Tens of thousands of people were celebrating in Tel Aviv’s streets Friday as the famously gay-friendly city put on one of the world’s larger Pride parades.
Rainbow flags flooded the streets, and organizers said some 250,000 people were expected to take part in the annual event.
The parade and accompanying festivities kicked off at 10 a.m. and were to continue until 7:30 p.m., with many streets in the city center closed for the duration.
Men and women in colorful costumes, including some dressed as samba dancers, paraded through the streets on motorized floats or sashayed alongside.
One float depicted a gym, with musclebound young men in shorts, and another held drummers and dancers.
Loudspeakers blasted dance tunes and favorites from last month’s Eurovision song contest, which was held in Tel Aviv.
With the temperature Friday at a balmy 28 degrees Celsius (82 Fahrenheit) clothing was for the most part minimal.
The march this year is being held under the slogan “The Fight for Equality,” with activists decrying continuing discrimination by the state.
Ohad Hizki, director of The Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force, said marchers hope “to bring about change in Israeli society and send a message that we need to end discrimination against the gay community and create an equal and tolerant society.
“The march itself is happy…but that is the essence of this fight…we won’t let anyone put the community in the closet.”
Hizki said that this year “over 40 parades and other events are taking place, an unprecedented number. The gay community is an inseparable part of Israeli society and we won’t let it be ignored.”
Gay couples cannot get married in Israel, though the government recognizes unions performed elsewhere. They also do not have the same rights to surrogacy as straight couples. And transgender people continue to report discrimination and have often suffered abuse in public.
Politicians in attendance included Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich, Stav Shaffir and Amir Peretz, Meretz head Tamar Zandberg and Blue and White’s Miki Haimovich, Idan Roll and Eitan Ginzburg.
New Justice Minister Amir Ohana, the country’s first openly gay minister, also took part, and President Reuven Rivlin sent a message of support.
For the first time, Friday’s parade began from Ben Zion Boulevard, not Gan Meir, home to the city’s LGBTQ community center, due to the large number of expected participants.
The parade route went down Ben Zion Boulevard to Bograshov Street before hitting the seaside promenade. More than a dozen sponsored floats were set to meander down the promenade, boasting DJs, elaborate costumes, and plenty of alcohol, to the final party at Charles Clore Park near the beach.
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 LGBTQ issues as well as art exhibitions, lectures, and plenty of parties at nightclubs and bars.
Several hundred police and volunteers will be on hand, a fraction of the massive police force called in to protect Jerusalem’s more tense annual parade last week.
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 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.
Among the throngs celebrating in Tel Aviv will be American actor Neil Patrick Harris, who is this year’s 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.
“It’s going to be a fun day,” said Harris, known for his roles on TV’s “How I met your Mother” and “Doogie Howser M.D.”
“I’ll be the guy dancing with his shirt off on one of those floats,” he joked.
AFP and Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.