A senior figure in the Likud party will speak for the first time at the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade on Friday, in an historic first for the gay community in Israel.
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Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat will address the main event at the Meir Park on Friday afternoon. The Tel Aviv Pride organizers say this is a significant milestone in the way the ruling party relates to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Four years ago, at the memorial ceremony after the fatal shootings at Bar Noar club for LGBT youth in Tel Aviv, Livnat and then Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar were the first Likud ministers to speak at a large public gathering of the gay community. A gay section was established in the party a year and a half ago and since then the members have organized meetings with party representatives in the Knesset and cabinet.
Tel Aviv Pride Week began on Sunday and will continue with events through the month of June. The Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv is the central event and some 100,000 people are expected to participate, including tens of thousands of tourists.
In addition to Livnat, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich, Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) and the chairwoman of the Tel Aviv city council Yael Dayan are all expected to speak at the main even in Meir Park. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai will start the parade.
"In my opinion, this is the most significant thing that will happen this year at the gay pride event," said Adir Steiner, the coordinator of the gay pride events for the municipality. Steiner expects Livnat to be welcomed warmly by the participants.
"Fifteen years ago the Likud was viewed as an unreachable target, they didn't even bother to reply to our inquiries. Now it seems perfectly natural that Limor [Livnat] will speak," Steiner added.
Livnat's presence has more than symbolic importance, Steiner said. "It is possible to expect that our supporters will now feel more comfortable voting for changes in the law relevant to the gay community. The good news is the legitimation of the right-wing of the political map for equal rights for gays and lesbians," said Steiner.
Livnat said she has supported the gay community and its struggle for equal rights for years, she told Haaretz. "My positions came out of the closet on this issue years ago," she said. But Livnat also said she is aware that the presence of a Likud minister is not something to be taken for granted.
"The Likud is definitely a conservative party and it has less openness and liberalism than other parties, who are identified with the farther left side of the [political] map. We are a right-center party, not a religious party, and I very much hope that there will be more people and elected representatives who will see themselves as liberals and come support the gay community," said Livnat.
The composition of the present government creates an opportunity to act on behalf of equal rights for the gay community, she added. More specifically, there are no parties in the government which represent ultra-Orthodox viewpoints. "This is a government with a much more liberal streak. There is definitely a very convenient makeup for legislation in places where it is necessary," Livnat said.
Livnat also said she supports proper regulation of domestic unions in Israel, which would allow gays to marry. She also said that the issue of same-sex couples becoming surrogate parents could be addressed, in particular by the new health minister.
"This is under the responsibility of Health Minister Yael German," Livnat said. We have a very liberal health minister. Before her there was no chance for it to happen. I assume she listen carefully also on the matter of surrogacy."