Tel Aviv's Gan Meir park, the home of the city's gay community center, is meant to be a safe place for the city's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. But in recent months the site has become a dangerous place.
"There's too much violence here. Groups are going around with pocket knives. People are afraid to go into the park," said a 17-year-old member of the organization Israel Gay Youth. "I have a lot of friends who are afraid to pass through this area. I'm afraid to go there, too, and this is supposed to be the gay park."
He is not alone. Other members of the gay and lesbian community have expressed concerns about increased violence in the park.
Yuval Egertt, the director of the gay center, said at least four members of the community had been assaulted in the park this year solely because of their sexual orientation. He said there may have been other incidents he wasn't aware of.
Members of the gay community want security in the park to be stepped up and say the police aren't taking the problem as seriously as they should. The park is very dark at night, and, other than dog owners who populate the area near King George Street, few people spend time in the park's open spaces after dark.
After sunset, homeless people and young people are often seen drinking alcohol on the park's benches, joined sometimes by others seeking a little quiet. The last assault took place two weeks ago Thursday, when a group of 12- to 14-year-olds reportedly attacked two young gay people who were sitting on a bench.
The couple said their assailants poured beer on them, spat at them and kicked them. One of the victims allegedly suffered a broken jaw.
Although the police were called, the attackers were not arrested because they were minors. The victims filed a police complaint but say the police treated them with disdain.
The police said in a statement that after receiving a report, "four police cruisers quickly arrived on the scene and dealt with the incident efficiently and professionally." The complainant told the police that young people had been pestering him, but he declined to file a police complaint.
The complainant said he had not been attacked and simply asked that the young people involved be told to go away. Only later did he file a report at a police station stating that he had been attacked, the police said.
After the incident, Egertt, the municipal gay center director, made a series of requests of the municipality, most of which city officials agreed to. The municipality has agreed to install security cameras in the park next year and says it will work to establish a community policing post there and increase police patrols. It was also agreed that lighting in the park would be improved and that plants that could conceal attackers would be trimmed.
But the city has not agreed to resume funding a security guard at the entrance to the gay center. In the first year after the 2009 shooting at Bar Noar, a gay community center near Rothschild Boulevard where two people were killed, the municipality allocated about NIS 80,000 for security at the Gan Meir center.
"It's just a matter of time. The next violent incident will be a lot worse than a broken jaw," Egertt told Haaretz. He said he was worried that since the park has become identified with the gay center, the number of assaults will increase, as has taken place at Independence Park on a cliff near the beach.
Shai Deutsch, who chairs a group advocating for the rights of gays, lesbians, transgender people and bisexuals, said in August his organization would dedicate a center that will collect data on anti-gay violence and homophobia. The group will work with government officials.
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