Tel Aviv’s annual Pride Parade is expected to draw 250,000 people to the city’s rainbow-drenched streets on Friday, among them actor Neil Patrick Harris, who will be participating as the 2019 International Pride Ambassador.
“I agreed to be International Ambassador on the condition that my children would start calling me that as well, but it hasn’t caught on,” Harris said at a press conference ahead of the parade.
Harris, well-known for his roles on TV’s “How I Met Your Mother” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” as well as Broadway’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” has twins via surrogacy with his husband, David Burtka. Both Burtka and Harris are in Israel for the first time.
“We are seeing the sites and enjoying the food and visiting the LGBTQ community,” said Harris. “I am excited to be in the Pride parade; it’s my first ever Pride parade so I thought I’d start small,” he joked.
Tel Aviv’s parade is the largest in the Middle East and one of the 10 largest Pride parades in the world.
The annual pride parade is the boisterous end to more than 45 pride-related events across Tel Aviv, including the first National Conference on LGBT issues as well as art exhibitions, lectures, and plenty of parties at nightclubs and bars.
The Tourism Ministry estimates that 25,000 to 30,000 people come from abroad to participate in Israel’s Pride events, injecting some NIS 162 million ($45 million) into the local economy. The Tourism Ministry spends NIS 320 million ($89 million) on advertising Israeli tourism to gay audiences, including for Pride Week.
In the past, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community activists have been critical of the large budget for tourism marketing compared to the paltry budget for community activities.
In 2016, activists were incensed by an NIS 11 million ($3 million) Tourism Ministry plan to attract European visitors to Pride, including a plan to paint a passenger jet with rainbow colors that could have cost NIS 1.5 million. The advertising budget was 10 times state funding for LGBT associations. After groups threatened to cancel their participation in Pride Week, the Finance Ministry announced it would give gay and transgender groups an additional NIS 11 million over three years.
City Councilor Etai Pinkas Arad, who holds the LGBT portfolio for the Tel Aviv municipality, said the state funding issue and the tourism advertising budget were two separate issues.
“The Tourism Ministry does its work, and they are doing it very well,” said Arad. “That’s not connected to the fact that the government still needs to give more money and support [to the LGBT community] for things like social welfare, sports, and especially equal rights.”
Arad highlighted ongoing issues that need attention, especially marriage rights, equal adoption rights, safety for transgender people, and parental rights for lesbians.
Arad and his husband attempted to have a child via surrogacy in Israel but were informed that surrogacy is only available to straight couples. They filed a petition in protest with the High Court of Justice 10 years ago but the case has not progressed. They eventually went abroad for surrogacy and now have three daughters, though Arad noted that many people don’t have the resources to pursue this path.
“The parade is just one day, but more important is the other 364 days,” said Arad.
For the first time, the parade will kick off from Ben Zion Boulevard, not Gan Meir which is the home of the LGBT community center and the previous start of Tel Aviv parades, due to the large number of expected participants. The parade route will march down Ben Zion to Bograshov Street before hitting the seaside promenade. More than a dozen sponsored floats will meander down the promenade, boasting DJs, elaborate costumes, and plenty of alcohol, to the final party at Charles Clore Park.
“It’s going to be a fun day,” Harris said. “I’ll be the guy dancing with his shirt off on one of those floats.”