Tel Aviv Gay Pride parade draws thousands

Saturday Jun 13, 2009

An estimated 20,000 people took part in Tel Aviv's annual Gay Pride parade, dancing, swaying and sashaying through the streets of the sizzling Israeli beachside city on Friday.

Drag queens, straight parents of homosexual children and civil rights activists were among the crowd that descended onto the streets for the colourful celebration.

The parade culminated in five gay "weddings," even though same-sex marriages are not officially recognised in Israel.

The protest was held amid tight security, and a small group of right-wing and religious demonstrators protested the parade, holding up banners proclaiming: "God hates debauchery."

Israel's interior minister and chief rabbis had earlier called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call off the parade to keep the "abomination" away from children's eyes.

The heart of Israel's cultural life and a bastion of secularism, Tel Aviv has been hosting the annual parade for the past nine years with relatively few objections from the country's religious community, unlike similar events in Jerusalem which saw violence and even one stabbing.

Israel is widely seen as having liberal gay rights policies, despite the hostility homosexuals, particularly men, encounter from the ultra-orthodox Jewish community.

Israel repealed a ban on consensual same-sex sexual acts in 1988.

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