Pride Month events will kick off this Friday in Tel Aviv, considered one of the most popular cities in the world among tourists from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
The month, which will be filled with pride events, will be launched with the official opening of Tel Aviv's Hilton Beach, the first "proud" beach in Israel.
According to estimates, some 20,000 tourists visited Tel Aviv last year during the Pride Parade period, and this year organizers expect even more foreign visitors.
Most tourists are set to arrive from Germany, the United States, France, Spain, Holland and England, but few visitors are also expected to arrive from Saudi Arabia, Jordan
where life as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is mostly spent in hiding.
Players of gay soccer team Rainball pose for Pride Month at Rabin Square (Photo: Guy Yechiely)
The main event of Tel Aviv's Pride Month is the Pride Parade, which will be held in the city for the 15th year in a row on Friday, June 7.
Some 100,000 people are expected to participate in the parade, which will leave from the Gay Community Center at Meir Park and will be kicked off by Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai. The event will be hosted by actress and comedian Orna Banai and journalist and filmmaker Gal Uchovsky.
According to the organizers, this year's Pride Parade will also be attended by Finance Minister Yair Lapid,
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni,
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, Opposition Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich,
Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On and Knesset Member Dov Khenin (Hadash).
Fountain lit up with colors (Photo: Guy Yechiely)
The Tel Aviv pride events will include cultural shows, lectures, exhibitions, festivals, parties and special activities. They are already been promoted at the city's Rabin Square with a huge rainbow flag which includes pictures of Facebook users from the Municipality's official page, who were asked to pose for a photo under the banner "Proud in Tel Aviv."
Dozens of additional rainbow flags are expected to be hung across the city, and the Rabin Square fountain is lit up with the colors of the rainbow every evening.
(Photo: Guy Yechiely)
The Tel Aviv Municipality's Gay Center will hold a series of activities and cultural events throughout the month, and will host the eighth International LGBT Film Festival together with the Cinematheque. The City Hall will host a festive cocktail ahead of the Pride Parade on Thursday, June 6.
The municipal budget dedicated to the pride events this year totals some NIS 500,000 (about $135,000), and another NIS 1 million ($270,000) have been invested in a campaign mostly targeting foreign tourists – which was also funded by the Tourism Ministry. The campaign, which has been going on for six months now, included the introduction of an English-language website which has been visited by some 200,000 people so far.
Last year's Pride Parade in Tel Aviv (Photo: Yaron Brener)
According to Tel Aviv Council Member Yaniv Waizman, who is also the mayor's advisor on gay community affairs, "There has been a breakthrough in terms of public visibility. I believe the public atmosphere is improving year after year – from the cultural, media and political aspect – and this year senior ministers have confirmed their participation. We are a liberal country, and it's not just happening in the Tel Aviv bubble."
Despite his optimism, Waizman says there is still room for improvement. "There is a long way to go in terms of surrogacy, the family unit and the community's economic strength," he explains.
Commenting on claims that there is no longer a need for a pride parade as the LGBT community is already part of the consensus, he says: "The parade is an opportunity to increase the community's visibility and raise awareness. As long as 'homo' is still the most common swearword in schools and on the most popular television program in Israel, the parade should still be held."
According to Mayor Huldai, "The Pride Parade has become one of the city's symbols, and I believe that Tel Aviv-Jaffa, a city of tolerance, will serve as a lighthouse and compass for other cities in the country in regards to this issue."