Famous for its extravagant round-the-clock parties and the masses of hot guys who attend them, Tel Aviv Pride is a beacon of acceptance in an otherwise volatile Middle East. Here, writer John Howard celebrates like the Israelis do.
Sweet dreams are made of this…’ booms from the float decked out in strangely coloured Union Jacks and larger-than-life cartoons of Elton, Amy, Bowie and Freddie Mercury as it goes by on an afternoon so boiling most people are barely wearing clothes.
It’s the British contingent of the parade section of Tel Aviv Pride, which this year attracted a record quarter of a million people – not bad for a city of just over 400,000. Well, it is the biggest Pride event in a region not known for its tolerance and it’s not like everyone here is from Tel Aviv: Brits, Americans, Italians, you name it, the bold and the beautiful worldwide have flocked. As they always do.
And the whole city gets seriously involved in the Pride celebrations, from the government to the man selling falafel on the corner: apart from rainbow flag-lined streets, there’s barely a business – even far from the Pride route – that’s not done up in our colours, not just because of the gay thing but to prove that you’re on the liberal side in a country that can sometimes go the other way thanks to religious types.
Anyway, it’s not yet noon and we’ve walked right through a bit of what
they call White City, a UNESCO-protected area of important modern architecture, in the company of thousands of kids in school T-shirts, grannies with prams, young gays in mesh body stockings, a lesbian with her mobility scooter rainbowed up, and yes, plenty of those famously, implausibly hot Israeli men (well, they have to do two years in the army – that’ll lick a body into shape) in various stages of undress.
Now it’s the corporate bit of the event, where everyone from Microsoft to the city’s bars and clubs can show their support on booming floats packed with dancing gays that flank us as we all head up the beachfront to a park where all the shirtless men and lesbians with giddy hair can listen to techno. This bit of the day actually used to be better in that the parade ended on the beach itself so everyone went down to swimwear and broke up the afternoon’s dancing with dips in the sea, but that was before it grew to this size.
Later tonight there’s a massive – and massive even by London standards – dance party where the almost exclusively male crowd will get giddy to Eurovision winner Netta, then tomorrow in the open air is the even more massive afterparty – more of a festival, really – where a mixed bag of gays, lesbians, their friends and family get down to techno remixes of Pet Shop Boys tracks as the sun sets.
If any of this sounds par for the course for a Pride, bear in mind that we’re in the Middle East, but in the one city that has made a name for itself for acceptance, bending over in all the right directions to show its tolerance, with its big fancy LGBT centre and monument to the gays killed in the Holocaust. It actually feels a bit like Barcelona before it went massive around the Olympics: a hot, sunny city with amazing food, interesting architecture, unfeasibly hot men and rocking gay bars (none of that semi-secret stuff you have to do in Beirut). Basically, it’s a city that deserves to have a little bit of Pride.