Over 200,000 people from Israel and abroad attended Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade on Friday, packing the streets for the colorful annual event under this year’s theme “Bisexuality Visibility.”
Police said they were expecting around 100,000 people, while organizers put the figure at over 200,000, with an estimated 30,000 of them from overseas.
The parade is the region’s biggest as Israel stands in sharp contrast to much of its neighbors. Across the rest of the Middle East, gay and lesbian relationships are mostly taboo. Pervasiveness of religion in everyday life, along with strict cultural norms, plays a major factor.
Same-sex relations are punishable by death in Iran, Sudan and elsewhere.
The parade in Tel Aviv began at noon, and proceeded to the beachfront, along Bugrashov Street, Hayarkon Street, Frishman and Herbert Samuel, concluding at Charles Clore Park in the city’s south, where a party will be held into the evening. Intermittent road closures were expected throughout the area, including along Allenby, Arlosoroff and King George.
About 10 floats took part in the beachside procession, one of them depicting an ancient warship built by staff at the British embassy in Tel Aviv, the embassy website said. Britain’s ambassador to Israel is David Quarrey, an openly gay man.
Security was heavy surrounding the parade, with hundreds of police, who warned the public to refrain from bringing any sharp objects or fireworks to the area, as well as animals and bicycles. Officers are also permitted to search revelers for weapons even without probable cause.
On Sunday, officers arrested a man in Bnei Brak on suspicion of threatening the upcoming parade in a Facebook post. During the 2015 pride parade in Jerusalem, 16-year-old Shira Banki was murdered and several others injured by Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox extremist protesting the parade.
At Friday’s celebration, Mattan Segev, 36, said he had been attending Gay Pride events since he came out at the age of 13.
“There is a natural contrast between what is going on in Israel and what is going on in Muslim countries around us but I don’t see why we equate ourselves with them,” Segev said.
“Israel tries to see itself as part of the European countries or the West. If you equate us to the West, the situation looks very different,” he added. Same sex marriage is not technically illegal in Israel but there is no institution permitted to perform it and couples must travel abroad to wed.
“Tel Aviv Pride Parade is not just a celebration, but also an important declaration of support. Tel Aviv, which has already been acknowledged as the world’s ‘most gay-friendly city’ will continue to be a light-house city – spreading the values of freedom, tolerance and democracy to the world,” said Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai.
Celebrity guest US blogger and TV star Perez Hilton said Friday: “I am so excited to be the International Ambassador for Tel Aviv Pride 2017 and I’m thrilled to be in this city with my children and to show them a place that I truly love. With all the awful things happening to Gay, Lesbian and Transgender people all over the world, I am so happy to be in a place that is so welcoming.”
The parade caps off a week of pride celebrations, which featured a glut of rainbow-infused parties and cultural events.
The Tel Aviv municipality places a large emphasis on Pride Week, since it is a huge draw for international tourists. More than 30,000 came to Israel for pride week last year.
Eitan Schwartz, CEO of Tel Aviv Global — part of the mayor’s office — said the event, funded by the municipality, was part of a month of events supporting Gay Pride.
“Gay tourism is one of the pillars of our economy,” he said.
The theme of the parade this year was “Bisexual Visibility,” making it one of the largest parades in the world celebrating bisexuality. Each year, members of Tel Aviv’s LGBTQ community choose a theme for the week of events in June. Past themes included last year’s “Women for a Change” and “Transgender Visibility” the year before.