Hen Mazzig speaks on importance of LGBT acceptance in Israel

Former Israel Defense Forces commander Hen Mazzig delivered a lecture to students about the struggles of being openly gay in the Middle East. The lecture was followed by a showing of "Oriented," a film by Jake Witzenfeld. (Kevin Musco/The Daily Campus)

Hillel and Huskies for Israel hosted speaker and LGBT activist Hen Mazzig to discuss his experiences as a member of the LGBT community in the Israel Defense Forces. After Mazzig had finished his talk, he answered questions from those in attendance. There was also a short screening of the documentary, “Oriented.”

Hen Mazzig began his talk by providing some background information on his life. Mazzig was born and raised in Israel, but his grandparents had originated from Iraq. Mazzig became emotional as he described the injustices experienced by his grandparents, and how this persecution gave them no option but to leave their home for the asylum of Israel. He stated that he always tells this story regardless of his lecture topic, as Mazzig believes it is important for the stories of his grandparents and those who have been treated similarly to be made known.

Mazzig then continued to talk about his life in Israel. He described the terrorist attacks that he witnessed firsthand as a young boy, and how the kindness and love shown by his mother in the aftermath of these attacks inspired him in serving the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

It was during his five year service in the IDF that Mazzig came out as gay after being encouraged by his commander. Within a short period of time, Mazzig had worked his way up to the rank of officer. Being an openly-gay officer was not always easy, but Mazzig praised the way that the IDF handled any problems he may have faced during his service. During this time, Mazzig also began educating people on the LGBT community. Mazzig was sure to mention, however, that Israel was not perfect, and that the country still had a long way to go in terms of equality.

“It seems that there is still a long way to go for Israel and everyone in general for LGBT acceptance, but it definitely seems like we have made progress over the years,” second-semester finance major Josh Cohn said.

Mazzig currently serves as the head of the Trasgender Department for an LGBT task force, volunteering 20 hours a week in order to ensure that transgendered people in Israel are being treated equally and with respect.

Mazzig concluded his talk by opening up the floor for questions. During one of his answers, Mazzig discussed the unfair and often violent treatment of members of the LGBT community in many other Middle Eastern countries.

This caught the attention of fourth-semester Physiology and Neurobiology major Miriam Katz.

“I think here in America we take it for granted that progress is made usually pretty quickly” Katz said. “So we think in Israel it’s not that big of a deal, that they are pretty much at the same pace as we are, but most of the other Middle Eastern countries are lightyears behind us.”

After all the questions had been answered, there was a short screening “Oriented,” which told the stories of three openly-gay Palestinian men, and how their backgrounds affected their navigation through their daily lives. Only about 20 minutes of the 1 hour and 30 minutes long film was shown, but “Oriented” still managed to make an impact on the audience during its short screening.    

“Oriented” is available on Netflix for instant streaming and can also be viewed through the Rainbow Center.


Lauren Brown is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lauren.brown@uconn.edu.