A LEADING Israeli LGBT youth organisation has launched an Arabic-language translation of its website in an effort to reach out to gay Palestinian youth.

The organisation — Israel Gay Youth (IGY) — is partly funded by the Israeli government and also relies on corporate and private donations to maintain its reach across 22 cities.

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IGY chief executive Ran Leabel told Ha’aretz they launched the Arabic-speaking website to tackle the challenge of reaching out to and working with Arabic-speaking gay youth.

“From our meetings we learned that in Arab society, there isn’t a lot of discourse on the gay issue,” he said.

However, a network group for Palestinian LGBT people already exists — Al Qaws (Arabic for “rainbow”) — which was established in 2001 in Jerusalem and has since expanded to Jaffa, Haifa and the West Bank.

There is also a group catering to Palestinian gay women known as Aswat, which has been around since 2002.

The initial plan for IGY’s expansion was to establish an Arabic-speaking discussion group in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, which has a mixed Arab-Jewish population.

However, counsellors from the Palestinian community who were chosen to lead the group advised IGY to do more groundwork research before branching out their services.

“So at this stage we’re not opening a group, but have translated our site, so that at least the information will be accessible to Arabic-speaking youth,” Leabel said.

“We’re also setting up forums in which Arab-speaking guides will provide answers.”

Israel has often been accused of “pinkwashing”, in that its government espouses and purports its positive LGBT human rights record to promote support while downplaying its treatment of Palestinians. The latter includes the widely-criticised settler expansion of the West Bank or the construction of a wall along with travel regulations that make it difficult for many Palestinians inside the West Bank and Gaza to cross over.

A 32-year-old Palestinian counsellor who requested anonymity told Ha’aretz that he had reservations about joining IGY. However, he went on to say that he didn’t think “there’s anything so Zionist in the organisation’s activity that could be a problem for an Arab member”.

The counsellor also told Ha’aretz that his goal was to provide answers to Palestinian gay youth because his experience of growing up in a majority Arabic-speaking town meant he “didn’t know what was gay, and [had] no one to talk to [him] about sexuality, a condom and the most basic, important things”.

Despite active groups such as Al Qaws and Aswat, the counsellor highlighted that a separate group for Palestinians was needed because “[their] education is very different from the Jewish one”.

The Israel Health Ministry has acknowledged that the gay community is considered a “high-risk” group when it comes to mental health issues, and that LGBT youth in the Arabic-speaking community are especially disadvantaged and distanced.

“We want to create a place that Arab youth can choose to be a part of,” Leabel said.

“We won’t blur their Arab identity but give it weight and space.”

[Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6.05pm.]

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