Travel Tips

5 Unexpected Gay Pride Festivals

Locations in this article:  Fort Lauderdale, FL Providence, RI

Yesterday we caught you up on the biggest five gay pride festivals that you don’t want to miss. But there are literally hundreds of lesser-known events around the world … many of which are happening in some very unexpected cities. Read on to learn about some of the most unusual gay pride events worldwide.

1. Tijuana, Mexico

When most people think of Tijuana, Mexico, they usually envision drunk American college kids stumbling among mariachi bands and drug dealers. That’s just one of the many inaccurate perceptions that the people behind the 1st Annual Tijuana GLBT Festival hope to challenge.

Tijuana LGBT Pride FestivalMost of the festivities will take place on or near Avenida Revolucion (at 1st St.), the city’s most tourist-friendly boulevard. A bevy of local restauranteurs and chefs will operate booths and participate in a cooking competition. Dozens of bands and DJs will perform (from reggaeton to rock to norteno, the traditional music of northern Mexico) alongside visual and performance artists, dancers, comedians, and storytellers. Academics will offer panels and seminars on various LGBT community issues

For the record, this will actually be the 15th year of gay pride celebrations in Tijuana— n the past, though, events were mostly limited to the march itself, which drew about 1,000 participants and 10,000 spectators in 2009 (up significantly from the year before, despite a massive drop-off in American participation thanks to border violence). The Annual Pride March will still occur as usual, the difference is that this year a massive festival taking up several city blocks will accompany it.

Drag Queen at Latin American gay pride festivalRather than trying to drive across the clogged border crossings, drive right up to the border, park in a secure lot on the American side, and walk into Mexico. Once you’ve crossed the border, taxi drivers will compete aggressively for the right to whisk you to Avenida Revolucion. Always agree on a price before getting into a cab ($5 or so should do it).

Don’t worry about changing your dollars into pesos–not only is the festival free, but Tijuana’s economy is largely dollarized, with American currency widely accepted. Don’t forget, though, that passports are now required to re-enter the United States.

March: June 19
Events: June 19-20

2. Spartanburg, South Carolina

Yes, a gay pride parade in a small Southern city is, as you might expect, not a mega-event. Last year’s first-ever Upstate Pride March attracted about 500 people (and about 300 anti-gay protestors), and around 700 are expected this year.

Spartanburg, South Carolina - Small Town Gay PrideBut this year, the LGBT community of Upstate South Carolina may be holding its collective head a bit higher after Spartanburg Mayor Junie White signed an official proclamation recognizing the community and the event. But not only that, Mayor White also wrote an editorial coming out forcefully in favor of civil rights for all Americans. (Now that’s Southern hospitality.)

A modest parade will depart from the city’s Magnolia Street Station train depot at 2 p.m. on June 19 and conclude with a festival (also at the station). But the festivities don’t end there—an afterparty will be held at Club South 29 at 11 p.m. It might not be among the most over-the-top gay pride events, but for big-city LGBTers used to easy, casual acceptance, it could very well be an eye-opening reminder of how difficult it can be to be queer in America.

March: June 19
Events: June 19

3. Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul’s annual event launched in 2003 with just a few dozen brave participants after a number of abortive attempts in the past. Turkey’s largest city has seen its gay pride marches grow steadily, attracting an estimated 3,000 participants in 2009, with 4,000 expected in 2010.

Turkish pop music star Hande Yener…the Turkish Madonna?Pride Istanbul remains among just a handful of pride events in the Muslim world (others take place in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, and Beirut, Lebanon), but it has grown increasingly accepted. In fact, in a sure sign that it’s creeping into the Turkish mainstream, the parade has even begun attracting pop stars like Hande Yener (who is something like a Turkish Madonna with stronger musical chops). That said, Turkey’s LGBT community has a long way to go when it comes to acceptance. As it is, most of the country’s gay organizations, like Lambda Istanbul, Pink Life (Ankara) and Pink & Black Triangle (Izmir) are consistently harassed and sometimes threatened with dissolution.

With even their most basic legal protections and civil rights looking shaky, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many of the events associated with Istanbul Pride are intellectual in nature: documentary screenings, academic lectures, and panel discussions. The Oscar-winning biopic Milk will precede a panel discussion on gays in politics.

Of course, Istanbul’s gay community is not so beleaguered that it can’t celebrate and throw a few fabulous parties.

Istanbul Gay Pride MarchThe old El Hamra Cinema has been converted into a massive dance club and will host a number of pride-related events, along with an assortment of gay venues, most clustered around or near Taksim Square and the Istikal Caddasi.

The parade begins at 5 p.m. in Taksim Square—which is usually considered the geographical touchstone of the city’s fledgling “gayborhood”—and proceeds down the Istiklal Caddesi, a bustling, pedestrian mall that winds through the city’s hip, reasonably gay-friendly Beyoğlu district.

Parade: June 28 at 5 p.m.
Events: June 22-June 28

4. Sligo, Ireland

Once billed as the smallest pride parade city in the world, the Northwest LGBT Pride Ireland festival occurs annually in the quaint old port of Sligo Town (pop. 18,000). But what makes this event particularly special is the rather dramatic level of acceptance from the locals of rural Ireland, long thought to be a very conservative place.

Gay Pride Festival in Manchester, EnglandBegun in 2006 as a way for local LGBTs to make their presence known, the events have quickly mushroomed, with small gay-centric happenings popping up throughout County Sligo, from nature walks to art exhibits. Other good bets for fun include the parade afterparty at the Glasshouse Hotel in Sligo.

Why the enthusiasm? Aside from the fact that the Irish, urban and rural, have grown much more accepting of homosexuality in recent years, rural leaders have recognized that anti-gay prejudice has driven away a number of young LGBT people to bigger cities. That’s probably at least a significant reason that local politicians and businesses alike have been reaching out.

Though Sligo Town has been called the smallest pride parade city in the world, last year the tiny seaside village of Easkey (pop. 250) joined the action, holding its own “Gay for a Day” event with a beachside barbecue.

Parade: August 7, 2010 starting at 1:45 p.m.
Events: August 5-9

5. Colombo, Sri Lanka

Two Guys - Gay Pride Events WorldwideIn a nation that criminalizes homosexual relationships, a brave Rossana Flamer-Caldera stepped up in the late 1990s to establish Equal Ground, an organization which seeks human and political rights for the queer community of Sri Lanka.

Ever since then, the organization has been fighting for the abolishment of these British colonial-era laws, along with anti-discrimination laws and equality for all sexual orientations and gender identities.  In an effort to celebrate the diversity among the Sri Lankan LGBT community, Equal Ground holds its annual Colombo Pride festival.

Since its inception in 2005, it has grown from a week-long festival with 350 attendees, to a month-long celebration with close to 1,000 participants.  For legal and security reasons, they still cannot hold a parade or any public demonstrations. Instead, the community gets creative, with gay-friendly (though not always gay-focused) events that attempt to sidestep legal and security problems while still bringing people together.  So from June to July the community participates in fashion shows, film festivals, art and photo exhibitions, plays, kite flying and more.

It may not be a LGBT pride festival in the traditional sense, but for the people of Sri Lanka, it fosters unity in a way that dancing go-go boys never can.

Dates: June 11-July 11, 2010

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By Matthew Calcara for