IN SPAIN, you gotta learn to kiss. A lot. Forget this shaking-hands nonsense. Bump into a guy in the club, on the street, in a bar, shopping, it’s “Hola!” and a double kiss, one on each cheek.
It's a passionate country, where loving, partying, eating and drinking are serious stuff. And Madrid is the most passionate city in all of Spain.
The clubs don’t even open till midnight, and the party’s never in full swing until 2am, or 3am. Work shuts down for the afternoon. Shops close, food stops being served, everyone’s recharging for the night ahead.
That’s life as usual in Spain.
Imagine how things heat up when people really party across the country. Spain Pride is now winding down across the country. Again, it was huge this year.
The high point was in Madrid, Madrid Orgullo (Madrid Pride), the last fortnight in June.
But Spain Pride is a national party with an edge. There’s something serious just below the surface here and the organisers are keen not to lose sight of what’s at stake.
Carlos Sánchez García-Plaza is head of communications for Madrid Pride and the coming World Pride in Madrid next year. “This is not just an amazing street party,” he says. “There is important work to be done. All around the world.”
Last month Spain Pride was building momentum with parties, festivals and marches around the country, notably Ibiza (June 6 to 12), Sitges (June 16 to 20) and Barcelona (June 28 to July 9). It reached its high point in Madrid where at least a million Spaniards flocked to their capital city, joined by half a million visitors from outside Spain – mostly Europe, many from the United States and, yes, Australia.
To be honest, it’s hard to count them all but tallying hotel rooms, guesthouses, flats, B&Bs and friends’ couches is a good guide. And they were all full, overflowing in fact.
World Pride is coming to Madrid next year and the number of visitors is expected to double – to 3 million – and it will be combined with the 2017 Human Rights Conference.
Pairing Pride and rights conferences keeps the focus tight, reminding us why we party, Carlos explains. The conferences also attract delegates from around the world who are desperate for support and they bring their stories and struggles to share with the wider gay community.
Madrid Pride is based at the neighbourhood of Chueca, a region thriving with clubs, bars, fashion stores, arts and crafts, bakers and restaurants (tapas for 1€ or 2€ or often free if you buy a drink; wine by the glass for the same price – or by the bottle at the supermarket for 3€ or 4€ and all great wine).
The country’s biggest Pride parties were here, not to mention the famous high-heel race through the narrow city streets.
July 3, the day after Madrid Pride wrapped, was the 11th anniversary of the legalisation of gay marriage across the country. Spain was the third country in the world to nationally legalise same-sex marriage, in 2005, on the heels of The Netherlands (2001) and Belgium (2003).
This is not just an amazing street party. Here in Spain there is still so much work to be done. Madrid Pride is a big party but also we remind people why we are having a big party.Carlos Sánchez, Head of Communications, Madrid Pride
And the greatest irony of all is that not far out of the city – any city in Spain – gay acceptance is back in the Dark Ages. It’s a dichotomy gays in Spain learn to live with.
Including David Brown, who, with his husband of 10 years, Auston Matta, last year launched the #mygaypride program in support of Pride month to link gay people and promote pride and acceptance. The project is part of their well-regarded international gay travel blog Two Bad Tourists which networks with gay travellers around the world.
David and Auston moved to Madrid four years ago from Chicago and got an immediate reality check.
David says: “On my first job here I was an assistant teacher at a high school at Daganzo de Arriba [a village just 27 kilometres out of Madrid] and I asked a teacher if I could be out to my students. She said to me: ‘I don’t care who you do, but I recommend you not to come out. It will upset the parents.’
“So I asked three more teachers at the school and they all said don’t come out. Spanish culture is not private; people ask really personal direct questions. If you’re in the closet you have to work really hard at hiding. At school the kids would ask: ‘Who do you live with?’ ‘Who are your roommates?’
“I saw students making fun of other students for being gay. I’d tell them to knock it off. I wanted to give them big lectures but I was only a student teacher. It’s intimidating. Teachers yell in the schools, just to get discipline. That culture made me feel so terrible.”
And this in the country that led the world in legislating for marriage equality.
I asked a fellow teacher if I could be out to my students. She said to me: ‘I don’t care who you do but I recommend you not to come out.'David Brown, school teacher and co-owner of Two Bad Tourists
“Yes, here in Spain there is still so much work to be done,” Carlos Sanchez said. “Yes, Madrid Pride is a big party but also we remind people why we are having a big party.
“We presented an award to our Upper House in Parliament to mark 10 years since gay marriage was legalised. Not an award to the PSOE party which supported us back then, not an award to the PP right-wing party then in power who did not support us back then, but to the whole Parliament.
“And why? To remind people of what we had to do back then and that we must not lose our commitment.”
New York has been announced to host World Pride 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.
As a worldwide community we’re not short of sobering things to remember while we party. ❏