Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau are honeymooning in the White City and getting a taste of the town's Gay Pride, as guests of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and the French Embassy.
Journalists – some in their television trucks – hovered anxiously the other day in the small Bialik Square in the heart of Tel Aviv. They were waiting for two young Frenchmen whom most Israelis would never recognize.
Only eight days earlier, Vincent Autin, a 40-year-old gay rights activist, and 29-year-old Bruno Boileau had made history. They were the first gay couple to be married in France after President Francois Hollande signed the same-sex marriage bill. Now they were landing in Israel for the first time in their lives.
Even before they could get used to the humidity they were the guests of honor at the opening event of the municipality's Gay Pride Month. Luckily for them, Bialik is one of Tel Aviv's prettiest streets, with its charming buildings and Old City Hall at the end of the road.
Each pillar on Old City Hall was lit up in a different color of the rainbow, and the speakers blasted trance music. After all, gays love dance music, don’t they?
This is the Tel Aviv that the municipality is trying hard to sell: liberal, international, beautiful and happy. Hopefully the couple didn't glance over at unlovely Allenby Street down the block. In any case, they got a taste of the Israeli reality when they entered the Old City Hall complex, fenced off for the event by metal barricades and tense guards.
Despite the battle in France over the new law, which included bitter demonstrations and tough parliamentary debates, it’s clear the two men see themselves as a private couple most of all. They're shocked by the huge interest they've stirred among Israelis.
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For their part, the event's organizers didn't waste their chance at a photo-op to bolster Tel Aviv's image as a desirable destination for gay people around the world. The two hadn't walked around for 10 minutes before being asked to become honorary Pride ambassadors.
One municipal employee was pushing champagne glasses into their hands, not to mention heart-shaped pink balloons with "I love you" written on them. She made them pose for the photographers bombarding them with flashes and asking them to kiss for the cameras.
Then they were asked to hold up a large flag with Hebrew for Gay Pride in Tel Aviv written on it. "What's written on the flag?" one of them asked as the flashes went off. "I support the greater Land of Israel," one wise guy cracked.
All the way from Montpellier
What made them decide to take their first vacation as a married couple here? Yes, Tel Aviv has turned into a global gay capital in recent years, but that wasn't it. They were simply invited to enjoy the Gay Pride Parade and three days of sun and sea, all at the expense of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the French Embassy and Ambassador Christophe Bigot.
"This is a sort of honeymoon," said Boileau through a translator. "They invited us to come, so we thought it would be a good idea to see a new place that's interested in meeting us. It's an experience to visit a country that doesn't allow single-sex marriage like France."
Since their marriage on May 29 in the southern city of Montpellier, Mayor Hélène Mandroux-Colas has received her share of hate mail. "We don't feel threatened," Boileau said. "We're from Montpellier, it's like the San Francisco of France. The residents are very sociable and I have no problem walking hand in hand or kissing my husband in public."
So do they feel safe doing the same thing in Tel Aviv?
"I have no idea, we just got here and we simply don't know," Boileau said looking around. "We don't know what to expect."
According to Autin, "We know that while in Tel Aviv same-sex couples still don't have the possibility of marrying, but on the other hand this is a progressive country that allows adoption. In France, I don't think it was possible to allow only one of those rights."
The two men were surprised that they're viewed as representatives of a new France. "I don't think we represent France, but rather a small place that managed to advance important rights in the country," Autin said. "Since the wedding we've received more than 4,000 messages from French people and people all over the world."
How do you view Israel from a political standpoint?
"I don't want to talk about politics since I simply don't know enough," said Autin. "We receive our information only from television. Friends told us we should be careful during our visit here, but it seems to me the atmosphere here is open and safe like in Montpellier."
Do you think Israel will also allow same-sex marriage?
"I believe that just like everywhere in the world, with willpower and love it's possible to solve every problem," Autin said. "I'm sure that in Israel, too, gays and lesbians will be able to have equal rights."
It was clear you were very emotional at your wedding ceremony.
"Yes, of course we were very excited," said Boileau, looking with sparkling eyes at his new husband. "It was our wedding day. Who isn't nervous at their wedding? It was a very happy day that we waited for a long time. It may have been a national moment, but first of all it was private."
Among the good-looking men sipping aperitifs, two older men in unfashionable short-sleeve shirts stood out: Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Bigot, the French ambassador. They seemed to compete all evening for the title of outstanding liberal politician.
Huldai awarded the French couple "Tel Aviv passports," while Bigot gushed over hosting them at his official residence in Jaffa.
The mayor invited the couple to enjoy an exhibition on nightlife pioneer Shimon Shirazi, who added his share of black latex to the White City. While touring the display, the two found pictures of Tel Aviv's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, facing pictures of drag queens dressed as Russian matryoshka dolls and shirtless men dancing ecstatically.
"Even though they don't think so, they are truly ambassadors of the new France," said Bigot. "I'm very happy that they passed the law that allows same-sex marriage – it was a hard road. It's very important to understand that they're a couple like every couple and to respect that, while respecting their difference."
Bigot laughed as he was reminded that Hollande lives with his partner but isn't married. "What's important is the possibility of doing it. It's a personal matter, whether to marry or not to marry," Bigot said. "Everyone needs to do what's appropriate for them – that's exactly what's so important about the new law."
Date created : 2013-06-11