There aren’t many show business firsts left for Neil Patrick Harris, who has won awards and acclaim for his performances on Broadway, in film and television shows.
But in a hotel press conference, on the eve of the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, Harris said that his stint as the event’s international ambassador — the title given by the celebrity brought in to lead the parade — marked two firsts for him.
It was his first trip to Israel — together with his husband David Burtka. And despite that fact that he is one of the most successful openly gay actors in the United States, the actor revealed, this would be the first time he has ever participated in a Pride parade.
“This is my very first Pride parade,” Harris said in a press conference on Thursday. “I thought I’d start small.”
The actor was being ironic. The Tel Aviv celebration, which will mark its 21st year, is a massive event. Last year, attendance topped 250,000 — a record — and approximately 30,000 foreign tourist came to the city to celebrate.
"We are looking forward to being part of this beautiful expression of love and unity and equality alongside LGBTQ people and allies over the world," the actor said. "It's going to be a really fun day."
Channeling the humor he brings to his comedy work and vaunted stints hosting awards shows, Harris poked fun at the diplomatic pomp of his title. “When they asked me to be 'international ambassador' I agreed only if my children would start calling me that,” he joked. “But they refused.”
He said that he was looking forward to the parade set for Friday, promising “I’ll be the guy dancing topless on top of the float,” before noting that in preparation, “I’d better get to the gym.”
Harris said that for the past two days, he and his husband have “been exploring all the sights and experiencing all the tremendous food and the great hospitality” in Tel Aviv where, he said, “it is amazing, just so nice to see how the LGBTQ community is celebrated.”
However, this year's official international ambassador to Tel Aviv's Gay Pride Parade says he has no interest in being a gay icon.
"I'm just a guy who is married to another guy and we have kids and we live our lives I would say as 'normally' as one would. But I think normal is a very subjective term, especially in the gay community," he told The Associated Press. "I legitimately have no interest in being a representative or an ambassador for anything except my kids."
Israel has emerged as one of the world's most gay-friendly travel destinations in recent years, with Tel Aviv in particular noted for its gay-friendly lifestyle, in sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East where gay culture is often not tolerated or persecuted.
In Israel, homosexuals serve openly in the military and in parliament, and many popular artists and entertainers are gay. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed his ally Amir Ohana as justice minister, making him the country's first openly gay Cabinet minister.
While support for gay rights is increasingly widespread among the country's secular majority, Israel's LGBTQ community hasn't attained full equality. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which wield significant influence in Netanyahu's right-wing government, have long resisted legislation granting gay couples equal marriage and parental rights.
Among Palestinians, homosexuals tend to be secretive about their social lives and some have crossed into Israel to live safely. However, some critics have also accused Israel of "pinkwashing," or using its tolerance for gay culture to deflect criticism of harsh policies toward the Palestinians.
Harris, in his first visit to the region, refused to wade into those murky waters, saying he knew very little of the local scene.
Harris, who rose to fame as a child actor playing the title character in the medical drama Doogie Howser M.D., came out publicly in 2006 while starring as the notorious womanizer Barney Stinson in the popular comedy TV show "How I Met Your Mother."
He also famously played a fictionalized version of himself in the Harold & Kumar movies, in which he perpetuates his oversexed, drug-addicted alter ego, with the character even insinuating that "Neil Patrick Harris" was just pretending to be gay so he could trick women into having sex with him.
"I was the antithesis of who you would have expected," he said. "It was just the disaster rock-and-roll version of NPH," he said, referring to himself by his initials.
From the balcony of a luxury hotel in Jaffa overlooking the route of the planned parade route, Harris said he appreciates the great gains that gay people have made.
He noted that his visit coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, widely regarded as the opening salvo in the fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States.
"It's nice to appreciate where we've come from," he said. "I'm very grateful that I live in a time and in a world where the needle has moved a lot because of others, and I'm happy to promote the positivity of it all."
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