Israel’s LGBT+ community faces up to its ‘Me Too’ moment as sexual abuse survivors break silence
In June 2021, gay rights activist Omri Feinstein from Israel asked queer people on Instagram to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault – and he could never have been prepared for the response.
“The amount of stories I received was absolutely insane,” Omri tells PinkNews. “It was obvious that people were just waiting for the conversation to start.”
Omri didn’t know it at the time, but that simple act – the act of allowing people to bear testimony to their own trauma – would be the spark for a new movement in Israel. He received so many messages from LGBT+ people sharing their own stories of sexual violence that he decided he needed to do something about it. He wanted queer people to have a forum where they could be heard and seen – where stigma could be shattered through the simple act of talking.
He set up an Instagram account called “Our Turn”, and the rest is history. Since then, countless queer people have shared their stories of sexual assault. It’s no longer just an Instagram account – and Israeli media outlets have been quick to call it what it is: their country’s own version of the Me Too movement.
The LGBT+ community is just starting to reckon with sexual violence
The phrase “Me Too” was first used in 2006 on social media by sexual assault survivor Tarana Burke, but it wasn’t until numerous women came forward to share their stories of sexual assault at the hands of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein that it really became a movement. Right from the start, Omri felt “uneasy” about the fact that the LGBT+ community didn’t really seem to be engaging with the wider discussion about sexual violence.
“For a long time I kept talking about it with my friends and realised that sexual violence happens inside the LGBT+ community no less (and perhaps even more) than it does in the general population,” Omri says.
When I started sharing stories people finally had a safe place to stand up and say, ‘What happened to me was not my fault’.
Over the years, Omri’s frustration continued to grow. Eventually, he took the conversation online. Today, the “Our Turn” Instagram account has almost 3,000 followers, and it has shared countless stories of abuse and misconduct.
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“The profile quickly went viral and attracted media interest, simply by the fact that the general public had never heard such stories being told so openly before,” Omri says.
“These issues have been simmering for decades. Sexual violence was a part of the community since day one, because sadly where there are people, there’s sexual violence. The main problem was that this issue was covered by excuses. It was even seen as a ‘norm’ and an integral part of gay culture. Even LGBT+ organisations claimed that the standards that apply to the general population regarding sexual violence don’t apply to the community because ‘it works differently with us and heterosexuals wouldn’t get it’.”
He says LGBT+ survivors have been waiting for the world to tell them that what happened to them is violence – and that violence should never be the norm.
“When I started sharing stories people finally had a safe place to stand up and say, ‘What happened to me was not my fault.’”
Israel’s LGBT+ Me Too movement led to a high-profile activist resigning
Since then, there’s been something of a reckoning in Israel’s LGBT+ community. In November, police in Israel announced that they were opening an investigation into Gal Uchovsky, a well-known and previously highly-respected LGBT+ rights activist in Israel. The Kan public broadcaster shared the testimony of two men who alleged that they had been sexually assaulted by Uchovsky (he has denied the allegations). He has since resigned from his position at Israel Gay Youth, a leading LGBT+ rights organisation.
“Right after that more figures were exposed and the press started calling this era ‘The Gay Me Too’ movement,” Omri says.
The fight against sexual violence needs to include everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
He’s glad his Instagram account and the wider discussion around sexual assault has allowed queer people to have their voices heard – but he says there’s still a lot more work to be done to eradicate abuse within the community.
“I feel like the LGBT+ community all around the world is suffering from sexual violence and very rarely people are willing to talk about it,” Omri says. “There’s a lot of confusion between sexual freedom and sexual violence. Being sex positive is wonderful, but it should come with a lot of awareness regarding limits and consent.
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“People should know that it’s not OK to grab someone at the club without their permission. People should also know that it’s OK to say no during a Grindr hookup if something doesn’t feel right. These issues are dealt with globally and should be handled globally and shamelessly.”
Omri wants to make sure that the conversation continues – as long as queer people are talking, sharing their stories and speaking out about abuse, change is possible.
“The fight against sexual violence needs to include everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. People should allow victims to express their experiences, people should let victims know that we believe them and that we stand by them. There’s a long way to go but it’s never too late to start.”
Rape Crisis England and Wales works towards the elimination of sexual violence. If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.
Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.