New Tel Aviv center will help fight violence against gays

Tel Aviv’s LGBT Center in Gan Me’ir
Photo: Haaretz, David Bachar

The center will collect data on assaults against members of the gay community and extend legal and psychological support to the victims.

A new center to combat violence against gays will be launched in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

The center, sponsored by Israel’s LGBT association, will collect data on assaults against members of the gay community and extend legal and psychological support to the victims. Located in Tel Aviv’s Meir Park, the center will be named after Nir Katz, a counselor murdered in an attack on a gay youth club three years ago.

The center will be open to the public from 7:30 P.M. to 10:30 P.M., Sunday through Thursday, and will be staffed by volunteers, backed up by social workers, lawyers and psychologists. Victims of violence can either call (the number is 03-620-5590 ), come in person or submit complaints via the Internet.

“Unfortunately, we still undergo difficult experiences of physical and verbal violence in every government institution,” said Shay Deutsch, chairman of the LGBT association. “Everywhere, we get complaints from members of the community who suffer from discrimination or humiliating treatment. But when I take these complaints to the system, it claims there’s no problem. Why is there no problem? Because there are no statistics.”

Therefore, he said, the community decided it had to start gathering statistics for itself.

Deutsch said the new center wants to hear every complaint – “whether it’s a teacher who said something at school, a nurse or doctor who discriminated against members of the community, a police investigator who behaved inappropriately, an army commander, or any state agency or institution.”

The center will then process the data and issue a report every August 1. “That will enable us to demand that the state deal with the problem,” he said.

Many community members, Deutsch added, are afraid to report violence to the police. One of his goals is thus to have center staffers accompany victims when they go to the police, “to give them a feeling of security.” His association also plans to launch a smartphone app to help victims of violence in the near future.

The association estimates that it will cost about NIS 400,000 a year to run the center. So far, no government agency has agreed to help support it.

This evening, the eve of the third anniversary of the murder at the gay youth club, the LGBT community will hold a commemorative event in Tel Aviv. Participants will include Katz’s mother, Ayala Katz; Tel Aviv police chief Aharon Aksol; Bastian Finke, head of the German gay-rights organization Maneo; and German Ambassador to Israel Andreas Michaelis. The guest of honor will be Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was killed in Wyoming 14 years ago on account of his homosexuality, and thereafter became the symbol of violence against the LGBT community.

The attack on the Tel Aviv youth club killed Katz, 27, and Liz Trubeshi, 16, and wounded dozens of other teens, leaving two paralyzed for life. The perpetrator has never been found, and as a far as is known, the police have no leads.

But the youth club continues to operate and has even expanded its activities, according to its managers. The club runs activities every Saturday night and serves as a meeting place for members of the LGBT community, drawing as many as 200 participants to each activity. Last year, it was on the verge of closing due to lack of funds, but a surge in donations not only saved the Tel Aviv venue, but enabled the LGBT association to open another youth club in Be’er Sheva.

Nevertheless, Deutsch said, the club’s financial existence remains precarious, dependent on a steady stream of donations.

Altogether, he said, a few thousand teens visit the club each year. “The club is their only place of refuge before coming out of the closet,” he explained. “Sometimes, it’s the only place that enables a boy or girl to ask questions about sexual identity, to be whoever they wish without fear.”

Read the article in Haaretz here.