Tel Aviv expects some 180,000 people to march in Friday’s annual Gay Pride parade, the nation’s largest and oldest gay pride event.
The parade, now in its 17th year, began at 11 a.m. local time as participants gathered at the city’s Meir Park. At noon, marchers are slated to begin walking down some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, ending at Charles Clore Park on the Mediterranean beach. The event is scheduled to end at 4 p.m.
Some one-sixth of the participants, or 30,000 people, will be tourists, many of whom came to Israel to participate in the march, according to officials.
The event has become one of Tel Aviv’s most popular annual festivals. Streets and stores have been decorated with rainbow flags for days. Thousands of Israelis flocked to the city center Friday to observe the parade, filling cafes and restaurants along the route to capacity.
The theme of this year’s parade is focused on transgender rights. Events like the parade are key to advancing recognition for the transgendered, Tel Aviv activist Elisha Alexander said earlier this week.
“As the parade approaches, more and more trans people are calling up to get help, to get support, so that’s what visibility does,” said Alexander. “That’s the main goal of all these pride parades and things like that — it’s just to be visible, that we exist.
“I lived as a straight woman for 30 years,” Alexander added. “Most of the reason it took me so long was just because there was no visibility.”
Security is tight ahead of the march, with police deploying hundreds of officers and warning locals that no cars would be allowed to park along the parade route.
Major arteries in the coastal metropolis will be shut at intervals as the march passes through the city, including parts of Tschernichovsky Street, Bograshov, Hayarkon, Frishman, Marmorek, Arlozorov and the Herbert Samuel beachfront promenade.
This year’s celebration features Eurovision winner and LGBT rights representative Conchita Wurst.
— Conchita (@ConchitaWurst) June 11, 2015
Luke Tress contributed to this report.