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Action Research Towards Driving Social Change: LGBT and Sexual and Gender Minorities in Arab Society in Israel

Year: 2021


Authors: Dr. Sigal Gooldin, Nage da’as, Uri Eick, Dan Ger.


Partners: The study was conducted in collaboration with Beit el-Meem | بيت الميم, a community organization "of and for all gender and sexual identities in Arab society."


Background:

Studies on LGBT in Muslim countries, and Arab LGBT communities in non-Muslim countries, pointed to the unique positioning of members of the community in the context of life in traditional societies. These studies focused on examining them as a gender/sexual minority group, within a national/religious minority group, or both. In Israel, to date, no comprehensive research had been conducted on the Arab LGBT community. The unique positioning of this group within the hierarchical space of national identities, religiosity, gender, and sexuality, along with the almost complete absence of up-to-date data and knowledge about the state of the community, its characteristics, and needs, were the basis and rationale for this research project.

Purpose of the study:

The goal of the study was to collect and analyze up-to-date preliminary data on needs, characteristics, challenges, risk factors, and sources of resilience in the Arab LGBT community in Israel. The research questions examined the relationship between four aspects of LGBT existence in Arab society in Israel today: (1) estimation of socio-demographic characteristics; (2) experiences in personal, family, and community circles; (3) risk factors and resilience factors in the community; (4) Attitudes and values on various issues related to LGBT life in Arab society today.


Methodology:

The research methodology combined qualitative and quantitative research methods: a review of literature on LGBT issues against Arabs in Israel and around the world (both in Arab/Muslim countries and in non-Arab/Muslim countries), in-depth face-to-face interviews with 12 members of the community, and a comprehensive national survey that included 39 questions (32 closed questions and 7 open-ended questions). The survey included 167 Israeli citizens aged 18 and over who identified themselves as all LGBT in Arab society in Israel. The survey participants did not constitute a "representative sample" of the Arab LGBT population in Israel. The sample biases included, among other things, the lack of accessibility for LGBT people in the closet, and for those who were not exposed to social networks. At the same time, survey and interview participants represented a wide range of gender and sexual identities, as well as a variety of other socio-demographic background variables. The importance of the study lay first in collecting comprehensive data on LGBT experiences and perceptions in Arab society in Israel, and in combining qualitative and quantitative methods for clarifying the issues discussed. Participation in the study was voluntary, recruitment through social networks, social groups, community organizations, and accepted digital means of distribution.


Findings and Conclusions:

The findings of the study perpetuated, for the first time, the voice of a "transparent community," almost invisible and inaudible in the public sphere in Israel, which was estimated to number between 100,000 and 125,000 members. The study showed that LGBT Arabs in Israel often faced double and triple challenges and risk factors: both as members of a national/religious minority in the State of Israel, as LGBT in Israeli society, and as LGBT in Arab society.

  

Members of the LGBT community in Arab society in Israel dealt with internal conflicts at the individual level, as well as conflicts and tensions between the individual and the family and community environment. In addition to dealing with various issues common to all LGBT people, such as issues of identity, self-determination, and LGBT-phobia, the unique coping of LGBT people in Arab society in Israel also had unique characteristics from which unique needs were derived.

 

The findings of the study indicated a high prevalence of LGBT-phobia and LGBT-phobic violence in Arab society. Cross-referencing the survey data with the interview findings highlighted the conspicuous lack of a safe space in which LGBT Arabs could feel protected. Coping with violence, exclusion, and discrimination LGBT-phobic was present in individual life in almost all circles of existence, at home, at school, in the community, in the public sphere, in distant social circles, in the media, and social networks. LGBT-phobia in intensity and prevalence was a trigger for emotional and health distress, and often for choosing closet life. However, as the findings of the study showed, 'closet life' was not the optimal solution for members of the community, as it was often accompanied by experiences of fear, stress, loneliness, a sense of not belonging, confusion, and helplessness.

 

In addition, the mechanisms of counseling and welfare services, basic information, activities of LGBT organizations, social networks, etc., which were accessible to most of the Hebrew-speaking LGBT population in Israel, existed in a very limited and limited manner for LGBT Arabs, due to various barriers related to Jewish-Arab relations.

A significant finding that emerged from the study was the great importance that the sea of community members attached to the possibility of changing the existing situation. Although 28% of the participants did not believe in the realistic feasibility of change, and another part was unsure/unsure whether change was a realistic option (12%), most of the participants in the study (60%) believed that the status quo could be changed. The latter could be seen as agents of change, and as leading partners in practical work processes towards goals that were defined by the community members themselves. In addition, the survey findings showed that community members conspicuously preferred the establishment of dedicated responses to the community in Arabic, while initiating processes for general change in these issues in Arab society.

 

The findings of the study gave voice to a previously transparent community for the first time. The distress and challenges, along with the desire and willingness to change the current situation, had to be heard loud and clear. The research data indicated that there was a need to develop dedicated responses that were attentive to the unique characteristics and needs of companies and members of the community, including sub-groups within it.

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