Reporter's notebook'Half-naked people showing their bodies aren't fatal'

Dancing for ‘a more tolerant world’: Revelers celebrate at Tel Aviv Pride Parade

Solidarity, support and a vision of a ‘free’ Israel as 250,000 enjoy Tel Aviv’s ‘biggest party of the year’

Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.

Celebrants from Gan Yavneh at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, June 14, 2019 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)
Celebrants from Gan Yavneh at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, June 14, 2019 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

An estimated 250,000 people paraded through the streets of Tel Aviv on Friday, singing, dancing and displaying rainbow-colored flags, hats and campy outfits in Tel Aviv’s 2019 Pride Parade, celebrating the city’s LGBTQ community.

Most of the revelers appeared to be in their late teens and twenties, although people of all ages could be spotted, including the elderly, children and families.

The parade wound down Ben Zion Boulevard, where organizations had set up booths highlighting issues including animal rights, “pinkwashing” of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, and asexuality. Vendors sold cold beer and water to the sweaty, high-spirited crowd, and loudspeakers pumped out catchy songs like Dana International’s “Diva,” Nadav Guedj’s “I’m a Golden Boy” and the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest winner “Toy” by Netta Barzilai, who also gave a live concert for the revelers at Charles Clore Park.

The Times of Israel spoke to Leah, a 16-year-old high school student from Tel Aviv, who asked not to be photographed for fear her that her grandmother, who does not know she is gay, would see the photograph.

People take part in the annual Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv, Friday, June 14, 2019 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

“I came because I am gay and I wanted to see what is going on here,” she said.

“It’s a bit hard to come out in my whole high school,” she said, “but I’ve come out to whoever speaks to me. It’s a very supportive school and they’ve taught us about these issues.”

Her parents know, she said, but there are some situations where she keeps her sexual orientation a secret.

Celebrants at the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade, June 14, 2019 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

Nearby, Boris and Misha, two men from Gan Yavne near Ashdod, were enjoying the parade with their wives. “We do this every year,” said Boris. “We feel that it’s very important for us to try to move to a more tolerant world. My wife and I are bisexual; it is very important for us to show people who we are.”

Misha said that he and his wife have a very open relationship and want everyone to feel free in their sexuality. “We want Israel to stop going towards religious oppression. In recent years, I feel like this country is heading in two directions — total freedom on the one hand, and a totally religious regime like Iran on the other.”

Boris estimated that less than a third of the revelers are from the LGBTQ community. “The Tel Aviv Pride Parade is less serious than the one in Jerusalem. It’s less about issues, more about partying. This is the biggest party in Tel Aviv every year.”

“People here are just expressing their emotions,” added Misha. “They want to be free and want to celebrate without being oppressed by politicians or religious people.”

“Half-naked people showing their bodies never killed as many as people as religious people,” he added.

Israel’s new Justice Minister, Amir Ohana, was among those participating, and President Reuven Rivlin sent a message of support.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, June 14, 2019 (Justice Ministry)

In a shady spot on the sidelines of the parade, we spoke to Omer, a 24-year-old bartender who recently moved to Tel Aviv.

Omer, a Tel Aviv bartender, at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, June 14, 2019 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

“I am bisexual,” he said. “In the past five years I’ve lived in Haifa for two years and Jerusalem for two years” and attended the parades in both cities. “The largest Jerusalem Pride Parade had 25,000 people. The Tel Aviv event is so much bigger.”

Omer, who lives in Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, said that in Haifa and Jerusalem the police kept a tighter leash on the parade and he even sensed hostility from them.

“Here it’s just so obvious that it’s okay and it feels so much freer. I feel less contempt here… The entire city is pride.”

“In Jerusalem, if you walk a few meters off the course of the parade, there’s no pride. People close up their shirts, remove their flag and put it in their bag. I did that myself because it feels uncomfortable otherwise.”

A couple in their 50s, Orit and Dudu, were wearing matching shirts emblazoned with the logo for Tehila, a support group for parents of LGBTQ children.

Dudu and Orit got involved with the Tehila support group after their son came out of the closet. (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

“Our son came out of the closet eight years ago,” Orit explained. “It was hard for us. We wanted to go to a support group and we did. Tehila really helped us. We realized we are not the only ones in our situation. After a year, our son came out to the whole family, and because we accepted it, everyone else did as well.”

Orit said that what was difficult at first was the idea that their son was different, not like everyone else, and also the worry over grandchildren: “My daughter is married and they have a kid and it’s not an issue, but for my son it’s an issue; it’s expensive and complicated. I have a friend and the state paid for fertility treatments for her daughter. We have all served in the army, my husband and I as commissioned officers. Why can’t the state support my son’s quest to have a child?”

Orit and Dudu’s son is marrying his longtime boyfriend in two months’ time, they said. The wedding will be held not in Israel, where gay marriage is not legal, but in Portugal.

“My son is happy,” said Dudu. “And it’s so encouraging to see so many people here at the Pride Parade, even though it’s really hot out. It’s not just us and two other people. We feel an enormous amount of solidarity and support.”

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