TEL AVIV, Israel, June 9 (Xinhua) -- Over 200,000 people from around the world gathered in Tel Aviv on Friday to march in the largest-ever pride parade in Asia and the Middle East.
The theme for the year 2017 is "Bisexual Visibility," which highlights the important contributions of bisexual individuals to the thriving LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community in Tel Aviv.
The parade started with a moment of silence in solidarity with the victims of the persecutions in Chechnya and in memory of Shira Banki, a 16-year-old girl who was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem's gay pride parade in 2015.
As one of the leading parades worldwide, the parade in Tel Aviv has developed into hilarious gay tourism events, including an LGBTQ Cultural Festival in theaters, special performances, floats and pride concerts.
The march passed through main streets of the coastal city until it reached the shore, where a large party kicked off and is expected to last until early the next morning.
Drag queens with shiny dresses dancing on platforms, girls with painted rainbows on their bodies and a mix of old and young people of all genders marched along the route of the parade, with loud dance music beats.
"I came to the parade to march for my friends who are still in the closet and have no rights," Layla, a 26-year-old transgender woman living in Tel Aviv, told Xinhua.
Despite many advances in gay rights, "the transgender community still suffers discrimination and many are alienated from their own families, which refuse to accept them," she added.
The parade was "not just a celebration, but also an important declaration of support," Tel Aviv-Yafo Mayor Ron Huldai said, adding that the city will "continue to be a light-house city, spreading the values of freedom, tolerance and democracy to the world."
Although Tel Aviv is dubbed by some media outlets as "the World's Gayest City" or "the Gay Capital of the Middle East," same-sex couples, whom can be acknowledge as common-law partners, cannot get married in Israel, as Jewish marriages are possible only through the Chief Rabbinate, which considers homosexuality as a sin.
However, poll findings published on Friday showed an all-time high of 79 percent of Israelis supporting same-sex marriage or civil unions.
The Hiddush organization for religious pluralism, which commissioned the survey, said the figure demonstrates a growing public push toward the government to establish "state-recognized same-sex partnerships in Israel."
"I am so excited to be the International Ambassador for Tel Aviv Pride 2017 and I'm thrilled to be in this city with my children and to show them a place that I truly love," said Perez Hilton, a U.S. blogger and TV star.
"With all the awful things happening to gay, lesbian and transgender people all over the world, I am so happy to be in a place that is so welcoming," he said.