As gays fight for acceptance across the Western world, one city takes pride to far greater lengths.
“Welcome to all our guests from abroad to the gay-friendliest city in the world,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai declared as he kicked off the city’s 17th annual Gay Pride Parade. By far the largest gay pride event in the Middle East, over 180,000 people—including 30,000 tourists—took part, enjoying the parade, concerts, and performances of all kinds.
The event reflected Tel Aviv’s embrace of the LGBT community and the community’s embrace of Tel Aviv. The Pride Parade “is a central event on the global gay calendar,” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an official statement:
[It has] become one of the world’s leading and most famous gay tourist destinations, thanks to its tolerant atmosphere, warm weather (300 days of sun a year), famous culinary scene and world-leading nightlife scene. GayCities.com ranked Tel Aviv as the “World’s Best Gay Tourism Destination”, Lonely Planet considers Tel Aviv one of the world’s Top 10 hedonistic city breaks and CNN ranked the city as “one of the 10 best gay honeymoon hotspots.”
The celebrations are accordingly festive. “The parade,” reported the Times of Israel, “boasting trucks bearing DJs, dancers and drag performers, began at 11 a.m. local time as participants gathered at the city’s Meir Park. At noon, marchers began walking down some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, ending at Charles Clore Park on the Mediterranean beach.” The celebrations culminated with a performance by 2014 Eurovision song contest winner Conchita Wurst.
This year’s theme was “Tel Aviv Loves All Genders,” concentrating on the rights of transgender people. “Positioning the transgender community at the forefront of Tel Aviv Pride 2015 sends a clear message that the city supports this vulnerable community, promotes its visibility, shows support for its achievements and strengthens its members,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Indeed, the organizers went so far as to reach out to Caitlyn Jenner, perhaps the most famous celebrity to come out as transgender, to be the event’s guest of honor.
Tower photographer Aviram Valdman was there to document the festivities, glimpsing people of all genders and sexual orientations enjoying the freedom granted by a city that takes immense pride in its openness, tolerance, and embrace of joyous celebration for all communities. And the city’s leaders believe that this has led to broader changes throughout Israel. “We’ve been through a lot,” said Mayor Huldai. “In 17 years, we’ve achieved a different reality in this city, and also in Israel.”
And this reality is not only different from the past; it is unique in the Middle East, making Israel a bastion of tolerance in a region that often subjects LGBT people to oppression and deadly violence. As a result, the Gay Pride event is not only a source of pride for the gay and transgender communities, but for the entire State of Israel.
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Banner Photo: Aviram Valdman / The Tower