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LGBTQ+ Activist Shares His Story with University Community
As part of a new speaker series about promoting human rights, Hen Mazzig, a writer and speaker who served in the Israeli Defense Forces, discussed serving as an openly gay commander, as well as his family's unique background.
November 6, 2019
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Caira Felder '20 says the opportunity to be in the audience for a campus discussion led by Hen Mazzig, a writer, international speaker, and activist, offered a significant and meaningful learning opportunity for her and her classmates.
"It's important for students to attend talks like this because we need to be aware of what's going on in the world – not just where we live," said Felder, a business management major. "People from other parts of the world bring different experiences and points of view."
Mazzig visited campus as part of a three-week North American speaker tour that also included visits to the University of Maryland and George Washington University.
In his talk entitled, "LGBTQ and Equality in Israel and the Middle East," he discussed the history of Israel, the stories of the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and the background of his own family, which comes from Iraq and North Africa. He also described his work with The Aguda, Israel's LGBTQ+ taskforce in Tel Aviv.
"It doesn't make you less American – or less Israeli – to disagree with politicians. That's where a debate begins."Hen Mazzig
Mazzig, who is openly gay, served in the Israeli Defense Forces for nearly five years. His unit oversaw the construction of medical facilities, schools, infrastructure projects, and security coordination with the Palestinian Security Forces. Although it took time for him to feel comfortable coming out, he says that, for the most part, he found acceptance and inclusivity while serving.
"It was terrible to be in the closet for so long," he said. "All my life, I was told to be ashamed of something – my background, my sexuality. These are my identities, and I try to be true to them."
The third of four speakers to visit the University this semester as part of the Human Rights Law and Policy Speaker Series, Mazzig explored politics, policies, and identity, and he encouraged the campus community to continue to foster dialogue that is open and respectful.
"I'm proud of Israel, I'm proud of what it has achieved," said Mazzig. "It doesn't make you less American – or less Israeli – to disagree with politicians. That's where a debate begins."
The speaker series was created by a sub-committee of the University's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Council in response to the growing number of incidents of antisemitism across the United States. It endeavors to explore new approaches to combat these incidents – especially on college campuses.
Many students were eager to continue the conversation, and they enjoyed the opportunity to learn from Mazzig.
"It was so interesting to hear about his background and his family history," said Felder.
Kay Wilson, a British-born Israeli tour guide, musician, author, and cartoonist who survived a brutal machete attack in 2010, will speak at the University on Thursday, November 14, as part of the Human Rights Law and Policy Speaker Series. The program will begin at 3 p.m. in the Alumni Lounge in Bartels Hall, the campus center. Anyone interested in learning more about the series should email Prof. Martin A. Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.