma ward, Sofer said. The atmosphere among the teens in the corridor was as you would expect - quiet, exhausted and desperate. However, one element was missing on Sunday afternoon; there were no adults present. Saturday night's attack came as a double shock for the parents of the three youths whose lives continue to hang in the balance in the ICU. Not only did the parents not know their children were at the youth center, they were unaware that they were homosexual. One boy outside the ICU said of his wounded friend, "His mom didn't know he was gay and now that she found out she keeps asking how it is that her son could become gay and be exposed to a gay youth movement. She can't find an answer to this question and so she can't understand how it was that her son was shot." Another young boy, who paced the corridor with a vexed expression, explained that his parents did not know he was involved with the gay community until Sunday morning, when his mother noticed that he had stayed out all night. Upon calling her son, she found out he was waiting at the hospital for news of friends who belonged to a gay youth group of which he was also a member. The hidden sexuality of most of the teenagers waiting at Ichilov was the reason why their parents did not come to support them as they waited for news of their friends. Many parents were unaware of their child's whereabouts on Sunday and continue to have no idea they are members of a gay youth community. One 15-year-old member of the group told The Jerusalem Post, "I could never tell my mom that I was gay. If I did, she would just say, 'Son, you are young and confused, you don't know what you want.' But, I am not confused, I know I am gay and I come to the youth center so that I can express myself in a safe environment and among those who are sympathetic not homophobic." A 16-year-old female friend of the wounded said, "It isn't fair for the parents, or, for our friends, that their homosexuality became known in this way." A youth worker at the center where the shooting took place explained that while no one can be certain that this incident was driven by homophobia, it seems to be the only logical explanation. "The youth club is not the main gay center for youth in Tel Aviv. There is a much larger club in King George Street. In fact, the center that was targeted is a small basement at the bottom of the owner's house. Inside there are a couple of games rooms and a garden, that is all," the youth worker said. "The center is only open on Saturday's for parties and socializing. It is a popular venue but only among a small circle of gay youth who know of its existence." Each Saturday night the basement opens up into a "teenage bar." No alcohol is sold, and gays aged between 14 and 20 come to socialize. Youth leaders, who are older members of the youth group, usually in their early 20s, also attend these gatherings to provide support for younger members who have no other place to discuss their concerns. During the summer, the center is more crowded than usual because there is no school to attend and so many members of gay youth groups come from outside Tel Aviv to meet their friends in Israel's center for liberal life, explained one youth leader. "We go to the youth club because that is where we feel safe. But now I don't feel I can go back there. It's no longer safe. Tel Aviv is as bad as the other neighborhoods in Israel, they all hate homosexuals," said a girl who sat nervously chewing her nails outside the ICU. Two victims of Saturday's shooting were killed instantly. They have been identified as Liz Trubeshi and Nir Katz. Katz, was the director of the gay youth group, also worked as a distributor for a natural fruit-based drink company, MonaVie. He was expected to be one of several distributors to attend an event launching a kosher version of the MonaVie berry and nutritious drink on Sunday night in Jerusalem. On Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned the attack and promised to "stand by the police in searching for and finding the killer. We will bring him to justice and will prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law." However, several youths who often attend the gay center said that even after the killer is caught, they will no longer feel safe there or at any other gay organization in Israel. They said they do not feel accepted by much of Israeli society and prefer to lie about their sexuality rather than disclose their homosexuality. "Sexuality is an extremely sensitive topic among Israeli teens, and without a place where they can talk openly about themselves, most become recluse-like and secluded from society," one youth leader from the center explained. However, another friend of those lying in the ICU said he did not feel this way. Instead he regarded the shooting as similar to a terrorist attack. "We cannot change the way we live our lives because of these events. We must show we are stronger and able to survive their hatred," he said.