Since 2012, Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade has been the largest in the Middle East and the largest on the Asian continent, facts that delight many people. The parade focuses on the LGBT community’s battle for equal rights and equal opportunities. The first event marking Gay Pride Day took place in Tel Aviv in 1993, and in 2002, it was joined by the Pride Parade in Jerusalem. And indeed, Israel’s LGBT community has waged and is still waging a difficult battle for recognition of its equal rights, a battle that deserves recognition and proud celebration.
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Attending the Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv is fun. The event is full of acceptance and inclusion. Young people from the community come from all over the country to feel its liberal radiance and wrap themselves in the sexual and gender identity freedom that the city enables. A feeling hangs in the air that the world could be a better place: Activities for gay youth have spread to other parts of the country; small Pride Parades have sprung up in various towns; and if gay tourism has reached such enormous dimensions, it seems good things must be happening.
And indeed, the Tel Aviv Pride Parade is an asset, one that has been cynically exploited from beginning to end. The Tel Aviv municipality and the state both exploit the parade to show off their liberalism, a liberalism that attracts gay tourism.
While the Tourism Ministry invested 11 million shekels ($3.1 million) last year in bringing gay tourism to Israel, the Israeli LGBT community receives a budget of just 1.5 million shekels a year. Every gay tourist contributes about $1,500 to Tel Aviv’s economy, and this year 30,000 tourists attended the Pride Parade. So for both the state and the municipality, it pays. But what about the local community?
Living in Tel Aviv is the heart’s desire of many LGBT teens. The freedom Tel Aviv offers doesn’t exist anywhere else, and it doesn’t extend beyond the municipal borders. But this liberalism is reserved for those who have enough money to obtain the privilege. Moreover, even people who do move to Tel Aviv will discover that while it is indeed tolerant of sexual differences, when it comes to gender identity differences, that’s already beyond the bounds of liberal inclusiveness.
Tel Aviv’s liberalism can’t hide this, even if, for one day devoted entirely to the parade, it seems as if it does. Nor does the annual pride carnival conceal the fact that here in Tel Aviv, a murder was committed in a club for LGBT youth that has yet to be solved. Or the fact that in the streets of this city dwell minors who were thrown out of their houses because of their gender identity differences, and who work in the prostitution industry because they have no other address.
The Tourism Ministry’s advertisements don’t talk about that. Nor do they talk about the fact that neither the Tel Aviv municipality nor government agencies are doing everything they can to provide an address for these young people.
Another exploitation of Tel Aviv’s huge Pride Parade is using it to paint all of Israel in the colors of human rights, as if there were no occupation, with its fateful impact on the LGBT community. Not far from Tel Aviv, on the other side of the separation wall, are people who are liable to be killed because they belong to the LGBT community. They’re forced to hide their sexual identity, and are therefore also vulnerable to becoming targets of extortion by the Israeli security services.
Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade is still the largest Pride Parade in the Middle East, and this year some 200,000 people marched in it. We’re a liberal society wrapped in gay pride flags, yet we exploit the homophobia of another nation.
They tell us it’s a security necessity, that in order for us to be able to march and enjoy sexual and gender identity freedom in Tel Aviv, we have to do what’s necessary, even if it includes exploiting the vulnerability of Palestinian members of the LGBT community. But that’s already very small cause for pride.