“Tel Aviv Is Safer Than U.S. for LGBTQs”

Haaretz interviewed Ariel Castroman, 22, a frat boy with a good heart from Miami who reflected on volunteering with Israel’s gay community

Ariel Castroman (photo by Tomer Appelbaum)

I was here for two months on a student program called Onward Israel. They give you an apartment and a multiple-use bus pass, and they host you for trips around the country.

How did you get to the program? Are you Jewish?

I am not Jewish. I was born in Cuba, but everyone here is really surprised when I tell them that. Because of my features, people speak to me in Hebrew, and when I say, “No, only English,” they think I’m putting them on. I can’t count how many times I told the story of how I got here, and how many times people said, “Why? You’re nuts!”

After volunteering with tourism department of the Tel Aviv Municipality, Ariel was transferred to the LGBT center in Gan Meir, per his request. “I was interested to see how certain issues are dealt with, as compared to the United States,” he said. “I’m really happy I was able to work with transgender people.”

What did you do?

I helped them with their community newsletter. We tried to get donations, because they need money. I also helped them organize the “Shabbat Queen” event they hold every three weeks. It’s an amazing event. The whole community is invited, friends and families. Everyone brings food, they welcome Shabbat. You can speak or sing or perform a little. It was wonderful to be there, there was a really welcoming atmosphere.

Are you part of the community?

I’m gay. I’m not a member of the transgender community, but I learned a lot about them through working with the Beyahad organization here. If I’d been able to choose, I would have chosen the gay community, but this way I got to see the struggle of transgender people. They have a slogan: “Talk to us, not about us,” because in the past the gays and lesbians decided things for them and no one asked them what their needs were.

Read the full story in Haaretz