TEL AVIV — Thousands of bare-chested muscular men, drag queens in heavy makeup and high heels, women in colorful balloon costumes and others partied at Tel Aviv’s annual gay pride parade on Friday, the largest event of its kind in the region.
Well over 100,000 people were participating in the parade, police said, while Israeli media put the number at 180,000. The event also drew thousands of people from around the world.
Large sections of Tel Aviv were shut for traffic and loud music blasted along the parade’s route. Streets were packed thick with people waving rainbow flags and dancing. The theme of this year’s parade, which was the city’s biggest ever, was “Tel Aviv loves all genders.”
Among the visitors was Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian cross-dresser who won last year’s Eurovision song contest.
“There are just beautiful people here,” Wurst told Israel’s Channel 2 TV.
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“I have been to many gay pride parades around the world and this is one of the best,” he added.
A man dressed in a big white bow tie and sleeveless vest, who gave his name as Matteo Zakari, visited from Poland. He said “the people are amazing, the weather is amazing, I love Tel Aviv. The music is some of the best in the world.”
Israel has emerged as one of the world’s most gay-friendly travel destinations in recent years, in sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East where gay culture is not tolerated and gays are persecuted and even killed.