LGBT olim at the Jerusalem gay pride parade.
LGBT olim at the Jerusalem gay pride parade. Photo by Ezer Rasin
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Imagine an LGBT pride parade without pomp. Without trucks, mandatory naked abs, and electronic club music flooding the scene. Imagine a pride parade in a place where accepting one another, socially and politically, regardless of sexual, ethnic or religious identities is still controversial, and a parade which puts this challenge before hedonism and a party mood. You’re now leaving Tel Aviv. Welcome to Jerusalem!

The ride to the Jerusalem Pride Parade on Thursday was the worst ride of my life. Tel Aviv just wouldn’t let me go – the line of people in front of the intercity bus at the Arlozorov terminal was infinitely coiling around itself, and when the bus came, first it got stuck in a traffic jam at the exit from Tel Aviv, then edged past a road construction site and finally broke down altogether some 20 km from Jerusalem. With a reassuring “I’ll just go pee for a minute and everything is going to be fine,” the bus driver disappeared in the bushes and left the stranded passengers to their frantic texting. However, to the honor of Egged, a spare bus soon appeared and hurried us to the capital. In Jerusalem, relieved that I might make it on time after all, I jumped on the newish light rail train, which rolled down a couple of blocks, signaled and came to a halt. There it remained in thoughtful contemplation despite the protests of the passengers. When we finally reached King George Street, I jumped off, and blessing the high-tech industry that had the goodness to install GPS on my smartphone, I rushed to Gan Haatzmaut – Independence Park – where the parade was already beginning.

I walked through the greenery populated by religious mothers with children, picnicking peacefully some hundred meters from the event. As I walked further, flocks of observant families became interspersed with same-sex parents playing with their children – the first sign that I was walking in the right direction. It was amazing not to hear the gathering – while in Tel Aviv the Pride Parade would be sending out booming decibels, here it was more like a whisper of positivity among the other noises of the city. On the grass, LGBT olim had put up their banner with a rainbow-colored Star of David. “We’re queer and we’re here,” it read.

The head of the parade had already started to walk. I passed the “Fairy Liberation Front,” dressed in fantasy costumes and almost the only ones to display some skin, and moved through a crowd of regularly dressed people, who were laughing and socializing as they went. No mind-boggling torsos, no skimpy speedos, no confetti, no alcohol stalls along the road, but an intimate and laid-back atmosphere, where you didn’t have to appear better than you were. Several banners displayed messages in Hebrew, Arabic and English, addressing the multilingual crowd. In the front, the parade leader with the megaphone was trying to get the arch of rainbow balloons to march in the center. “Balloon arch, move to the right, balloon arch, move to the right,” he bellowed, as the carriers continued to chat with their friends.

The people under the rainbow arch had lot to achieve in a city where everyone feels like a minority – the Arabs, the religious, the secular. As they marched towards the Knesset, slogans for equal rights flew in the air. Back came a stink bomb, thrown by an ultra-orthodox man, who was quickly arrested by the police. Again it made me think of Tel Aviv, where spectators in the streets are as much a part of the parade as the party trucks, cheering from the sidelines and sprinkling the heated crowd with cold water from their balconies.

And this is precisely the reason why the LGBT events outside of Tel Aviv – in Ashdod, Haifa and Jerusalem – are so tremendously important. It’s one thing to march through a city that is considered to be one of the most gay-friendly spots on the planet. It is another thing to say: “We’re here too”, in areas where prejudice is strong and where antagonism can take (and has taken) tangible form.

Certainly, the Pride Parade in Jerusalem is a demonstration for politicians to show that equal love needs equal rights. But the same message of tolerance is also directed to the people of the city, to show that Jerusalem of gold also has place for other colors of the rainbow, and that open-mindedness and acceptance are the best policy of co-existence. And besides the general pleasantness of being on good terms with your neighbor, a gay-friendly environment tends to be the best marker of tolerance, which is in turn a pre-requisite for creative and economic output, as the urban studies theorist Richard Florida argued in his pioneering book "The Rise of the Creative Class."

Tolerance does not always appear automatically according to some predermined path to progress, and bringing the difficulties on the way to light is a much more effective strategy than hushing them down. I hoped that some of the positive energies of this day would pass into the decisions of politicians and into the hearts of the citizens. At the end of the day, if I was proud of anything, I was proud of having taken part in this walk for equal rights and social acceptance. The trials and tribulations of the road from Tel Aviv were well worth it.

Nadja Rumjanceva is a translator and lecturer at Tel Aviv University.