Israeli celebrity talks identifying as LGTBQ

Israeli+television+personality+Assi+Azar+speaks+in+room+306+in+the+Student+Center+on+Wednesday%2C+Oct.+28%2C+2015.

Israeli television personality Assi Azar speaks in room 306 in the Student Center on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015.

Kelly Powell

Assi Azar, a famous Israeli celebrity and openly gay man, spoke in Kent State’s Student Center on Wednesday night.

According to a “Quality of Life” survey administered at the university, 10 percent of the Kent State’s population identifies as LGBTQ. The typical percentage on a college campus ranges from three to five percent.

Azar’s presence brought more representation to the Kent State LGBTQ community.

Hillel, the LGTBQ Student Center, Delta Lambda Phi and Pride! Kent sponsored the event.

“I heard (Azar) talk last year in Cleveland, and I liked that he was talkative, friendly and down to earth,” Israel fellow Hagar Israeli said. “He made a meaningful connection with the students and staff.”

Once the idea to bring Azar to Kent State was formed, Israeli and others from Hillel asked the other organizations involved to share responsibilities.

“This event might be one avenue of reaching an under-represented population,” said LGTBQ Student Center director Ken Ditlevson. “Hopefully it inspires people from different cultures.”

Azar began by speaking about the initial trouble he had when defining his sexuality. He began to recognize differences in himself but decided to keep quiet about them.

“I was lying from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep,” Azar said.

His struggle began when he was in elementary school. His peers chanted homophobic slurs at him after he memorized a dance meant for the girls in their class.

“All I heard when they said those things was, ‘We know what you are,’” Azar said. “You begin to think that the way people see you will change.”

This anguish led him to consider suicide, something that is common for LGBTQ youth. According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

Azar expressed his frustration with the accessibility of answers in our modern world. He described his difficulty with finding resources on how to come out of the closet.

“Nowadays, it’s so easy to Google, ‘I’m attracted to boys. What do I do?’” Azar said.

However, he came out when he was 24 and has since attempted to “walk with, help and talk to people” who are facing situations similar to his past.

“It was a good, inspirational and educational experience coming from a famous person,” said Lukash Kowcz, a freshman special education major and member of Pride! Kent.

Azar also described the implications of identifying as homosexual in Israel.”

“Religion in Israel is very strong,” he said. “When I came out, on every Instagram post I would make, there would be comments that said, ‘God hates you.’”

Contrastingly, he said 90 percent of Israeli celebrities identify as LGTBQ, and on every season of “Big Brother Israel,” the television show he co-hosts, there is at least one person who identifies.

“(His talk) shed light on something Americans don’t get to see, which is the liberal and compassionate side of Israel,” said Mara Schoch, a junior theatre studies major and president of Hillel.

Karen Isaacs, a junior electronic media major and member of Hillel and Pride! Kent, agreed.

“This opens up another world of LGTBQ people,” Isaacs said. “Israel is incredibly different from America.”

According to a survey by Human Rights Campaign, four in 10 American LGBTQ youth cited being assaulted, kicked or shoved at school.

“At first I didn’t know how to define (my homosexuality),” Azar said. “In the end, we are just human beings.”

The speech sparked several questions about Azar’s statements from members of each organization represented, and the night ended in Azar speaking personally to several audience members.

“We had a great turnout,” Hillel Rabbi Lee Moore said. “(The talk) was so relevant to lots of people’s inner journeys. It was for everyone across the spectrum.”

Kelly Powell is the religion reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]