By CARON CREIGHTON
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Ripped men in white underwear, pink bunny ears and black bow ties gyrated through the streets of Tel Aviv along with drag queens and others to loud trance music for the annual Gay Pride Parade on Friday — the biggest event of its kind in the region and drawing people from around the world to party.
The Tel Aviv Municipality said 250,000 people celebrated on Friday.
Cordelia Lange, from Germany, said Tel Aviv is “a very vibrant city, it’s a city that embraces everything connected to gays, lesbians and LGBT and I think it’s a combination of city at the beach and good vibes.”
The good times in Tel Aviv contrasted sharply with events just 70 kilometers (44 miles) to the south, were Israeli soldiers braced for a mass Palestinian rally along the Gaza border. The Islamic militant group that rules Gaza has been leading weekly demonstrations that have turned violent, with 115 Palestinians killed since late March. Israel says it’s defending its sovereign border, including nearby communities.
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 often not tolerated.
Across the rest of the Mideast, the pervasiveness of religion in everyday life, along with strict cultural norms, play a major factor in making gay culture taboo. Same-sex relations are punishable by death or prison in Iran and elsewhere.
In Israel, homosexuals serve openly in Israel’s military and parliament, and many popular artists and entertainers are homosexual.
Among Palestinians, most homosexuals tend to be secretive about their social lives and some have crossed into Israel to live safely.