MADRID – Madrid is gearing up to be the world capital of gay pride, a colorful mixture of commercialism and all-night partying that has brought vindication for sexual and gender diversity and created fissures among LGBT activists.
“Pride Yes, But Not Like This,” reads the banner a residents’ association is planning to stretch across Chueca square in the heart of the city’s gay quarter during the 10-day WorldPride celebration that started Friday.
The rainbow flags flying from balconies in and around the square are evidence that the Chueca neighborhood is still the epicenter of Spain’s LGBT movement. But the flags decorating bars and shops, advertising anything from socks to bags of popcorn, have become a symbol of the aggravation anticipated by the people who live there.
“We are against the commercialization of gay pride by business people. It’s an attack on the neighbors of this quarter and on the city,” Esteban Benito, president of the local residents’ group, which has denounced the dirt, noise and large crowds gathered outside bars that accompany the annual festival.
Lesbians, gays, transgender people and bisexuals grouped in the Critical Pride collective are opposing this year’s event, too. The collective has called for an alternative LGBT parade to highlight how WorldPride is “a direct threat through a stereotyped vision of our identities.”
But Jesus Generelo, who heads the Spanish federation of LGBT people, defended the massive festival that is expected to draw three million visitors to Madrid. The federation is leading the massive demonstration and parade scheduled for July 1, the climax of the 10-day WorldPride that opened Friday.
The festival “rounds out beautifully the transformation we have brought about in the country to achieve equality in the laws,” Generelo said.
Considered the Olympics of pride celebrations, WorldPride is a franchise that attracts global attention to LGBT events in different cities. London held it in 2012 and Toronto in 2014. New York will be the next host, in 2019, to mark 50 years after the Stonewall riots.
The parade through the center of Madrid will make calls to extend LGBT rights across the world, with particular emphasis on Chechnya and the rest of Russia. It will also demand that the World Health Organization stop categorizing transgender identity as a mental illness.
Fifty-two floats sponsored by businesses, political organizations and popular brand-name companies are registered to participate, a lineup the organizers are calling a “Manfiesta” that highlights the festival’s party element as well as the rights demands.
“It can be both things, because capitalism has transformed gay pride just as it has football or political campaigns,” Begonya Enguix Grau, an anthropologist at the Catalan UOC open university, said. “We shouldn’t think that just because there are floats no one is making demands for rights,” she said.
A subway strike is likely to cause some problems but with official predictions of between two to up to three million tourists arriving in Madrid — a city of just under 4 million people — security is deemed to be the main concern.
At least 2,000 police agents are being deployed for the July 1st parade. And while there have been no specific terror threats to the WorldPride celebration, Spain has been on one step below maximum security for the past two years to avert violence similar to the attacks seen in other European cities.
Besides security searches at the entrances to major events, authorities are also restricting traffic and banning heavy trucks in the city center. The floats will be the only big vehicles allowed after their drivers are vetted.
The city is also taking the opportunity to express its support with buildings illuminated with rainbow colors. It has also installed some 300 “inclusive” and “gender equal” traffic signals, featuring women identified by skirts and ponytails and same-sex couples holding hands instead of the familiar figure of a man in mid-stride to let pedestrians know when to cross.
The debate over the essence of pride comes four decades after the 1977 demonstration by transgender people in Barcelona that is regarded as the birth of Spain’s modern LGBT rights movement following the repressive legacy of late dictator Francisco Franco.
Spain stepped ahead of many other countries and legalized same-sex marriages and adoptions in 2005. More than 40,000 such weddings have already taken place since then, according to official statistics. And Parliament is planning a new law to ensure that all government levels remove barriers for LGBT equality.
On a recent hot afternoon in central Gran Via, Sussy Marbella was checking her makeup with her smartphone camera as she waited to be picked up for dinner. Madrid “always welcomes girls like me,” she said.
Asked about the party vs. politics divide, Marbella said she liked the “super party” emphasis of the festival but stressed that it “should continue to include a message of protest, albeit without being too boring.”