The Aguda: The Israeli National LGBT Task Force

Aguda-Featured-1The ‘Aguda’, the National Association of LGBT in Israel, is Israel’s pioneer lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization. The Aguda is a national grassroots, volunteer-based, nonprofit human-rights organization representing the LGBT community. The Aguda promotes and advances new initiatives and cultivate leadership and partnership with all sectors and groups within the community.  The Aguda strives for full equality for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. They also aspire to create a public and social climate of acceptance and respect for the LGBT community and for its individual members.

Official Website

WHAT THEY DO

Otzma (the legal/political department) is trusted with advocacy, legislative efforts and lobbying.  It provides legal aid to those suffering from the results of homophobia and discrimination.

The Violence and Homophobia Report Center – operates along with our hotline to gather data on violence and homophobia.  The center analyzes these data and reports them to the authorities in an official capacity.  It also provides an annual report of its data collection with case studies.

Social Services (Well-being) is responsible for providing LGBT people with therapy and social assistance, medicine, healthcare and assists daily callers to a hotline, youth projects and support groups.

The social-psychological services are provided nation-wide and respond to various, common problems such as sexual assault and abuse victims, addictions and drug abuse, and other at-risk behaviors and populations.  Since 1982, a group of volunteers have operated a hotline called “Somebody To Talk To.”

Bar Noar is The Agudah’s unique youth project for at-risk LGBT youth.

The Barak Learning Project – Project Barak is an educational program designed to help high school dropouts in the LGBT community.

The Pride and Community Department is responsible for pride events and community events such as Passover dinners, Rosh Hashana dinners, Shabbat dinners and Pride month events. This department’s programs make a connection between pride and equality in everyday life.  It also collects information from Israeli businesses regarding diversity and equality of LGBT people in the workplace.

The high holidays are one of the top periods for suicide and at-risk behaviors by LGBT people in Israel.  This is due to the isolation from family and community that a lot of LGBT people experience when coming out.  The Pride and Community Department makes sure no one is left out during this time by planning community dinners and events.  It reinforces self-esteem and belonging so that the message of pride will reach all in need.

GREAT THINGS FROM THE AGUDA

OTZMA – advocacy and legal aid for LGBT people
The legal services help people who have encountered violence, homophobia, discrimination, persecution and sometimes threats of persecution or even death, if they stay in Israel. The Agudah takes care of hundreds of cases a year, pro bono.  Almost every case is handled by a volunteer.  It has only one paid legal student on the OTZMA staff.

Violence and Homophobia Report Center – The Agudah
Because many LGBT people who have suffered harassment or violence are still in the closet, many of them are afraid to file an official complaint. This creates a situation in which the police are not aware of the true number of hate crime victims. For many years, the police have therefore denied there is a problem. Since the government began recognizing the Agudah as a professional authority on LGBT rights and social services, they started providing data to the police and the authorities. The Aguda collects data through its hotline and website. This service provides the community the privacy it needs in order to encourage reporting without exposing victims to further homophobia. They process and transfer these reports to the authorities and we provide therapy and legal aid to the victims.

Branches and community centers throughout Israel
The branches in Beer Sheva, Tel Aviv, Emek Yizrael and Kiryat Shmona provide community services for LGBT community members who live outside the center of the country. The community members in these regions suffer from homophobia and are the targets of discrimination. For some, the only place in which they are accepted and supported is the Aguda branch. Most of The Aguda’s branches throughout Israel also provide social, legal and support services for the Muslim LGBT community.  The branch offices support those in the Druze, Palestinian and Bedouin communities who are often unable to live openly in obscure regions or villages throughout the country.

The Bar Noar Project
The Agudah works with teenagers and young adults through the nationwide BarNoar project.  In addition to the main Tel Aviv branch, the more recent addition to the project sits within the Be’er Sheva offices of the Aguda providing a more accessible alternative to LGBT youth living in Be’er Sheva and the South of Israel.

Many LGBT youth loiter in parks and along streets at night, engaging in dangerous acts, making the need for a safe space so crucial.  The Bar Noar is open every second Saturday, between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and midnight. It offers a safe environment, away from harmful activities (such as drug use and alcohol) for many troubled teens. During active hours, they are able to get to know each other and widen their social circle within their chosen community, while gaining a sense of belonging.  In order to provide guidance and support during this crucial time in their lives, a trained and loving staff of volunteers helps the youth to deal with the realities they face. They share their personal sufferings, experiences and heartaches, as well as their dreams for a brighter and better tomorrow. Many times, the issues they raise require help and intervention. The staff works hard to make sure that their presence has a positive impact on the lives of the youth who come, despite limited resources and opening hours.  Bar Noar’s special role as a gathering place is one of its resources to prevent the unfortunate incidence of LGBT teen suicide.

The volunteer staff at the BarNoar has the professional backing of the Psycho-Social Services of the LGBT Association, which receives weekly updates from all branches of the BarNoar spread across different parts of the country.

The Gay Helpline – “Somebody to talk to”
The Gay Helpline is another way of getting in touch with people in great need. We get hundreds of calls a month on the gay helpline concerning financial and mental difficulties due to coming out and homophobia. The Gay Helpline is the only example of its kind in Israel for members of the LGBT community who have been disowned by their families and encounter great financial, mental and health difficulties.

The Gay Helpline is a unique project, working five days a week by phone and online, for people who would be in great danger if their family knew about their sexual orientation. Victims of homophobia in all sectors call and get the help they need legally, mentally and in other ways. We help each and every caller to receive the aid they need.  Our goal is to make sure no one is left alone in their struggle for equality and personal freedom against homophobia.

The Gay Helpline is inspired by the Jewish Talmud, which says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”   A Google search results in a more complete citation: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (from – Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 )

The Barak Learning Program
This program was formed by The Agudah for the purpose of helping members of the community develop their education by completing their high school diploma. The Barak learning project is designed to help students develop essential learning tools for academic achievement.

The Barak learning project seeks to give all in need a second chance at getting their high school diploma. Lessons are taught through an effective teaching method of a one-to-one teacher-to-student ratio. In public schools there is often over 40 students to each teacher in a normal high school class. Sessions are held up to five times a week in subjects such as Mathematics, English, Religion, Hebrew, History, Geography and Literature. Over 60 students have already completed their matriculation exams with an average score of 83 points out of 100 in the last 3 years.

One of the guiding lights that leads the The Barak Learning Project is that the students gain not only a diploma, they gain opportunities in society and the possibility of social mobility. It is a well-known fact that formal education is the key to moving up in life. Through this program,  students have the option to pursue whatever course of higher learning they wish.  These options would be otherwise closed to them.

The Women’s Health Campaign
Awareness is the key to the early diagnosis of breast cancer and other cancers afflicting women as well as diabetes, heart conditions and complications from obesity, alcohol and drug abuse.  LGBT women are taught about STD prevention and awareness, and also about certain hormone treatments. LGBT women suffer from these and other diseases.  They are usually not aware of the importance of getting tested periodically.
The women’s health program is designed to attend the unique needs of LGBT women and the specific health issues this community has. The program is designed to raise awareness of testing and on-time medical care. By creating LGBT women’s awareness, The Agudah seeks to prevent the consequences of ignoring the early symptoms of all these health issues.

The Palestinian Project
The Palestinian Project of the Agudah has existed since 2000 in response to the great need of LGBT Arabs and Palestinians. This population is mainly closeted because of the Arab community’s traditionally conservative stance on LGBT persons.  LGBT Arabs have almost no personal freedom to come out. This means a higher suicide rate, drug abuse and alcoholism.  Fear of violence and persecution from their peers, families and community is extraordinarily high.
Clients’ names and contact data are confidential and these numbers are based on partial information gathered by the Agudah’s volunteer staff for this project. The organization begins to gather funds for a reporting center to collect more information on homophobia and violence data. For the Palestinian Project, however, the anonymity of those who apply is crucial.  Currently, there is no anonymous way of reporting violence and homophobia. Without anonymity, LGBT Arabs may be subjected to violence and even death if their identity is made public in any way.

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In November 2011, A Wider Bridge welcomed two leaders of The Aguda to the United States, and sponsored several programs in various locations around the country.  You can read about those events here.

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The Agudah’s Executive Director, Shai Deutch, marching with volunteers at the 2013 Gay Pride Parade in Haifa