Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East where equal rights advance, especially with the efforts of openly LGBTQIA+ parliamentarians such as Yorai Lahav-Hertzano (33). In 2019, the Prime Minister of Israel appointed Congressman Amir Ohana (46), publicly declared homosexual, to head the Ministry of Justice. Social security, adoption of children and surrogacy are already a reality for gay people in the country, which is the center of the three largest monotheistic religions today.
Although some Israeli representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have negative views of LGBT people, the Orthodox parties are unable to obtain a parliamentary majority to overturn progressive resolutions in favor of diversity. With the advance in the political sphere, the most tense conflict returns to the home of ultra-conservative families.
Located in a traditional neighborhood of Tel Aviv, the Beit Dror shelter, which completes twenty years of existence this year, welcomes adolescents from 12 to 18 years who are not accepted by families. Unique in Israel, young people expelled from home for being LGBTQIA+ come from different regions and stay for a maximum period of three months.
“The first thing people expelled from home need is a hot meal, a shower, and a bed. Each day, we organize an agenda for each resident with a personal plan adapted to their needs. It’s not always easy to take the first step, so we help find a job, a place to live permanently and even a rapprochement with the family. Most LGBTs expelled from their homes come from conservative or very religious families”, says Yael Sinai, a lesbian woman who runs the Beit Dror shelter.
Yael says that one of the strategies to reintegrate young people into society is to invite the parents of the homeless to talk to Beit Dror employees: “And almost all cases, parents come to talk to us, because they are hopeful. They usually come here to see the place. So, our work ends up being more of a family orientation. It is also a risk for expelled LGBTs to return to their homes, we keep alert. But if there is this possibility of guidance with the family, better. Without a family, teenagers expelled from their homes end up being exploited on the streets, going for drugs. They need money. Without job opportunities, they’ll end up going into prostitution. And I know how important it is for people to be accepted back into their homes, especially to be accepted as LGBTs”..
Adara (fictitious name), a 17-year-old trans, needed the support of Beit Dror three times. “Here, for the first time in my life, I felt love and acceptance. I really want a family”, says Adara.. After arriving at the shelter, Adara placed an ad on Facebook to find a family and met a woman who proposed to be her mother. “But she was almost a ‘roommate’, she did not gave me the support I needed on the question of my identity, we almost did not speak. So I went back to Beit. Then I lived with an aunt too. It didn’t work out, and I had to go back to the shelter. Here [no Beit Dror] there may be conflict, but not with my gender”.
Gays have been more accepted in Israeli society, analyzes Yael Sinai. Now the struggle is more with the trans cause. Currently, most of the people sheltering at Beit Dror are transgender people, unlike when the work started 20 years ago.
“Now, we need to claim that places respect trans people, for example, in schools. It’s only been three years since the first girls’ school accepted a trans student. We also need to talk about sex education, which people, in general, didn’t have knowledge anywhere else. Orthodox families don’t know anything about STIs and prevention methods. At school, when there is sex education, there are separate classes for boys and girls”, says Yael.
Even with the advancement of policies for diversity, the shelter does not participate in any public support program and lives on donations. “We are the only LGBT shelter in Israel. This current government wants to help us, create more shelters, but 2/3 of parliamentarians don’t want to give money to this cause. There is still a lot of struggle and we need LGBTQIA+ visibility. Many musicians who could join the cause, for example, are linked to traditional music and do not come out of the closet. We need more support and visibility from artists. There’s still a long way to go”, finishes Yael Sinai.
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