Thousands of proud gay, bisexual, transgender men and women and their supporters gathered at Independence Park in Jerusalem Thursday evening for the capital’s 12th annual March for Pride and Tolerance, which concluded at the Wohl Rose Park, opposite the Knesset.

As police helicopters monitored the parade from the sky, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, who was helping oversee officers at the procession, said officers had taken extensive measures to ensure the safety of all participants at the march.

“Approximately 2,500 people are taking part in the parade and police have secured the area, and we’re escorting all the people taking part,” he said. “Special patrol units, border patrol units and undercover units are watching over the crowd.”

Despite the heavy police presence, Rosenfeld said three arrests were made at the parade by 8 p.m. – including of a haredi man who lobbed a stink bomb at marchers, and two women who dressed up as a donkey and monkey, carrying a sign that read “I’m a proud donkey,” to incite the crowd.

“Undercover officers and patrol units arrested them, and there were no injuries,” he said.

Rosenfeld added that police have also been monitoring several anti-gay demonstrations in the capital.

“At the same time we’re dealing with counter-demonstrations taking place in haredi neighborhoods, where there is a strong police presence,” he said.

Meanwhile, several participants at the event expressed their thoughts regarding acceptance and tolerance in a religious city, pluralism, personal safety and the differences between being gay in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Chaya Grossman, 19, of Jerusalem – who was raised haredi and described herself as bisexual – said she found uncommon support from her ultra-Orthodox family.

“Maybe I’m not supposed to say it, but I feel quite safe because I have a loving family and loving friends,” said Grossman.

“But I also have friends who have been abused and discriminated against by their families and friends.”

Grossman said her family’s support surprised and encouraged her.

“My father said he knew [I was bisexual] when I first told him. But what makes it even more precious to me is that other haredi parents – and even secular parents – don’t accept their children for being gay.

“I’m fortunate,” she added.

Grossman conceded though that it has not been easy for her to be bisexual within her ultra- Orthodox community.

“Listen, I come from a haredi community, so I need to hide [my sexuality] from most of them,” she said.

In terms of comparing gay life in the capital to Tel Aviv – named the world’s best gay city in 2011 by LGBT travel website Gaycities.com – Grossman said Jerusalem is markedly less tolerant.

“I don’t really know the Tel Aviv gay community, but I know it’s much more open,” Grossman said. “Here people accept us less. We’re different.”

Guy Geron, 26, a computer science student from Tel Aviv, said he does not feel safe being gay in Jerusalem.

“I don’t feel safe here,” Geron said. “I don’t come here a lot, but my ex-boyfriend is from Jerusalem and I know I can’t act the same here as [in] Tel Aviv because here I can’t [publicly] express my affection for my boyfriend – or even speak out about things related to me being gay.

“You have to be smart here,” he added. “It’s not the way I like it, but I accept it as reality.”

Geron said he attributed Jerusalem’s lack of acceptance to the city’s “outspoken religious population.” Asked what needed to be done to make Jerusalem more tolerant, he said the answer is twofold.

“I think it’s a matter of the politicians in office making changes, and gaining legitimacy from the people,” he said. “It’s a political process, as well as a social one.”

Meanwhile, David Shatz, 25, of Jerusalem and his girlfriend, Yael Sloma, 26, originally of Tel Aviv, said they attended the parade to support their gay friends.

“We came because we think it’s important – specifically in Jerusalem – to support gay rights because Jerusalem is a very conservative and religious city, even puritan,” said Shatz.

Sloma compared what she described as significant differences between gay life in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“In Tel Aviv it’s like a huge party,” she said. “But here it’s more activist-related because it has much more significance, even though it should be a nonissue.

Of course, today it’s a major issue because of the parade.”

Sloma said she has noticed in the capital how rare it was for gay couples to be open in public.

“A few weeks ago, while I was walking down the street, I saw two girls holding hands, which in Tel Aviv is normal – but I realized how uncommon it is here,” she said.

Sloma attributed the dearth of openly gay citizens to the capital’s lack of “pluralism” and “liberalism.”

“I notice it even when I wear a short skirt,” she added.

Still, Tal, a journalist who requested her last name not be published, said she thinks conditions have improved for homosexuals in Jerusalem over the years.

“I pretty much feel accepted [in Jerusalem],” she said. “Lately, as the years pass, it has gotten more so than in previous years.

I’m not sure how it happened, but it’s how I feel.”

“I don’t feel safe, but that’s a general feeling because of the lack of peace,” she said. “It has nothing to do with being a lesbian.”

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