New Service for LGBT Israeli-Arabs

A new psychosocial service was opened in Haifa, to provide free counseling services for the LGBT population in the north of Israel, aiming especially at the Arab sector, whose needs have so far remained almost unanswered.

Arab and Druze LGBT people come from a closed and less inclusive population, which makes it even more difficult for LGBT people of these populations to contact the help services. “Because it is so difficult for LGBT Arab and Druze to come and get help, when they come to us, it’s usually at a very difficult stage, sometimes only when it is a matter of life and death,” explains Shlomi Inger, a social worker and the manager of the psychosocial service of the Aguda, ”Even then, our willingness to help these people requires a lot of effort. ”

” LGBT people from diverse populations come to the clinical center, including some belonging to more conservative populations, and we face the sensitivities and complexities that don’t exist in the Jewish sector. This can include the inability to live in their villages because of exclusion and possible violence against them, or difficulties in the family expressed in conflicts that may lead to violence within the family. We hear about transgender people who are being isolated from their families, beaten or stoned by their families, threats, humiliation and physical violence that we don’t meet in the Jewish sector. They come to us, and they are lonelier than we often see among Jewish LGBT people, so almost every adversity is doubled, and this is often expressed in the loss of social function, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide attempts and self-injuries.”

What is the source of the fear of Arab and Druze populations to reach the service?
“The more traditional a society is, the more closed in on itself it becomes, and prefers to solve problems within itself. I suppose it also applies to beaten women, who find it more difficult to report it. The fear is not necessarily realistic, but it is very understandable.”

How different is the treatment of Arab LGBT people who do come to you?
“Working with LGBT non-Jewish populations requires specific knowledge and openness that we learn through training, seminars, discussions with professionals in these sectors. Often we have to be very creative to provide help. Many times when I run into a risk case, as a social worker I have an obligation to report it to social services. However, the Arab sector is quite clannish. We have difficulties reporting LGBT people in distress to the local social services because a family member might work there. In one case, for example, we’ve moved our address to Tel Aviv so that we would be able to report the matter to the local social services there. This is excessive when compared to what social services has previously had to deal with. ”

Do they receive services from therapists who specialize in their population?
“Currently we don’t have therapists who specialize in this population. Our ultimate goal is that the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services will allocate standards for social workers who come from the Arab population, know it better and are certified to work with LGBT people. As the service becomes more embodied in the community and more people know of it, we will be able to get more support to further develop these services. ”

Do you think there is progress in Arab society’s openness towards LGBT people?
“We are experiencing particularly extreme cases, so I can’t say if there is progress. But from the cases that come to us I have a gut feeling that says there is still much work to do there.”