Tens of thousands of people flocked to the streets of Tel Aviv Friday as the city’s 20th annual Pride Parade kicked off at noon. Much of the city closed down as partyers, many dressed in elaborate costumes, danced and marched alongside parade floats pumping out music from multiple sound systems.
The parade, expected to draw at least as many people as the 200,000 who attended last year’s event, is the peak event of the city’s pride week, with parties expected to continue for the whole weekend.
The march also brings tens of thousands of tourists to the coastal city, with many businesses displaying rainbow flags and advertising special offers to attract customers. Even Google got in on the action, with the internet giant putting a rainbow border around the page of search results for the event.
American television personality Andy Cohen is serving as international ambassador for the 2018 parade, a position held in 2017 by internet gossip columnist Perez Hilton.
The colorful march began at Ben Zion Boulevard in southwestern Tel Aviv, before proceeding to the beachfront, along Bograshov, Hayarkon, Frishman, and Herbert Samuel Streets before concluding at Charles Clore Park, where the main party is to be held this evening.
Mayor Ron Huldai kicked off the proceedings, telling marchers that he was proud to stand in front of them and issuing a rallying cry for equal rights. “We will continue to break through the walls of hatred and reach a time when all people are equal in Israel,” he said. “This parade has an extraordinary meaning in the sense that we are here, and we are not leaving.”
Many of Tel Aviv’s largest streets were blocked to traffic as of 8:30 a.m., including Allenby, King George, Hashmonaim, and Ben Yehuda Streets.
Floats will move through the closed streets, including one sponsored by the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, and decorated under the theme of “Love is Great Britain.” The UK ambassador to Israel is David Quarrey, an openly gay man.
Likud lawmaker Amir Ohana, who is raising two children with his partner, told the Ynet news site that it was “fun to be here.”
MK Tamar Zandberg, chair of the left-wing Meretz Party, said that those fighting for change should not rest on their laurels.
“We are proud to have marched here for 20 years in a row, and since the first march we have made great progress and registered many successes,” she told Ynet. “But we must not give up and resign ourselves to a situation where there is no equality before the law, and we will not accept discrimination. Discrimination, violence and hatred still exist, and as long as they are here, we will also be here to fight these dark phenomena.”
Joel, who traveled to the event from Newcastle in the UK, told Walla that he was pleased to be at the parade, but that the fight for rights must continue.
“This is my first time here, it’s the biggest parade in the world — our parade is more conservative and here it’s more colorful, more happy, more friendly. It’s well known on social media,” he said. “But we must not forget those who fought for us, and brought the parade to the place it’s in now. We wish everyone a happy parade!”
Police have deployed hundreds of officers and volunteers along the parade’s route — and around the gathering areas — to secure the revelers, to direct traffic, and to maintain public order.
They announced that no weapons will be allowed into the parade area. Glass bottles, bicycles, animals, and drones will similarly be banned.
Various artists will perform during the parade, including singers, bands, and drag artists. One of the main shows will be by Netta Barzilai, the Israeli winner of the 2018 Eurovision song contest.
The march is the region’s biggest, as Israel stands in sharp contrast to many of its neighbors. Across the rest of the Middle East, gay and lesbian relationships are mostly taboo.
In 2017, the Tel Aviv Pride parade was briefly held up when pro-Palestinian protesters blocked the route.
Other Israeli cities are also planning Pride parades over the summer, including Jerusalem, where the heavily secured event has expanded in recent years. In 2015, 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox man during the Jerusalem parade. The assailant was the same attacker who — 10 years prior — had stabbed three Pride participants, yelling that he was on a mission from God. The man, Yishai Schlissel, had completed his 10-year prison sentence and had been released not long before the 2015 murder. He is now serving a life sentence.
Agencies contributed to this report.