Visitors to the Canary Island of Gran Canaria may be forgiven for thinking that it is a non-stop party island. The recent successful vote in Ireland for equal marriage, the Eurovision Song Contest and Maspalomas Pride have created an atmosphere of one long, heady party.
The Canary Islands are blessed with one of the best climates in the world, which lends itself to an endless succession of parties and outdoor living. However, I can assure readers that we do get down to doing some work as well, but at our own pace.
Maspalomas Pride, which is often billed as ‘the largest Pride event in Europe’, once again drew thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered visitors to the island from all over Europe and further afield. There were also huge numbers of straight visitors too; many having visited in earlier years, and had such a good time that they come again each year to relive and share the experience.
Maspalomas Pride is a huge two-week party, with many spin off events, but above all it is a time to demonstrate equal rights, tolerance and equality, as well as a time to remember that respect and acceptance are not concepts yet shared across the world. The rainbow flag remains the centrepiece of the celebrations to remember those people across the world that still suffer from appalling discrimination and cruelty. Maspalomas Pride seeks to celebrate and give thanks for the freedoms enjoyed in Spain and the Canary Islands, as well as other countries that respect this equality.
This event was one of the biggest Pride events ever seen on the island, with more than 80,000 visitors and residents lining the parade route.
Visitors often ask me why Gran Canaria, which is the third largest Canary Island by landmass, has become such a draw for gay and lesbian tourists. Gran Canaria has a well-deserved reputation for inclusivity and equality that has embraced gay and lesbian visitors for many years. People of all races, colour and religions live and work on the island and, in the main, happily coexist together.
It is an island where the old adage ‘live and let live’ still strongly applies; as long as your activities don’t hurt anyone else, then you are welcome. After visiting the island over many years, this was one of the main reasons that my partner and myself chose to move here; it was a decision that we have never regretted.
The Yumbo Centre, which is the main ‘gay centre’ and the centre for Pride is an uninspiring building, built 40 plus years ago as an arena. Over the years, it was slowly converted and now houses 40 plus gay bars, saunas, drag shows, supermarkets, gadget shops, cafe bars and restaurants. To some, it looks like a badly worn multi-storey car park, which by day is a rather tacky commercial centre.
However, by night, this uninspiring heap of concrete transforms itself into a throbbing and lively centre with something for everyone. From its early days, the Yumbo Centre became a beacon of hope for many gay men and women, and a place where they could relax and be themselves. It is a place where many relationships have begun, and ended, but above all it continues to be a place where gay men and women continue to feel safe, welcomed and valued.
So how did all this begin? I recall a conversation that I had with an elderly man, an ex-soldier, many years ago when I first visited the island. He told me that during the Spanish Civil War, the dictator, General Franco, would exile any soldier who was found to be gay to an island penal colony that was far away from the Spanish mainland; that island was Gran Canaria.
As the Pride procession and parties take place, my mind often goes back to this story and the fight for equality that has taken place over the centuries in Spain, as well as elsewhere in the world. The fight for equality and acceptance continue, but I am sure that those exiled Spanish soldiers would be very impressed with the part that this small island in the Atlantic has played in the fight for equality and justice for all.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Expat Voice’ (ISBN: 9780992767174). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle.
iPhone/iPad and Android Apps: ExpatInfo, CanaryIsle and CanaryGay now available.
© Barrie Mahoney
Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/47504/
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