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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Being gay in Tel Aviv
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2011-06-08

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TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Perceptions can be hard to overcome.

Many Americans still view this Israeli city as it was years ago —not the safe, vibrant, fun, energetic city it is today.

It's also one that also is gay-friendly and -accepting. In fact, it is very much so.

Tel Aviv boasts itself as the New York City of the Middle East—a lively, happening, non-stop city. I agree.

Tel Aviv is history and tradition meeting trendy and cutting-edge. It's museums, shopping, art and the beach. Yep, the beach—which runs along the shore line from north to south and is, arguably, the most beautiful aspect of this city. There is, naturally, a gay beach, located near the Hilton Hotel—and certainly no shortage of Speedos.

"From a gay perspective, I think Tel Aviv is the way a city should embrace a gay community. It's a good example for how I'd like to see the rest of Israel embracing its gay community," said Zohar Avigdori, 29, a Tel Aviv-based tour guide and educator. "Tel Aviv has a very big, vibrant gay community. I think Tel Aviv is leading by example for the rest of Israel to follow [ its gay community. ]

"Tel Aviv is a very accepting, very gay-friendly city—and that's the reason that a lot of gays come to Tel Aviv. It's the city's character and weather, the history, the culture, everything. Everything transmits openness and acceptance."

Everything gay in Tel Aviv anchors around the city's new, multi-story Municipal G.L.B.T. Community Center, known locally as the Proud Center, or, HaMerkaz HaGe'e. The Proud Center is the local version of Center On Halsted, where its monthly calendar of activities is as loaded, diverse and wide-ranging as the one we see at COH.

The Proud Center is, "one of the pinnacles of the city, somewhere that others can learn from—how a municipality gives [ to a community, ] " Avigdori said.

The center has been 20 years in the making, the expansion of what was once a basement apartment gathering-spot for local LGBTs. It is also the site of the tragic, still-unsolved 2009 shooting that left two dead.

The Proud Center, "is an integral part of what Tel Aviv is," Avigdori said.

Tel Aviv is a booming, bustling major city. It is trendy and topical, and actually also tropical—sun, sun, sun. The beaches of the Mediterranean Sea are charming, inviting and loaded with hot bodies all year long.

Tel Aviv is the economic, cultural, and financial center in Israel—and also a 24/7 party town.

"There are still a lot of questions about what is [ the LGBT ] community's role in the city," Avigdori said. "Is it able to contribute as it did in the past in terms of openness of thought, of politics, in terms of art and more? Can it fight for its right and also acknowledge the injustice that is done to other sectors of society? Maybe it can lead the struggle on these issues as well.

"Tel Aviv has an issue with foreign workers; it has an issue with immigration workers [ and ] social gaps. A lot of gay people, because of being deprived of rights, are also sensitive to that, so maybe they can contribute to that as well."

Gay life is everywhere locally, starting on the website for Israel's tourism office, where it boasts a significant, high-profile spotlight on Gay Tel Aviv.

Same-sex couples are everywhere, especially gay men. They kiss, hold hands and can be found throughout the city. Especially late at night into the wee hours of the morning—when the gay life locally really comes to life.

Bars and clubs don't get going until midnight, and they rock until the wee hours of the morning. I'm not sure they even have closing-hours. They close when the last customer leaves, one local told me with a smile.

They offer the same, current, hip music played at, say, Sidetrack and Roscoe's, with some Israeli and international songs mixed in.

"It's fun. It's interesting to see how there's a huge variety of parties in the club scene," said Avigdori, who noted that there are clubs ( including late-night ones that get going after midnight ) , and local bars.

Tel Aviv Pride is June 10.

"Pride here is awesome. It's huge, a lot of fun," Avigdori said.

There are activities during the week leading up to Pride Day, including lectures, a film festival and more. Pride flags can be seen throughout the streets, and the event features a massive on-the-beach party and, naturally, rolls into the wee hours of the morning.

Tel Aviv Pride has seen a lot of growth since its inaugural event in 1998, Avigdori said, especially with the variety of attendees—people of all ages, sexual preferences and backgrounds, including gay families.

"There's a huge amount of gay and lesbian couples that have adopted babies," Avigdori said.

So what are the LGBT issues facing locals?

They include homophobia, still, as well as the gap between Tel Aviv and the rest of the country, Avigdori said. "The level of [ gay ] acceptance in Tel Aviv is amazing, but slim to none in other places in the country where they are very traditional," he said.

Avigdori said same-sex marriage likely will gain more exposure over the next couple of years, and he added that HIV and AIDS awareness is, "very high."

Israel does not have a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In fact, all have to serve in the Israeli military, including gays.

For more on Israel—specifically, profiles of a Tel Aviv official and Israeli singer Ivri Lider—visit www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .

Also please see related stories exclusive to the online edition of Windy City Times.


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