JTA — Approximately 200,000 people, including many tourists, gathered in central Tel Aviv for the city’s 23rd gay pride event.
The event, whose theme this year is women in the gay, lesbian and transgender community, kicked off Friday morning at Gan Meir, a park that houses the Tel Aviv Municipal LGBT Center. A representative of the center presented an award to journalist Ilana Dayan and to Ilana Shirazi, an organizer of lesbian marriage ceremonies.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai then gave the signal for the start of the Gay Pride Parade, which features a procession with floats and music terminating at a beach party in south Tel Aviv.
Among the first-time foreign participants this year in the parade is Buck Angel, a transgender male adult film producer, actor and motivational speaker from California. “This is my first time in this side of the world,” he told Ynet. “It’s exciting to see the gay community being accepted in the Middle East, and it’s generating change.”
Elsewhere in the region, homosexuals — gay men especially — are subject to legal persecution. Countless homosexuals have been murdered in the region.
Pro-Palestinian activists, however, accuse the Jewish state of using its relatively liberal attitudes toward homosexuality to mask, or “pink-wash,” its occupation of Palestinian lands. And some Israeli gay activists accuse the government of exploiting its reputation for tolerance to enhance its image but not investing much in the community.
Same-sex marriages are not performed in Israel, where Jewish marriage is the purview of the Chief Rabbinate. Muslims and Christians have corresponding religious bodies.
Last year, Yishai Schlissel, after being released from prison for stabbing several people at a 2005, Jerusalem gay pride parade In 2005, stabbed victims at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, killing a 16-year-old participant and wounding several others.
Despite these incidents, violence against homosexuals is relatively rare in Israel, which is rated by many LGBT publications as one of the world’s best and safest travel destinations.
Also taking part in the parade were members of a week-long LGBTQ mission to Israel sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America. During the mission, which officially ended Thursday, more than 100 participants met with leaders of Israel’s LGBTQ organizations, LGBTQ leaders from Israel’s political parties, Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. Participants included Stuart Kurlander, an attorney and former president of the Washington, D.C.-area Jewish federation, and Matt Nosanchuk, a senior advisor at the U.S. State Department and former White House liaison to the Jewish community.