Tel Aviv kicked off the Middle East’s largest week of pride celebrations, with Friday’s scheduled 200,000-plus strong pride parade set to cap off a week of rainbow-infused parties and cultural events.
The theme of the parade this year is “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.
“The pride parade is a really fun event that unites the community, but it’s also a really political event,” said Noemi Seroussi, the chairperson of the Bi-Pan-Poly Forum of Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force. “It’s an opportunity for the community to say these are the issues that are important to us.”
Bi-Pan-Poly stands for bisexuality, pansexuality, and polysexuality, the two latter of which are non-binary extensions of bisexuality.
“In the past, the themes for the Tel Aviv pride parade used to be very general, things like ‘Proud Families’ or ‘We’re All Equal,’” said Seroussi. “Then there was a specific choice from within the community that allows the weaker groups a place to be heard.”
The move toward highlighting marginalized communities within the LGBTQ community started two years ago when the parade celebrated the transgender community.
Last year, the focus was on women and people who identify as women. “It’s really nice that they decided to make it about women, because sometimes gay pride events can be really male-dominated,” Miriam Fine, a 25-year-old lawyer from London, said at last year’s parade.
Seroussi said that a meaningful theme for the parade remains resonant even after the last balloons float away. She noted that while many people have gay and lesbian acquaintances, very few bisexual people are out of the closet as bisexual. Even within the gay and lesbian community, bisexuals often feel ostracized.
“Before we can talks about our needs first we have to say, ‘Hi, we’re here, and we exist,’” said Seroussi.
She hopes that the more political theme will enable the Tel Aviv pride parade to hark back to the roots of pride parades, which started as political demonstrations to show the size and support of the community.
“I want it to be less commercial and more political,” she said. “I want us to move from this happy party of ‘we’re all equal’ to ‘let’s unite as a community to fight for equal rights.’”
In the week leading up to the parade, the rainbow-festooned streets of Tel Aviv will feature dozens of bars boasting pride parties, in addition to an LGBTQ film festival at the Cinematheque and many other events, including a drag race in stilettos down the steps of Dizengoff Center.
Police are on high alert to ensure that the parade goes ahead without issues. On Sunday, officers arrested a man in Bnei Brak on suspicion of threatening the upcoming parade in a Facebook post. During the 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.
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.
Last year, the LGBT community was incensed when the Tourism Ministry announced it was spending NIS 11 million ($2.86 million) on advertising to attract European visitors to Pride week. That is 10 times the amount of annual state funding for LGBTQ groups.
After those groups threatened to cancel their participation in Pride Week, the Finance Ministry announced it would give gay and transgender groups NIS 11 million over three years.
Seroussi said that last year’s fight demonstrates the power that LGBTQ groups can harness. “These are budgets that will continue and renew each year, it’s really happening,” she said. “It shows what a community can do when we work together.”