From the Hilton Beach to The Breakfast Club Bar (Rothschild 6) and up to the Tel Aviv Convention Centre, the agenda is the same: to party all day and then party some more at the final parade on 8 June.

What has grown out of a small gay protest in Rabin Square in 1979 is remarkable, and not just because of the vast number of attendees due this year, or that Israel’s Pride celebration is considered the best in the world. It is remarkable because it is a showcase for the country’s tolerance in a region where being gay is a crime punishable by prison or death.

In the Middle East, Israel, a state defined by religion, is an oasis of acceptance, with Tel Aviv as the welcome desk.

In Israel, an Arab and a yeshiva student can be drag queens without fear of repercussion, gay men can be parents and LGBTQ people can serve openly in the military.

Gay Pride Tel Aviv

Of course, there is still contradiction and conflict with same-sex marriage not yet (or possibly ever) permitted by the government and protests including those by a lone perpetrator from the strictly-Orthodox community who murdered 16-year-old Shira Banki at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade in 2015.

But violence towards LGBTQ citizens is always criticised by the government and, in 2014, a monument to the gay victims of the Holocaust was erected in Tel Aviv. Because of this and Tel Aviv’s talent for throwing the best non-stop party of the year, Out magazine named the city “the gay capital of the Middle East”. Granted it has no competition, but it says something about Israel.

Roy Youldous Rosenzweig lives in Kiryat Ono with his partner Or and twin four-year-old girls Elya and Liri. 

Roy & family

He is marketing and development manager at Tammuz Family, a surrogacy and fertility company he joined following his own surrogacy journey.

“You have to separate the legal situation in Israel from everyday life for the LGBT community, particularly in Tel Aviv. Legally, things have not progressed much in the past 20 years, with some even saying it has gone backwards with homophobic remarks from rabbis and certain members of parliament. But daily life is wonderful and, as a gay father of twin girls, I’ve never come across any negative responses. Family, friends, neighbours and kindergarten have all been welcoming and supportive. There is more acceptance of the growing number of gay families and my job now is helping more of them to fulfil their dream of having a baby. Tammuz Family has had its 10th anniversary and more than 720 babies have been born via surrogacy over the past decade, many of them from the LGBT community. Seeing this change in recent years is amazing.”

Tamba Giat grows dates in Eilat, where she lives with her partner Dikla, a dance teacher. They will be together at Tel Aviv Pride in June.

Tamba & Dikla

“Tel Aviv is very liberal, but when it comes to hosting gay pride in Jerusalem – that’s a totally different story. Generally speaking, I don’t come across homophobia very often, but getting married and having children is still difficult. I believe (and hope) this will change in the near future. But Pride is great, and I have a vivid memory of Dikla and me standing on a high wall watching 200,000 colourful people dancing like crazy and feeling free and alive.”

 

 

 

Nona Chalant, aka Ronny, was born in Migdal HaEmek and is now a visual artist and drag queen in Tel Aviv

Nona Chalant

“In the Israeli army, I had a crush on a guy and thought ‘Okay, maybe there is something to check here.’ So I told my parents, who were very open and receptive to it,” says Nona Chalant, who has more than 6,000 followers on Instagram. As a photographer and graphic designer in the army, he emerged with skills that enabled him to work in TV news doing graphics – “But although I enjoyed it, I thought life is too short and I should do what I want to do”. That is when he began to research the culture of drag, which has a significant presence in progressive Tel Aviv. Even Jerusalem now has a gay bar, The Video, which is popular with Israelis, Palestinians and drag queens. Chalant now has an own-brand, House of Nona, and was the first Israeli queen to be featured in Italian Vogue, but is also known for photographing Israeli night life and producing fashion shoots. And as an ambassador for Tel Aviv, Pride Week will be a visible presence inside the first vegan truck on the parade route, and Chalant will later be singing a new single, Drag Will Save the World, on the main stage, keeping the party going.

NADAV PERETZ WAS BORN IN TIBERIAS, WHERE HIS FATHER WAS THE MAYOR. NOW HE RUNS HIS OWN GAY TRAVEL COMPANY, OUTSTANDING TRAVEL.

Nadav Peretz

“When work relocated my family to New York, I was at an age when I was sexually confused and sought help from JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), a controversial gay-conversion therapy programme that has since closed. Coming out to my parents was tough and I returned to Israel, joined the army and found acceptance.

I opened my company four years ago, but have always been involved in connecting Jews to Israel. When I visited London five years ago, I realised there was a need for a special gay travel company to take care of the many gay tourists who visit Israel.

Tel Aviv Pride is one of our busiest times of year, with thousands coming from all around the world. I love the parade, which begins at Gan Meir Park, and concludes at Gordon Beach with live music and a party that goes on all night. Pride has helped OUTstanding to grow, and this year we will have around 2,000 clients, from North America, Australia and Brazil.”

A year after their daughter, Shira, was murdered at Jerusalem Gay Pride by a strictly-Orthodox extremist, Uri and Mika launched Derech Shira Banki (Shira Banki’s Way), an organisation that would educate and promote positive values and tolerance.

Shira Banki

The Shira Banki Clinic for the Struggle Against Hatred in the Public Sphere runs an academic course that examines the legal, psychological, cultural, and social aspects of social exclusion and delegitimisation of groups in society. The clinic also provides pro bono legal aid for victims of incitement and racism, and publishes proposals for legislation to advance tolerance and turn the struggle against racism into a broader public agenda.

Bankis at gay pride

Uri and Mika Banki now join the Jerusalem Pride March each year and stop with hundreds of other at the place Shira was murdered, in 2015, to lay a flower in her memory. That year, Uri said: “We hope the sane silent majority, which sounded its voice following the murder of our daughter, Shira, will find the strength and build a healthier, more moderate society in which the loud, radical minorities are pushed to the margins.”

With an audience that includes high school students at-risk girls and teachers, the organisation’s public forums draw a large audience; one takes place every Thursday evening in downtown Jerusalem. An event in memory of Shira will be held on Tisha B’Av (21 July), but it is Uri and Mika, nominees at Jewish News’ Night of Heroes in February, who keep Shira’s memory alive every day.

www.sbw.org.il/en/shira-bankis-way

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