After four different european screenings and three amazing Nordic Pride marches, the Big Gay 2015 Pride Tour has come to an end. I was home for a heartbeat and then off to Toronto for Visible Evidence, an international documentary conference that fuelled my academic and activist engines even more. It has been an incredibly rewarding summer creating many great memories, friendships and people to thank.
I’m going to trace my steps backwards, and begin by giving a big shout out to Ambassador Stewart Wheeler and the Canadian Embassy in Iceland for spearheading this Pride Mission. Iceland is a magical place, and Reykjavik Pride was a truly heartwarming experience, even in the rain. The Icelandic people are so friendly and kind, and proud to share their magical little corner of the earth with the rest of the world. Special thanks to Pride President Eva María Thorarinsdottir Lange, board member Ásta Kristín Benediktsdóttir, and all the folks at Pink Iceland who took such good care of me.
What impressed and inspired me the most about Reykjavik Pride was the fact they’ve managed to capture and preserve the spirit of a grass roots social movement and create a city wide celebration that the whole community supports and participates in. The screening of Beyond Gay filled the hall, and the panel afterwards spark an excellent discussion about, among other things, when Pride works well, and when other methods of community organizing are better suited for advancing social justice for LGBT people.
One of the highlights of Reykjavik Pride, and what seemed to grab the media’s attention was the rainbow painted street. It was a great photo op for the organizers and the Mayor to launch the festivities, but it was also planned so that members of the community could help out with the painting. It was wonderful to see kids, parents, queers, friends, volunteers, everyone really, taking part in the incredible transformation of the block. Great community engagement and spirit. Along the sides of the street was a photo exhibit of past Pride events in Reykjavik, so the street was filled with memory, history, colour and energy for the whole week.
Many locals told me that the opening ceremonies was their favourite event. It took place in the incredible Harpa – the new waterfront concert hall. Wow what a venue, and what a show they put on. As I learned in Sweden, you should never underestimate the popularity and power of the Eurovsion song contest. Artist after artist belted out songs that put everyone in the spirit of Pride, that wrapped up with a rousing Icelandic rendition of I Am What I Am, that had the entire audience on their feet dancing and singing. So much talent in this little country.
The parade day was a bit rainy and wet, but that didn’t keep away the crowds. The parade and concert in the park afterwards is actually the biggest civic event in Reykjavik all year long. Over 100,000 strong. It was encouraging to see this how supportive and involved the wider community is. And what was even more impressive was that they are able to produce all these events, and get the community involved without relying on sponsorship dollars. There are no corporate logos permitted in the parade, and there was a real effort to include communities that are often still marginalized at Pride, Bisexuals, Pansexuals, Trans and Intersex people. Watch for another post in the coming weeks specifically about the magic of Reykjavik Pride.
Before arriving in Iceland, I had spent a month in Sweden. Big thanks to my friends Andrea and Tobias in Malmoe for hosting me, and showing me around. I love Sweden now. I really feel like Canada needs to take a good look at how things work over there, and get on the program. If a population base one third the size of ours can provide the services and standard of living I experienced, its clear our tax dollars aren’t working for us as well as they could be. Free university education for everyone. A standard month long summer vacation. Think about it.
Stockholm Pride was fantastic, and what I appreciated most was their Pride House. This is also where the film screened. Special thanks to Counsellor Patrick Hebert at the Canadian Embassy there for making the arrangements for it, and to my Iranian-Candian tour-guide and activist Nadia Zahebi for showing me around. It was exciting to see that along with everything else happening that week, every day you could go to the Pride House for discussions, arts events, workshops and all the good stuff of activism and education that keeps Pride relevant and social justice for everyone moving forward. Like in Iceland, Pride events in Sweden get financial support from their government through the National organization for LGBTI rights, RFSL.
I had the great opportunity to march with RFSL in the parade; they organize a group Marching for Those Who Can’t that draws attention to the needs of queer asylum seekers. It was powerful to be a part of something that really matters, if only in a small way. I’ve been to a lot of Prides now, and I have to say that for a big one, one that has to meet the needs of a large diverse community with many different needs, and where there’s definitely a desire to party and celebrate, Stockholm Pride absolutely delivers (insert Eruovision star studded concerts and amazing festival grounds here), without losing sight of the important stuff like trans rights and international LGBTI issues. It was impressive to see Pride really working like it did in Stockholm.
You’ll see more posts about the Big Gay Nordic tour soon, and if you missed it check out my previous post about Helsinki Pride, which started everything off so powerfully.