This article originally appeared on VICE Serbia
In my almost-30 years, I've never felt such freedom and seen so many different people gathered around the same values as during the celebration of Gay Pride in Tel Aviv. Joyful, colorful, powerful, sometimes a bit terrifying, but, for me, at certain moments, painfully touching. Although I knew what the day would be like, I wasn't expecting to have such a visceral reaction to it.
More than 200,000 people, both locals and foreigners—and among them an estimated 35,000 tourists—make the city's authority-funded Pride event the biggest of its kind in the Middle East.
Young and old, gay men, lesbians, straight people, trans women and men, gender benders, couples with children; all possible body types, different nationalities, ethnicities, and religions: there was room for everyone. And this year the huge street party's theme was "Women for Change," promoting women's role in the LGBT+ community.
"Dear friends, we have been marching for years, and we will keep on marching in a search for equality," veteran Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai told the crowd before the start of the march. "We will keep on walking the streets of Tel Aviv in the hope that pluralism, tolerance, and the liberal values of this city will spread throughout the country, Middle East, and the whole world," said Huldai, who has run the city since 1998.
The gathering started in the morning in Meyer park, where an LGBT community centre hosted stands for human rights groups from Israel and the rest of the world—from activists fighting against genital mutilation of babies to others battling homophobia in Russia.
A seemingly never-ending wave of people took to the streets, dancing alongside trucks carrying drag queens, dancers, and LGBT activists joined by this year's Pride ambassadors, Orange Is the New Black's Lea DeLaria and Scottish actor Alan Cummings (below).
The parade ended in a park near the sea with DJs and bands calling for peace in Middle East and solidarity with LGBT people still discriminated against. Manuel, a straight guy, told me he'd come from his hometown of Jerusalem to "celebrate freedom for all" with his friends. And to have fun, of course.
Nuhr, a dance instructor, said the Pride was a sort of tradition, as her parents had taken her to the parade as a kid. As the march went on, a huge banner reading "PINKWASHING" was rolled down from a building along with a hose spraying water on the crowd. A group of activists consider Tel Aviv Pride as a way to promote Israel as an oasis for human rights while turning a blind eye to the country's conflict with Palestinians.
And it is scary that just some 30 miles away from the "gay capital of the world" homosexuality is illegal. Even in those places where it's not, like in the West Bank, human rights for the LGBT community are still taboo. Many Palestinian gays, fearing for their lives, are forced to flee to Israel, although they have been treated, according to many testimonies, as a security threat, with many living under house arrest, while some are even deported back. Even in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, the position of LGBT people is far different and more difficult than in Tel Aviv, with its reputation as a non-stop party cosmopolitan city.
The parade, along with a bunch of other events, has been held since 1997. Many say Tel Aviv is a sort of bubble offering a safe space for people to be who they choose, without fearing for their own safety. I have to say, I had tears in my eyes during Pride as I've rarely felt such carefree, mutual respect, and freedom. I know that something like this isn't yet possible in Serbia, where a thousand policemen guard about a hundred people gathered for the Pride parade and where you can't hold hands with your same-gender partner without fear of being beaten.
Here are some more photos from Tel Aviv Pride