Before attending my first gay pride parade in São Paulo, for me, the words ‘gay pride’ used to conjure up images of politically driven rallies with protesters wielding banners and megaphones. However, I quickly discovered São Paulo pride is not like this at all. Well, not really! If you’ve ever wondered what the goes on at the world’s biggest gay pride event, let me give you a run down on last Sunday’s event.
Sunday May 4th-11.30am
As I sat in the subway that was hurtling towards Avenida Paulista a voice boomed over the crackly, loud speaker:
“The consumption of alcohol is not permitted on the subway.”
Upon hearing this a group of teenagers in my carriage began to laugh, with one even toasting the announcement with his two liter bottle of vodka. Further down my carriage, someone was blasting Beyonce from their iPhone. This inspired a guy nearby to gyrate against the metal hand rail and lip sync along with the track. Naturally, he was applauded for his efforts. This is certainly not something you see during the subdued, rush hour commute during the week!
I wasn’t planning to be at the event for another few hours, I was on my way to my friend’s apartment at the time. But it was clear people were getting into party spirit much earlier than I’d expected.
Within minutes of stepping onto Paulista I found myself surrounded by flamboyant drag queens and people dressed up in some of the most outlandish costumes I’ve seen this side of the Bin Laden bar. Although the parade doesn’t usually kick off until somewhere around 2pm, there was still a lot going on before it officially started. So this might actually be one of the few events Brazilians arrive early for! As well as those dressed up, as I approached MASP, I was met by enthusiastic crowds, some political activists, beer vendors and many trio eletricos (these are floats fitted with enormous sound systems on which pop and electronic music are blasted out for the duration of the 2.6 mile/ 4.2 km route). This year, as well as the floats sponsored by the city’s popular gay clubs, there was even one sponsored by the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
Unfortunately I knew it wasn’t just the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community out to enjoy this day. Pickpockets also adore this celebration of gay culture…although clearly for different reasons! So I’d made sure my cash and phone were well secured in a travel wallet before leaving home.
The first year I ever went to the parade I was extremely cautious, perhaps overly so and after reading advice online, I left my camera at home. But do you know what? As soon as I joined the crowds I instantly regretted it. This is because there’s a lot of competition for those dressed up to look the most colorful. So naturally you will find plenty of people taking pictures of those who have managed to stand out from the crowd. As you can imagine, with a crowd of up to four million people, this takes some doing! But with a lot of people up for the challenge there are a lot of picture opportunities to be had.
Actually, to be honest my favourites are the drag queens who don’t really adhere to what you’d expect a drag queen to look like. Namely, the ones with stubble and those who look like they’re complete strangers to those stiletto heels they’re wobbling about on!
This is around the time the trucks began moving. At this stage people were dancing behind these huge sound systems, feeding off the party vibe and doing so with a beer in hand. Sure, there is a political element to the event, the message the organisers wanted to promote this year was the criminalization of homophobia. However, it was very apparent that for the majority of the people in attendance the day was also about having a good time too.
A few years ago I spotted the actor Stephen Fry at this event, filming on top of a float as part of a documentary he was fronting for the BBC. It was broadcast on the channel late last year. As I watched the clips of him in São Paulo, I was surprised to see him reduced to tears by the event. I’ve heard the argument from some Brazilians that gay pride in the city shouldn’t be about partying or having fun, that the event in São Paulo is merely a way to generate revenue and it is certainly not as political as it should be. However, as Fry argued in his documentary series, “I do think the future (of gay acceptance) lies in people coming together like this. Not to protest, but coming together to celebrate.”
And celebrate the people of São Paulo certainly do!
Whilst the thought of being around millions of people on one street might sound fairly daunting for many, I’ve always felt safe during the early stages of the parade, particularly on Avenida Paulista. This is likely to be in no small part down to the fact this event is strongly supported by the federal government who spend a lot of money on policing and security. So with these guys on standby as things get started, people (relatively!) sober and the DJ’s spinning electronic/pop music, the atmosphere at this point is always electric.
At around 3.30pm my friends and I decided to take a breather down one of the side streets, buy a beer and then rejoin the parade as it moved onto Rua De Consolação. With the carnival-like atmosphere becoming beer fueled, I couldn’t help but notice that street had become very ‘friendly’ as we joined the sea of people heading down towards Republica!
Things draw to a close with a free concert in Praça Roosevelt, but to be honest with you, the parade finishes on more of a whimper than it does a bang. The first year I was in attendance I followed it to the end…and was pepper bombed by the police when a fight got out of control around me. So I tend to avoid this part of the parade nowadays. Plus I’m getting old and don’t have the stamina to dance like John Travolta for hours at a time anymore!!! With many indulging in all the revelry that goes with a day-long celebration, things are predictably a little messy by this point too. So I was back on the subway around 8pm with a whole lot of people looking exhausted (and disappointingly, not one person pole dancing!).
The next day I saw that the parade had made international news, with many journalists writing about how many had ‘marched’ in support of criminalizing homophobia. Whilst I’m sure everyone at the parade supports the introduction of this law, I’m pretty sure I didn’t see any ‘marching’ going on. Not in the sense of the word I know anyway! I mean…how the hell are you supposed to march to a Britney Spears song!?!
Did you go to the gay pride event in São Paulo? What were your impressions of it? Would you recommend it to tourists coming to the city for the first time?