In a sea of rainbow clothing and sequined accessories, those who wore more muted attire were the ones who stuck out the most at Tel Aviv’s 16th annual Gay Pride Parade on Friday.
“I should have worn a neon orange reflector!” said one such attendee, who in her gray t-shirt smiled sheepishly. “I seem to be a clothing outsider here.”
Vibrant was the way to describe most everything at the parade, from the wonderfully outlandish array of garments to the very energy that rippled through the estimated 100,000 participants. It was the most widely attended event of Pride Week, a seven-day Tel Aviv celebration packed with musical events, film screenings, festivals, bar nights and beach parties.
Throughout the week, Rabin Square was alight with rainbow-colored lights and flags, and streets were painted with the entire spectrum to reflect the city’s thriving LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer/questioning) culture. By Friday morning the seaside city was in full song.
Gan Meir, location of the opening ceremony for the parade, was transformed into a hub of all things pride. Hundreds of rainbow-colored balloons floated above the roads, streets were covered with stickers and fliers, and pop music blared from loudspeakers.
In the hours leading up to the parade, people of all ages, races, nationalities and sexual identities packed into the park to see performances by local musicians and performers in drag, hear a welcome from Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, and experience both the well-known and best-hidden gems of the city’s LGBTQ life.
While the opening was certainly celebratory, there was also an emphasis on activism. Numerous stalls had been set up under the shade of the trees along the park’s main pathway, staffed largely by community organizers and activists.
Enthusiastic AIDS awareness and sexual health advocates passed out information cards and wristbands.
A giant wedding ketuba was erected in the center of the path, and passersby posed with a heart-shaped sign saying “Allow civil marriage in Israel.” Campaigners for this issue distributed stickers, with many among the throngs choosing to display multicolored paraphernalia on their clothes and bodies.
The festival was a hub of individualism and creativity, and there were many reasons people gave for attending. A few cited supporting a gay relative. Some came to show their passion for specific LGBTQ causes. Still others attended to parade their own personal pride.
For many in the last category, clothing was the window to their story.
One man, wearing overalls and a bow tie, bore on his bare chest the words: “Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not.” A young couple wore only sparkling underwear and danced shamelessly through the streets. Many families were in attendance, and young children could be seen in outfits adorned with the same rainbow flag as their parents. There were also drag queens and cross-dressers, and groups in matching shirts emblazoned with a multicolored “We Love Tel Aviv.”
One man, standing in the shade, wore an intricate red dress and shouted: “Please! Take pictures!” Most needed no asking and snapped their shots as he exuberantly posed.
Once the speeches and performances were over, the actual parade began. It included floats, organized groups carrying banners, street performers and thousands of supporters waving flags and soaking up the Tel Aviv sun.
Following a route different from that of years past, the participants wound their way from Gan Meir to King George Street, then passed through Bograshov Street onto Hayarkon Street, quickly turning onto Frishman Street to the final party at Charles Clore Park on the beach close to Jaffa.
A parade-goer from the US said that the event, unlike many of its counterparts elsewhere around the world, was a far more “inclusive celebration.”
“At the Chicago parade, you can watch on the side of the street, but you can’t really participate in the actual procession,” she explained. “In Tel Aviv, the parade is the people.”
According to organizers, an estimated 30,000 tourists had traveled to Tel Aviv to take part. Many flew their national flags, often adorned with rainbows. Some came from nations with harsh anti-LGBTQ laws and policies.
Clearly, the focus on Friday in Tel Aviv was pride, the triumphs of the country’s gay population and the challenges it still faces. It was readily apparent that in Israel, the LGBTQ culture is a central and thriving aspect of the country’s national identity.