Ever since the murder at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, we’ve witnessed a fierce competition among politicians who have rushed to every possible platform to denounce the killing in the hope of reaping political capital. A salient example was the promise by Education Minister Naftali Bennett to increase funding for Israel Gay Youth, an organization known as IGY, which happened only after another attack on the gay community.
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It’s easy to denounce acts of extremist violence, but if you examine the facts and figures it becomes clear that behind all those moving statements by politicians, LGBT phobia is being perpetrated by the state.
The discrimination and hatred begin with how the state defines the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the problems associated with LGBT identity. That, whether it is the Health Ministry, which defines gender dysphoria (the diagnosis for people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with, as is the case for transgender people) as a mental illness, or the Social Affairs Ministry, which defines the situation of LGBT youth who have run away from home as “social deviancy” (like juvenile delinquency or prostitution).
Discrimination is also evident in the budget. One example is the ongoing shortage of staff positions and community shelters funded by the Social Affairs Ministry.
Only one shelter for LGBT teens who have run away from home, Beit Dror, exists. In the past year, after years of protests, it has been expanded and can now house up to 12 teens.
It’s easy to imagine the number of teens who are desperate for such a shelter. And if its limited capacity were not enough, Beit Dror is also strictly a temporary solution. Anyone who cannot find housing after leaving is simply left out.
The situation is even worse for the transgender community. After years of promises, a shelter was opened for young transgender women this year. But it has only four beds, and the waiting list contains dozens of young women and men who are at high risk of falling into prostitution, drug use and crime.
It’s important to remember that in contrast to lesbians, gays or bisexuals, transgender people, and especially transgender women, find it very hard to fit into the frameworks offered to the general population. This understanding is what led to the establishment of Project Gila, the movement for transgender empowerment, which provides support within the community to transgender individuals.
Not long ago, I left my job at Beit Dror, and today I work for Koach La Ovdim – Democratic Workers’ Organization. I am also a community volunteer with Project Gila. Thus I see the discrimination from all sides.
One way to fight it is through labor actions: Poor working conditions at these community shelters leads to high employee turnover, whereas the residents are in great need of stability in their lives. That’s why I participated in the labor sanctions by employees of the Social Affairs Ministry’s Youth Protection Authority (which is responsible for dealing with “teenagers involved in crime and societal deviation”). Koach La Ovdim organized the employees, who signed their first collective bargaining agreement three years ago. This contract, which promised counselors a 25 percent raise, has helped reduce employee burnout.
Clearly, this is not sufficient. At demonstrations throughout the country on August 1, elected officials called for equality and tolerance for Israel’s GLBT community. But for some of them, nothing could be more hypocritical.
As long as the health, social affairs and education ministries continue to stigmatize LGBT teens as “deviant,” how can we complain about pride parades being described in ultra-Orthodox media outlets as “abomination parades”? How can we expect tolerance toward transgender women when the Health Ministry defines them as “mentally ill”? And above all, no occasional sop can make up for the fact that tonight, like every night, dozens of teens will still be sleeping in the streets, just because the 16 beds the state allots to gay youth are already taken.
The author is an LGBT activist and a regional coordinator with Koach La Ovdim.