Organised by Twitter, Facebook and text message, all across the world vigils have been held for the victims of the massacre at an LGBT (lesbian, gay and bisexual) centre in Tel Aviv last night. Benjamin Cohen went to Soho to meet gay Israelis, Jews and those of no faith at all to share in their act of remembrance.
The lone gun man dressed head to toe in black shot dead Liz Trubeshi, aged just 17 and 26-year-old Nir Kat. In what was described by some witnesses as a “blood bath”, he sprayed bullets from an automatic riffle ruthlessly. At least 12 other people were injured, and the shock of the event will likely scar them for life, even in a country as used to violence as Israel.
I’ve been told those in the building were at an event to discuss coming out and the issues particularly unique to young LGBT people. It is likely that some of those injured were not out to their families.
The LGBT, Jewish and Israeli communities came together in an act of solidarity to remember the two young lives that were lost but to also comfort each other in the realisation that violent homophobia is still a reality even in a supposedly liberal democracy like Israel.
In Soho Square, London, around 70 people gathered to write messages to send to the families of the victims. Passers by, enjoying a rare glimpse of the sun also stopped, lit candles and shared their condolences.
There were no real organisers of the event, people just agreed via social networking sites the best time to meet and it appears that this was the case across the world.
Israeli lesbian Yasmin Manmax, who lived just a minutes walk from the site of the attack, a gay organisation in Tel Aviv told PinkNews.co.uk: “They only held very sensitive activities there, things for young people. If you’d just ‘Google’ for the organisation, you’d get a different address. It must have been someone who knew it was being held there. It’s a regular building, it’s just a place of gathering- it’s a basement, there’s no where to run or jump out of the way of bullets. There’s no escape if he was in the doorway. It must have been like hell.”
I asked her if Tel Aviv was normally a relatively safe place to be a lesbian. “If you compare it to other streets in Israel, like Jerusalem, people say, ‘it’s safe in Tel Aviv’. It’s like if something were to happen here in Soho.”
Of course something like this did happen in Soho ten years ago, a nail bomb exploded in the Adrimal Duncan gay pub on Old Compton Street killing three people and injuring many more. The anniversary being little more than three months ago,
Another Israeli lesbian, Orni Goffer told me that Tel Aviv isn’t as liberal as many people might think. “There has been some trouble, It’s not a problem for religious people to put up a sign saying kill all the homos. It only takes one person to do this, behind the liberty of freedom of speech.”
She was also angered at the delay in the condemnations given by the political leaders of Israel. ” It was not condemned quick enough by the politicians,” she told PinkNews.co.uk. “They said ‘we’re shocked’, ‘it shouldn’t happen’ but also said ‘it might be someone from within the community who did the shooting’.”
Orni seemed to blame politicians for the shooting: “Their homophobic campaigns over many years could connect with people who have inner homophobia or finding it hard to accept their own sexuality. It could be their fault.”
I came away feeling quite uplifted that people did come out to join the vigil. But speaking to others who didn’t want to be named made me realise there was clearly a real fear among the Israeli LGBT community that this unknown gunman will strike again.
Sadly, it will also be on the minds of the government of Israel for a completely different reason, Tel Aviv with it’s “pink shekels” has become a magnet for gay tourists from all around the world.
People who come to Tel Aviv to marvel at its vibrancy and the fact that in a completely ironic way, has become a Mecca for LGBT from across the Middle East. A shining beacon of liberalism, where two men or two women can hold hands, can fall in love and even have their relationships recognised by Israeli law. A complete contrast to cities in neighbouring states where being gay still results in murder by the state not just by a crazed gunman.
Benjamin Cohen is the Founding Publisher of PinkNews.co.uk and a Correspondent for Channel 4 News
Below are video clips showing vigils in other cities.