LGBTQ+ youth protesting against hate in Tel Aviv, June 2021

Group offers haven for LGBTQ+ youths in Haredi and Arab sectors

IGY says new secret support groups in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh live up to its mission to empower young members of the community; 'We decided to extend our activities in communities that have historically regarded homosexuality as taboo,' says organization's CEO Ofer Neumann

Yuval Karni |
Published: 06.25.21, 09:25
For the tens of thousands of members of Israel's LGBTQ+ community and their allies, Tel Aviv's Pride Parade is a joyous celebration, but in many places around Israel there are teenagers and young people who do not know how to deal with their sexual orientation.
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  • And this is why the Israel Gay Youth organization (IGY) is expanding its reach into new and more conservative sectors of Israeli society.
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    צעדת הנוער לציון היום הבינלאומי נגד להטבופוביה בגן מאיר תל אביב
    צעדת הנוער לציון היום הבינלאומי נגד להטבופוביה בגן מאיר תל אביב
    LGBTQ+ youth protesting against hate in Tel Aviv, June 2021
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    Founded in 2002, the nonprofit branched off from The Aguda–Israel's LGBT Task Force, to focus its work on supporting young people.
    In its mission statement, Isays that it works to empower LGBTQ+ young people "by creating a meaningful social space for them and to encourage them to take part in shaping the LGBTQ+ community in particular and Israeli society in general."
    The organization operates dozens of groups in more than 50 locations around Israel and has a membership of over 4,000, including straight people.
    New groups for ultra-Orthodox and Arab LGBTQ+ youths were recently opened in Jerusalem. Another ultra-Orthodox group has also opened in Beit Shemesh.
    These groups operate in secret in order to protect members' identities in their communities.
    In 2015, an ultra-Orthodox Israeli stabbed 16-year-old Shira Banki to death at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, three weeks after he was released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for stabbing three people at the 2005 parade.
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    Shira Banki's parents , Uri and Mika, attending the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2019
    Shira Banki's parents , Uri and Mika, attending the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2019
    Shira Banki's parents , Uri and Mika, attending the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2019
    (Photo: Archive)
    Despite an openness towards the gay community in the metropolitan areas predominately around Tel Aviv, where one third of the city's population describes itself as LGBTQ+, in other parts of Israel there is still much discrimination and condemnation - in particular from religious groups.
    "We decided to extend our activities and open groups for LGBTQ+ youth in communities that have historically regarded homosexuality as taboo," says IGY boss Ofer Neumann.
    "We have more than 30 Haredi boys and girls who have joined the groups and around 20 Arabs," he says.
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    עופר נוימן מנכ"ל ארגון הנוער הגאה איגי
    עופר נוימן מנכ"ל ארגון הנוער הגאה איגי
    IGY Chief Executive Ofer Neumann
    (Photo: Shahar Goldstein )
    Neumann says the group is committed to helping young LGBTQ+ people regardless of where they live.
    "We in Israel are still far from an equal society and LGBTQ+ youths are often excluded, humiliated and abused in school and at home. Our mission is to provide them with a safe space," he says.
    Nizar Helawy, who heads IGY's outreach into the Arab population, says Arab LGBTQ+ youths live in a very complicated reality and the organization must make great efforts to help them.
    "There are many barriers to break but I know that if we keep doing our job, they will be able to live safe lives full of love," he says.
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