Op-Ed by Jackson Pincus
This post recounts an event that took place on 8 June 2018. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to publish it earlier!
First published on Jackson Pincus's personal blog under the title “Tel Aviv Pride” on June 14, 2018.
Including this year, I’ve now been to three Pride festivals in three different cities in the three years since I came out. The first: New York City, the original. The second: Capital Pride in Washington, DC, where I spent last summer working to save money for this trip. This year? The best of the bunch and my first international Pride festival: Tel Aviv, Israel. This year organizers estimated 250,000 people, the largest EVER for Tel Aviv and the Middle East.
There are a smattering of other Pride festivals in this historically conservative region of the world: approximately 25,000 people usually participate in Jerusalem along with similar numbers in Haifa, and Beirut, Lebanon last year hosted a very much underground and secretive series of events due to the government’s stance on LGBT people. This year, the organizer (the same person as last year) was arrested by Lebanese authorities and forced to cancel all events. But Tel Aviv is different. At one point it was named the best gay city in the world, and is a perennial contender for this title. The city puts up rainbow banners on the lamp posts of almost every main street, businesses put up rainbow flags in their windows, and the parties become even more plentiful.
Since I was staying with my friend Lin (a former IDF soldier from my Birthright trip two years ago), she came to Pride with me and met up with other friends to make our group even bigger. We left around 9 AM from Rishon LeTzion, the fourth largest city in Israel and a Tel Aviv suburb. Arriving in Tel Aviv around 10:00 AM, we met up with a friend of hers for breakfast who would also be joining us for the parade. Another packed bus ride down to the beach later, we hopped off and walked a few blocks to the former Embassy of the United States, right on the beach. As a landmark, we knew our other friends (other Birthright friends from AU) would be able to find us. Eventually, our group grew to around 6 people and we snagged the perfect spot right on the street to watch the parade.
The parade itself starts a few blocks inland before winding its way northwest towards the beach and cutting south along the beachfront boulevard. Filled with music and a DJ on nearly ever float, participants and onlookers alike dance and sing as loud as possible, simply enjoying the freedom afforded to us on the beaches of Tel Aviv. The feeling is almost indescribable, simply being surrounded by so many people like me in what is easily my favorite city in the world. Dancing, singing, and of course rainbows and glitter as far as the eye can see- this is Pride, a celebration of humanity and a reminder that LGBT people are here and still fighting to be recognized as equals.
After the parade as we were following its tail end, we decided the heat had gotten the better of us and joined the thousands of other Pride-goers who had taken advantage of the beach just a few meters away. Tel Aviv has one of my favorite beaches of all time, with warm waters, a shallow-ish and sandy sea floor, having spent a good hour on the beach, we felt refreshed and happy with our Pride experience.
Post-parade, there is always a huge free concert further down the beach with almost every Israeli superstar present. This year that included Netta Barzilai, the winner of Eurovision 2018. While I would have loved nothing more than to be there, Lin and I were constrained by the train schedule- on Fridays, train service stops quite early due to Shabbat. So, even though I’d offered to pay for the taxi back to Rishon, we decided to start heading back so we could catch the much cheaper train.
The night concluded with a small gathering at the home of one of Lin’s high school friends in Rishon. We ended up staying there quite late, so by the time we returned to her house around 2:00 AM, both of us passed out very quickly. Having been awake and walking for 18 hours at that point, I considered it a successful day and an absolutely successful Pride festival.