200,000 party at Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade, region’s biggest

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Colorfully-dressed drag queens and bare-chested muscular men on floats partied alongside thousands of others from the LGBTQ community at Tel Aviv’s annual gay pride parade on Friday, the largest event of its kind in the Middle East.

Israeli media reported that 200,000 people joined the festivities.

“The sun is out and everybody is partying and having fun, the atmosphere is great,” said Christian Tummann, a German tourist celebrating with his husband.

“I feel so happy, so happy, that I can go to the Middle East and still be proud, it’s very nice,” said Swedish tourist Dona Ulzen.

Parts of the bustling city shut for traffic and loud music blasted along the parade’s route, which was crowded with people dancing and waving balloons and rainbow flags.

Israel is widely tolerant of gay people, and Tel Aviv has emerged as one of the world’s most gay-friendly travel destinations. The city stands in sharp contrast to much of the region, where people are persecuted and may even be killed because of their sexuality.

Jerusalem, known for its rich religious history, holds a modest pride parade each year.

The majority of Jerusalem’s residents are observant Jews, Muslims or Christians, conservative communities whose members mostly frown on homosexuality. But violent attacks on gay people are rare.

A radical ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed a teenage girl to death at Jerusalem’s parade in 2015. The attack was widely condemned and the killer was convicted for murder.

A minute of silence was held at the Tel Aviv parade Friday to remember and honor 16-year-old Shira Banki, who was killed in that attack.

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