Two thousand people are expected to march in the first gay pride parade to be held in Ashdod, Israel’s fifth-largest city, this summer.
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Jacob Giliov, one of the organizers, said he finds it strange that many young Ashdod residents are still in the closet and come out only after moving to Tel Aviv.
“Ashdod is the city I grew up in, and I don’t understand why I have to move to Tel Aviv to be accepted for who I am,” said Giliov, who is 18. “Why is the word ‘homo’ the worst curse here, and why does it have to be who I am in my city? We want to show that we are here as part of the city like anyone else. The only difference between me and others is my sexual orientation, and I don’t need to explain that to others.”
Giliov and about 20 others are in the midst of securing permits for artists' stands to be set up near the route of the parade, which is scheduled for June 21. The march, which is being organized in conjunction with Israeli gay advocacy group 6 Tzvaim, is expected to end with a beach party in the southern port city.
The city of Ashdod has not confirmed that the event will take place, but said it will give equal consideration to requests from all local groups.
“Every organization and local nonprofit apply in an organized fashion to the municipality, which will examine the matter in accordance with the annual schedule of events approved in the city’s annual budget,” the municipality said in a statement. “It doesn’t appear that Ashdod can legally behave any differently than the rest of the major cities in Israel that have been asked to take a stand on this issue.”
Journalist Dany Zack, a gay rights activist who is helping organize the parade, said he originally resisted the idea of holding a parade in the city because he thought such a step should come only after a greater number of gay residents joined forces to become a more cohesive group.
Now, though, he thinks the parade will be a badge of honor demonstrating the tolerance of Ashdod’s residents.
“It’s important for me to be a part of this city and not a part of the flock that drifts to the Tel Aviv ghetto,” said Zack.
The enthusiasm hasn’t spread to all quarters of the city, though.
“I firmly object to holding the event,” said Yosef Sheinin, Ashdod’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi. “I do not believe they will allow them to hold this kind of parade in Ashdod. It defiles the country and the people. The city of Ashdod is a traditional city. I am sure that police commanders won’t lend a hand to this, for fear of a civil war. Where have we come to that they are proud of this?”
The Ashdod municipality said it has a heterogeneous population and that all residents receive municipal services “without regard to religion, race or sex.”