The True Colors of Activism
Israeli youth organization, IGY helps LGBTQ kids to fit in society, and runs events cross country to educate people about gender and human rights issues. Eran Evan, Tel Avivian fashion & art teacher and photographer is one of their most dedicated volunteers. Find out what it takes to raise a new generation in my recent interview for Time Out Israel’s English edition.
IGY is not a new organization – in fact it has been running for over 13 years. I got to hear about it from time to time, But only 2 years ago, when my oldest nephew turned 17 – something clicked. I came out to my friends and family as gay at age 15. Looking at my nephew, he really reminded me on my teenage years… not a simple phase at all. It triggered old, forgotten issues in my mind, and this is why working with LGBTQ youth suddenly felt so right to me.
How many of you are volunteering, and what’s the volunteer’s role in running the organization?
IGY this year has 300 volunteers taking part in different projects. First, there are 70 youth groups operated all across Israel. Also ,we’ve got Nir program going into schools around Israel talkinh about human rights, equality, gender, LGBTQ sexuality and many other related issues. Also – we have 30 volunteers doing Research and development of educational programs, fundraising and creating new projects. I specifically volunteer in a drop-in centre, functioning as a youth club In Tel Aviv, open for LGBTQ kids of ages 14 to 20. This club opens 3 times a week, offering a safe place where they can meet friends, chill out, play music, eat and cook while we are there as their friends, “older brothers” & “sisters”, sometimes even as their pushy “mothers” – someone older they can talk to and confide in with. IGY operates 3 more drop-in centers just like this across Israel.
The main focus is education, both formal and informal. Educating the LGBTQ youth but also the society we live in, to be a better society, teaching acceptance, gender diversity and the importance of giving every individual the simple opportunity to live her or his life the way if feels.
Do you have a favorite memory, an inspiring story to share, connected to your activity as a volunteer?
Through the past 2 years, my IGY experience has provided me with many special moments and situations to write home about. But the recent events on Jerusalem Pride parade leading to the murder of Shira Banki were certainly the strongest & most memorable ones. On that day of the parade, like on every Thursday, I was shift coordinator at the youth club. As the disturbing rumors from Jerusalem about the stabbing turned into horrific news, the event ended earlier than planned. We, in Tel Aviv, kept the club open till midnight so the youth, some who got back from Jerusalem and others who just needed someone to talk to or to be with, poured into the club. 60 people – youth, fellow IGY counselors & therapists – all sitting together, trying to verbalize their emotions or crying them out… It reminded me of myself at age 16, feeling helpless, unabled to grasp or cope with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the mourning of a whole country. In many ways, seeing my youth, the different ways in which they’ve expressed themselves or how they fiercely stood by their friends empowering each other’s side, was somewhat empowering for me too.
If people who read this would want to help, how can they approach IGY? Anyone can volunteer?
There are so many ways in which one can take part in IGY, whether you’re a people’s person who loves human interactions or someone who’s into doing magic backstage. Most of our volunteers are, of course, from the LGBTQ community but we’ve also got straight allies who want to come and take part in this change with us. We also have our “Alumni” and Friends of IGY, to help in fundraising and in opening new doors for us. On our website, igy.org.il anyone can find out more, or drop a mail to email@example.com.
You are a photographer, you teach fashion, and you’re a Shenkar graduate – where does the need come from, that apart from your work you have to give to society through volunteering?
I must admit – 2 years ago, when I first joined IGY, I really didn’t know just how strong the impact of it is going to be for me and how much it is going to affect what I do. Through fashion school, where I majored in menswear, I found myself constantly dealing with gender issues, with combining “feminine” elements which I felt aesthetically drawn to into menswear, while I tried coming to terms with my own femiminity, as a boy who was never “man” enough, growing up in Netanya, in a very non-accepting environment. Also in my photography, I find myself mostly taking portraits depicting Gay, Bi & Trans* men situated on various places along the spectrum of masculinity. Only through IGY did I find myself, for the first time after 20 years of being openly gay, knowing the real beauty of this community I’m a part of – and this beauty I try to capture through my art.
Finally, I heard Cyndi Lauper was once part of an IGY event – how did that happen, and what did she have to say about the LGBTQ youth? Is it a general thing that you are approaching international stars, press, or organizations to help promoting your work?
Yep, over a year and a half ago, as a part of Lauper’s visit to Israel, a special meeting was arranged in her behalf, where IGY also took part. Quite by chance but quite lucky indeed, I found myself at that meeting. She wanted to hear about the reality LGBTQ people face in Israel, how political and religious aspects affect them and to talk about True colors Fund she founded to fight homelessness among LGBTQ youth. Earlier this year we also welcomed Conchita Wurst, who came here for TLV pride, and took time to meet the IGY ream – the youth, and us volunteers as well. Globally we have several LGBTQ & Jewish organizations and allies which we’re in close contact with, exchanging new Ideas & connections, working non-stop to create a new, more accepting and less scary reality for LGBTQ kids across the country, and the whole entire world.