What A Party: Tel Aviv Pride 2011

Gay Pride in the Middle East sounds like somewhat of an oxymoron.  Gay anything is very suppressed in the region because of the religious influence on government and society… however Israel is another story.  Every year Tel Aviv hosts the only gay Toronto Pride 2009pride event in the Middle East and as a result it is a party like no other in the world.  Coming from Toronto I have watched the Pride Celebration there grow to the mammoth event it is today that attracts over a million people every year, so I must say I was a little sceptical about what to expect in Tel Aviv.  The city is very cosmopolitan and very liberal and the fact that it sits right on the Mediterranean helps to give it a European vibe.  When I arrived in Tel Aviv I asked where the gay neighbourhood is and I was told ‘the entire city is the gay neighbourhood’.  I thought my driver was joking but I discovered he was pretty accurate.  There are a few conservative older neighbourhoods where two men or two women walking down the street holding hands would cause shock, catcalls and maybe even a Hebrew tongue lashing but most of the city is very gay friendly. Tel Aviv prides itself on being an open and accepting society, and is a city of neighbourhoods each with its own shops, markets, restaurants and bars. The gay scene is focussed in the Yemenite District  with the epicentre around Rothschild Boulevard and Allenby Street and all along Dizengoff Street.  There are numerous gay oriented cafes, restaurants, clubs, bars, and shops with rainbow flags everywhere. For a city of roughly half a million people it supports a very strong gay community. Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai sent a letter to the gay community on its’ importance in the city.  Here is a quote taken from that statement ‘on the occasion of Gay Pride Week 2011’, a sign of changing times,  at least in Israel.

“The gay community serves as a true example of tolerance and openness, and even lights the way for other groups in Israel. Tel Aviv-Yafo will continue to act in the spirit of these values, giving each individual in the city a welcoming home, assistance and support. I congratulate the gay community as it kicks off the events of Gay Pride Week 2011, and its’ day of celebration is also a celebration of the entire city.”

The Gay Pride celebration is a week filled with parties, some getting underway at midnight and running until noon the next day! And of course there’s the big parade that, this year, attracted more than 100,000 celebrants as it wound its’ way through the streets of Tel Aviv, ending up at Gordon Beach for a massive beach party with entertainers and dj’s from around the globe spinning music all afternoon. What an amazing experience to be in the Middle East in this very liberal city celebrating gay pride with so many people gay, straight and everything in between with everyone sharing in the festivities.  The parade is a little different from those in North America.  Everyone gathered in Meir Park beginning at 10am, where a thriving Gay Community Centre is located, recommissioned as a beer and coffee bar for Pride.  There were booths and tables set up selling Pride souvenirs as well as providing information on a wide range of issues from HIV/AIDS to the protection of animals to a Tel Aviv based safe house for gay teens kicked out of their homes (that group had the most popular souvenirs, paper fans with their message across that were a welcome relief in the heat) .  Everyone wandered through the park, mingling and checking out the displays until around 11:30am when the stage show started with welcome greetings (including one from a representative of the Mayor’s office) and of course entertainment.

Then just after noon the parade started to make its’ way out of the park.  Instead of lining the parade route (although thousands did that too), everyone became part of the parade, walking and dancing through the streets, in front of and behind the floats. There were only about half a dozen floats in the parade, no marching bands, no dykes on bikes but it was led off by TEHILA, the Israeli equivalent to PFLAG (Parents, family and friends of Lesbians and Gays), to big cheers from everyone.  The celebration moved through the streets with people along the way shouting out their support, local businesses were also booming as they tried to keep up with the demand for cold water,  drinks (even beer and shooters), and food. The parade took a few hours to make its’ way to Gordon Beach where the World’s Biggest Beach Party was already underway (at least it sure seemed like the world’s biggest!).  There were over 100,000 people at the beach dancing to the music being spun by top dj’s, eating, drinking, laying out in the sand or plunging into the Mediterranean to cool down from the 32+C heat.  After wandering through the crowd for close to an hour I decided my blister covered feet and my overheated body needed to get back to the hotel.  I was glad I did and was able to cool down and relax and even got a few hours of sleep to prepare me for the massive party later that night.  It was called ‘We World’ an all-nighter going from midnight to noon at a massive warehouse type club that was absolutely packed with party people having a good time.  House music was blasting over the sound system with dj’s from around the world taking turns with the music. It was hard not to get caught up in the moment and soon the whole crowd was moving to the driving beat en masse. Of course I didn’t last until noon, I packed it in around 5:30AM, feeling just a tad tipsy from the alcohol and dizzy from the lights and music.

But while Pride week ended, a big LGBT International Film Festival got underway for another 5 days, a perfect way to wrap up the positive spirit of Tel Aviv Pride 2011.  I had such an amazing time… I may have to come back again next year.

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5 Responses to “What A Party: Tel Aviv Pride 2011”

  1. Amanda Merker
    July 29 at 12:51 pm #

    Hey Darren! It’s Amanda, you helped me choose what side i should get my nose piercing on in Tel Aviv. I was rummaging through my purse the other day, and came across your card. I’m curious, did you end up getting your tattoo? 🙂

    • Darren
      August 15 at 5:21 am #

      Hey Amanda! YES I did get it… in the place you recommended. 😉 Hope you are enjoying the nose pierce!

  2. Adam
    September 24 at 6:02 am #

    Hey!
    Very cool that you caught this and the Istanbul Pride parades. I missed Tel Aviv’s last year by a few weeks but caught the one in Berlin this year. Tel Aviv’s has always looked like a lot more fun to me – it’s on the beach!

    • Darren
      October 5 at 7:18 am #

      Tel Aviv’s Pride is so much fun! If you can make it, I recommend it! The parties, the parade and then the beach party… don’t miss it!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Istanbul Gay Pride 2011 | RTW Travels.com - June 26

    […] marks Gay Pride. Like the parades back in Canada and the US and the one I attended 2 weeks ago in Tel Aviv, this one was also led by parents, family and friends of the LGBT community. They carried signs […]

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