I Know Who I Am – Debbie Strauss

Photographer Debbie Strauss writes for us on the issues the LGBTI community face in Israel. Her photography project with close friend Or Azulay aims to challenge these misconceptions and promote positive social change. 

In Israel marriages can only be officiated by religious authorities, and none allow same-sex couples to marry. Through my photography project ‘I know who I am’ I aim to challenge the misconceptions and biases towards the LGBTI community in Israel.

Or is someone who unfortunately has had to face these prejudices. Or, meaning light in Hebrew, appeared in my office and I knew instinctively that we would create something together. I met him during a very painful time in my life and he has become very important to me. He is beautiful inside and out, but carries a shadow. The LGBTI community is struggling to achieve full equality and end discrimination as required by law. We decided to work together and use my camera to challenge these stigmas.

Sadly no longer with us, Or’s grandfather was a huge support and positive influence on him. In my photographs Or wears the skullcap (kipa in Hebrew) his grandfather wore when he died. “He accepted me and in his last days said to me “You are neither the first nor the last” although it is against the ways of the faith he believed in me.”

With the help of a mirror I encouraged Or to look, observe and ask himself ‘who am I?’ and ‘what do I see?’. At that moment, the inner doors opened and he began to accept himself. During the project, he started to talk about his past and present without difficulty.

“I come from a religious house, I am not religious but I respect the traditions and to this day I have the best gift of my grandfather, his Shabbes Kipa (skull cap). My grandfather is no longer with me but I know that he taught me the greatest lesson: “believe in yourself.

I know who I am. When I look in the mirror, I see myself Or Azulay

Trusting my way and belief of life… engaged forever with my shadows, without stigmas… only with my belief. Let me be myself.

Believe that without stigmas… and believe life’s will be better for all the world

I hope that through this work, in due time we will be able to break the stigmas and that people look at us and accept us as we are… I HAVE FAITH IN WHAT I SEE IN THE MIRROR; I HAVE FAITH IN MYSELF.”

Everyone has the right to be loved and build their home and in the hope for positive social change we will send the photographs to the media and nonprofit organizations. I hope that my project will reach parents of the LGBTI community, so that they can accept their children as they are and reject social stigmas. Being different is not a disease, not being accepted creates a disease.