I don't know why but I've always been drawn to Israel. I chock it up to my conservative Catholic upbringing, which, due to their rejection of homosexuality, has left me in a state of constant turmoil in regards to my spiritual standing. To ease this confusion, I decided to save up a few dollars and head off to the Holy Land for answers. This summer I packed my bags, grabbed my passport, and spent ten days in Israel.
Part of my quest during my visit to Israel, similarly with every country I visit, is to explore the gay scene and to find out how gay people live - whether they are accepted, out, allowed to marry or adopt, etc. I make an attempt to visit the community's gay center (Reykyavik, Iceland, has a fabulous one). Naturally, my visit to Israel could not be complete without a visit to the site of the shootings at the gay community center in Tel Aviv.
Every morning, the first thing I do when I wake up is look at my phone. (Yes, I'm one of those.) I scroll through my TweetDeck app to read the latest headlines to see what my online community is sharing on Twitter and Facebook. On Sunday, August 2, 2009, I awoke to a startling Tweet from the New York Times that stated, "Two Shot Dead at Gay Center in Tel Aviv."
On August 1, 2009, a masked gunman entered the LGBT Youth Center in Tel Aviv, killing 26-year-old Nir Katz, a counselor at the center, 17-year-old Liz Troubishi, one of the members, and wounding fifteen others. Because the LGBT center is in the lower level of the building, there was no way for the youth and staff to escape. This tragic incident rocked the LGBT community of Israel and the world.
Solidarity Rally - Social Media is Used to Ignite Support
In response to this tragic event, a variety of social media platforms were used to build awareness and garner support for the LGBT community in Tel Aviv.
To show support for the vicious attack on the LGBT youth in Tel Aviv, the "Solidarity with LGBTQ Youth" Facebook Fan Page was created by a group from Manchester and Lancaster, England. The page spread the word of what had occurred in Tel Aviv and provided a platform where people from around the world could congregate to share their support.
Within Isreal, 71.6% of their 7.3 million inhabitants use the internet, including 90% of teens ages 13-17. And according to Facebook Global Monitor, it is the country with the second-highest Facebook usage in the Middle East, Egypt being the first. So the message of support was communicated effectively within Israel. Of course, with over 250 million users on Facebook at that time, the Fan Page was also able to elicit global support.
To reach out to their online community, one of the victims of the attack wrote a blog entry, providing instantaneous information about the shared experience of the victims, and reaching a maximal number of people. The post was also shared on the "Solidarity with LGBTQ Youth" Facebook Fan Page:
I was a victim of the gay shooting in Tel Aviv. Saturday nights one of the main centres of the gay community turns into a youth club - from 8pm until the wee hours of the morning (usually around 1-2am) we come, we meet our friends, we talk with the counselors there who are our best friends, we play cards and pool and air hockey and we eat and drink soft drinks and we come there just to be ourselves.
This last Saturday night I was there along with several close friends, my cousin and other people, most of whom I knew relatively well.
People keep badgering me with questions, I've already talked to the press on several different occasions, so I don't feel like recalling everything just now. I just wanted you guys to know that this is real, that someone you know was there, and that this is terrible.
Nir Katz, the counselor that died, was an amazing person. I didn't personally know Liz (the girl that died) but Nir... He was special. He was a bit of a nerd, he was really funny, he had lots of dreams and aspirations and he was really into the environment and doing as much as possible to save our world and our youth. He will be sorely missed.
YouTube was the most widely used social media medium, with the exception of possibly Facebook. Video clips from the Solidarity Rally, held on August 8, 2009 at Rabin Square with over 20,000 participants, were uploaded on to YouTube. I've pulled quotes from a videographer who put together footage from the rally. I apologize now if the translation from Hebrew to English is off, the text found in the videos is what I am using. If you have the time, I encourage you to watch all three parts.
Opening Remarks found in video clip 1
"This murder shows us that there is no point to hide. Look how beautiful we all look standing in this square, with our families, with our friends, with our brothers, with our neighbors. Look how beautiful we are, and it's such a shame we gathered here because of this despicable act...We are the Gay, the Lesbian, the Transgender, and the Bisexual did not arrive from dark mountains we did not come from a distant planet, we're not aliens, we are born in every city in Israel, in every street, every village.."
Video Clip 1 of 3:
Speech from one of the victims in the attack found in video clip 2
"All of you standing here in this rally, you prove that the country [Israel] really seeks for peace and is against violence. Today, we are tired of staying silent, tired of hiding, tired of covering up the reality.
Video Clip 2 of 3:
Yaniv Weizman, Head of GLBT's Youth Association found in video clip 3
"In these significant moments, there is the feeling that something big is about to happen, something bigger than me and you, something that will change history. Mr. President Shimon Peres, in your life you led many struggles, and fought greatly for freedom and tolerance. Today I ask of you and also in the name of this great crowd, to join this struggle of ours. I'm honored to invite the President Mr. Shimon Peres."
Shimon Peres addresses the crowd found in video clip 3
"We are the people of 'Thou shall not kill.' The gunshots that hit the gay community earlier this week hit us all. As people. As Jews. As Israelis. The person who pointed the gun at Nir Katz and Liz Troubishi pointed it at all of you as well, at all of us, at you, at me...Dear audience, for freedom we were born and freedom we shall live."
Video Clip 3 of 3:
Social Media Has the Power to Convene
This example is just one of thousands that illustrates how social media is used to unite people. Social media, and of course the internet, have provided you and me with the tools to know over the state of the world at any given instant, and to feel part of important moments like these. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters needed us and needed to feel the support that we were able to give them, through posts and messages, video clips and photos.
While social media does not replace the energy felt by human contact or interaction in the same room or over the phone, it does come close when all you yearn for is for someone to hear your pain. Although I am penning this piece a year after the tragedy, this is still an excellent example of how social media is used to bring the LGBT community and our allies together.