Shirtless men, colourfully dressed drag queens and tens of thousands of Israelis partied in Tel Aviv on June 12th to celebrate the city’s annual Rainbow Pride Parade, the largest event of this sort in the Middle East.
Tel Aviv is one of the few places in the whole of Middle East where gays and lesbians are free to walk hand-in-hand and kiss in public. In contrast to the rest of the region, it has emerged as one of the most LGBT-friendly travel destinations in the world.
Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesperson, said more than 80,000 individuals gathered at Tel Aviv to participate in the Rainbow Pride Parade. LGBT community members and supporters waved rainbow coloured flags and danced to the beats of loud music as peppy tracks were played along the route.
Tel Aviv’s acceptance of gays and lesbians is a striking contrast to the conservative lifestyle of Jerusalem that is only a short drive away and home to some of the holiest sites in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. While homosexuality is not considered a taboo in Israel - gays openly serve in the country’s military and parliament and many popular entertainers and artists identifying as gay and lesbian - leaders of the LGBT community say the country still has a long way to go in ensuring equality to all individuals.
Despite all its liberalism, there is no gay marriage in Israel but that is primarily because there is no arrangement for civil marriages either. All Jewish weddings are conducted by the Jewish rabbinate that considers homosexuality a sin and violation of Jewish law. However, the state does acknowledge same-sex couples who choose to get married abroad. The rest of the Middle East looks upon gay and lesbian relationships as taboo in the least. Homosexuality is a criminal offense in many of these nations; Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Yemen and Sudan punishing LGBT community members with death.