Israels gayfest an equal love thing

The event's theme, equal love, is a political message emphasizing the need for equal rights for queer people. "We demand that the state give us the natural rights that other couples have to establish legal partnerships" as well as the tax and mortgage benefits granted to married couples, explained Etai Pinkas, chair of the Association of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender in Israel. Affectionately known as the Agudah, Pinkas' organization sponsored the event in coalition with the City of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

From its beginnings in 1998, the pride festival has increased in size every year, and is attended by many outside the LGBT community. Last year, roughly 50,000 people attended the event. Pinkas expected more this year, but many suspect that fewer participated because of the security situation.

For Knesset member Yael Dayan of the Labor Party, the participation of so many outside the gay community shows the growing acceptance of homosexuality in Israeli society. "We are in a new phase [where] the norm is equality," said Dayan.

But some expressed frustration that the festival has become too much of a party.

Participant Amit Sha'anan would have preferred a more political message at the event, one that expressed a greater demand for important rights.

"There is too much carnival here. It is too heavily organized by the municipality. We have to smile and cannot demonstrate enough."

One group at the parade attempted to add a political message different from the one Sha'anan intended. Dressed in black, the group's members in the parade carried black triangle signs with the Hebrew and Arabic words, "No pride in occupation." Some gay community members expressed opposition to this, while others cheered the "People in Black" on.

Politics aside, Maya Ziv explained she wanted a day to be proud of her identity and "not hide."

"It's not that it's important [for a political reason] to be here, but it is just very natural," said Aviv Gal. "Usually we are the minority, and here we feel good," added Gal's friend Nitzan Levy.

Kinneret Dekel smiled widely and hugged her girlfriend during the park concert. "This is our time to celebrate," she said.