I first became proud of Tel Aviv Pride when I cycled through my local park three days before the official Pride weekend. It was early June; it was getting hot and a sense of anticipation was in the air. A stage was being built and pop-up bars were being stocked with beer. But what brought unexpected tears to my eyes were the flags. Hanging from the same trees and lamp-posts where just one month earlier Israeli flags had flown, marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, were dozens of Pride flags; their multi-coloured stripes moving majestically in the breeze.
The park, known locally as “Gan Meir”, or “Meir Garden”, is home to Tel Aviv’s LGBTQ HQ, and to Israel’s memorial for homosexual victims of the Holocaust. I knew it would be a focal point for Pride celebrations but there was something about the area’s unblinking acceptance of the event that hit me emotionally.
Children were racing around on bikes; mothers were breastfeeding newborn babies on the grass; a group of Girl Scouts was mid-way through a nature challenge. All the while Pride flags flew and no one complained. I remembered a speech at a friend’s wedding two years ago, when he told the story of growing up gay in 1980s Britain, being shamed into silence by books, doctors and TV, all of which told him being gay was abnormal and unhealthy. I felt a warm glow when I realised that the children playing in this park today would know that to be gay is to be normal. Because here was a city-wide acknowledgement of homosexuality and it was as normal as any other municipal event.
A twenty-one year old guy from Vienna had booked into the Airbnb room in my apartment and I was happy when he told me he’d flown in for Pride. I connected him with people I know in the gay community and pointed him in the right direction of the weekend’s big parties. We sat on my balcony the night before the parade, drinking gin and tonics and talking about life by the Danube in Vienna versus life by the sea in Tel Aviv. Pit was perfect.
The next day, the city was booming with music, colour, life and laughter from sunrise to sunset. It takes a lot to get a Tel Aviv road closed - people here love to use their cars - however half of the roads near the seafront were pedestrianised for the day to allow marchers, floats and revellers to make it safely to the celebrations.
I met my Israeli friend and her Slovakian boyfriend by Bograshov Beach and we cheered, danced and laughed for hours with just palm trees for shade, while we watched the carnival move by. The atmosphere was both jubilant and emotional. A group of women marched holding signs in Hebrew which read ‘My son is gay - so what?”. American, EU and Israeli flags flew in the sea-breeze. The British embassy sent a float featuring giant cut outs of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, plus a red telephone box and the slogan “Love Is Great’. Drag queens and newly gay teens intermixed and everyone danced and cheered some more. There were rumours that Dana International and Netta Barzilai – Israel’s two Eurovision winners – were going to appear, but for safety reasons they didn’t. But we hardly needed the real-life versions; when Netta’s ‘Toy’ played from any passing float, the crowd went wild, embracing this young Israeli as an icon of acceptance and empowerment.
Last year, I lived with American millennials during Pride and they went to town with sparkly make-up, costumes, wedge heels and much pre-gaming at home before the festivities began. I, by contrast, fled the city and spent the weekend on a kibbutz, assuming the fun would turn threatening at some point. But this year I understood that Pride Tel Aviv is one of the most peaceful, happy events a person can attend. I’m not gay but I felt like I wanted to be there for my gay friends, and for my new city. I decided to join in the sartorial fun too: “Gold lame bikini is on (let's all break free today and do things we'd never do, like show our midriffs). Tel Aviv Pride is GO!”, I wrote on Facebook, as I nervously premiered a new H&M bikini I’d bought specifically for Pride. After bumping into two of my friends who were marching with their organisation Igy – Israeli gay youth – we left the sea-front and headed in-land for coffee and brunch. There were Pride flags and happy people everywhere. Bars, cafes, hardware stores – they’d all joined the celebrations, helping to show the world that Tel Aviv is a place of diversity, modernity and pride. My heart was warmed by all the love around me. The party went on ‘till dawn in the city’s bars and clubs, and the flags flew well into the next week and beyond – an experience I’m so glad I was able to witness.
Tel Aviv Pride took place on 8th June 2018