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Pride Parades as a Tourist Destination

Info: 3510 words (14 pages) Essay
Published: 10th Nov 2020 in Tourism

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With the rise of Pride Parades and events around the world, there is a new option for LGBTQ+ or, how they will be referred to throughout the paper, queer tourists to travel based on the attraction of Pride and spaces for queer bodies to exist. While the terminology of queer renders and erasure of the different experiences, privileges, and notions of power within the queer community, it will function in this paper to encompass a broad terminology for non-heterosexual travelers and the construction of spaces for them (Howe 2001). Pride offers a way for queer tourists to be out and proud in countries that they may not have been able to without the cushion of Pride. However, while Pride events across the world, and specifically in Europe, have created a new type of queer travel, many of these cities will profit off what is referred to as the “pink dollar” and try to continue to create a queer tourist market year-round (Murray 2007, 53). However, in some cases, such as in Rome, when Pride is over, the rainbows are taken off, and many of the tourists have gone, queer bodies may not get to experience the same freedom they did during Pride or the amount of queer spaces (Luongo 2002). However, there is not a binary of inequality between queer tourists and queer locals, as in many cases the privilege is shifted with queer locals having more rights than the queer tourists that may come to Pride from more intolerant countries and are able to freely express themselves there. Inequality also exists across a race, class, and gender spectrum within the community, which impacts who is able to participate in Pride tourism and the spaces available at Pride.

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With this in mind, the origins of Pride began after the Stonewall Riots in New York City to celebrate gay rights and identity. Places around the United States, such as New York, San Francisco and L.A., all held the first marches in June of 1970 upon an activist agenda (Nagourney 2000). The marches were originally known as freedom marches. However, in the 1980’s, the marches took a less serious tone and the name switched to Gay Pride, leading to what many people know about Pride parades and events today as something fun and celebratory, often neglecting the history and foundations of Pride (Howe 2001). As one of the first cities to have a Pride parade, San Francisco has become not only a queer mecca for free sexual and gender expression, it has also become a huge tourist and pilgrimage site for people in the queer community (Howe 2001). Every year, queer tourists flock to San Francisco Pride and it is used as a kind of gay rite of passage. This influx of tourists has caused the city’s population to boom and the formation of queer spaces to increase to market to queer tourists. Many bars are labeled as queer, and there are different events that happen during June that are marketed specifically for queer people, such as parties, music events, festivals, comedy events, and drag shows.

San Francisco boasts a large amount of queer spaces that tourists can visit during or outside of Pride. Therefore, San Francisco has become a queer destination year-round. Many queer tourists view San Francisco as a pilgrimage site, not only for its origins with Pride, but also because of its progressive political climate and celebration of the queer community where people can be “out” and “proud” in a way that they may be unable to in the places they are travelling from (Howe 2001). San Francisco and Pride further enhance the idea of a nationalistic identity for queer people in that transcends national border, with one common identity of “queer” or that which is outside of the sexual norms and socially inscribed notions of gender presentation and identity (Howe 2001).While the umbrella term of queer can obscure the vast number of experiences and identities within the community and the exclusion of different groups like trans individuals or bisexuals that comes from the community itself, its emphasis on solidarity and collective consciousness among people who are “other” in terms of gender and sexuality helps to foster that idea of a community and leads to the success of Pride with tourists from all aspects of life and all parts of the world.

With the success of Pride in San Francisco and the creation of a new type of queer tourist market, Pride parades have spread to all parts of the world and, as the Europeana Blog states on its entry titled “Symbols of Pride” on June 14, 2019, have entered Europe first in Berlin in 1979, and then to the rest of Europe primarily in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Rainbow consumerism quickly followed, with different events spanning from May-September instead of just during June, and the marketing of these events from corporate sponsors using rainbow goods to sell to queer tourists participating in Pride. Historically in Europe, Mediterranean destinations are areas where young men traveled to for “culture and climate” stemming from the Grand Tour where they were able to have the company of other men outside of their everyday lives (Luck 2006, 1106). In nineteenth-century Europe the gay male tourist came to Mediterranean destinations to experience “the homosexual desire that is a part of European gay history” and to liberate their bodies in a time of “socially constrained same-sex desire” (Rink 2019, 42). Gay tourism to different Mediterranean destinations was something that was more invisible until the prominence of Pride laid foundations for queer visibility in travel and the creation of a specific market comprising of queer travelers, but specifically white queer male travelers.

When deciding on which destination to travel to, queer travelers have more factors that they have to analyze than their heterosexual counterparts, including the political and social climate surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, the presence of “safe spaces” for queer people, and whether or not it is a popular destination for queers so they have opportunities for interacting with other people in the community (Lubowiecki-Vikuk 2016). Therefore, in order to attract the queer tourist, destinations have to market themselves to those needs (Kozak et al 2009). This is why the prevalence of Pride will largely attract these queer tourists, because Pride itself is the largest safe space and the occurrence of Pride in a destination implies to a tourist that there will be spaces for them to socialize and participate in different parties and activities. For example, with the popularity of Pride in Prague, comes different queer spaces like bars and restaurants and a targeted tourist market with LGBTQ+ packaged tours that take place year-round with companies like Prague4Gay (Johns 2013). Cities that hold Pride parades are beginning to respond to the needs and desire of their consumers in order to successfully market their destination to a “lucrative” population of people: queer tourists (Kaufman 2007, 1).

Queer tourist markets that stem from Pride have become a way to create revenue through a type of rainbow consumerism and “pursuit of the gay dollar,” but have also led to a lot of backlash in their attempt to extent complete citizen rights to queer people (Kaufman 2007, 1). LGBTQ+ travelers to locations, especially those that celebrate Pride, bring with them a lot of spending dollars, contributing greatly to the economy. Therefore, in order to create spaces that queer tourists will want to spend their money, there comes the creation of queer spaces and businesses in these cities and rainbow consumerism through the sponsorship of large corporations (Akhtar 2012). There is the construction of events for queer people, cafes and restaurants, shopping experiences, sex shops, “health and grooming”, and different kinds of places to stay, many of which cater to a “gay male clientele” specifically (Rink 2019, 48). This desire for queer tourist dollars or leads Pride to become a highly commercialized event, distancing itself from its original activist roots. Additionally, many of the tourists that find themselves at different Pride parades are not part of the queer community, but view Pride as a type of tourist attraction and party that is subject to the tourist gaze (Howe 2001, 48). Establishing a Pride parade was supposed to extend full citizenship and visibility to queer people that may have lived in the margins and shadows of society (Kaufman 2007). However, many heterosexual tourists that are there to consume queer culture become averse to the ways that queer people present their identity at Pride, which further isolates queer bodies as something that is perverse and “Other” or treat queer people as a type of attraction to be consumed themselves (Johnston 2005, 23). The existence of a queer tourist industry itself further separates non-heterosexual individuals from heterosexual tourists and contributes to the Othering that happens in these spaces (Johnston 2005). Furthermore, many of these heterosexual tourists find themselves disgusted with the way that queer people perform their identities, leading to a feeling of shame mixed in with Pride in these spaces. Many tourists observe Pride parades in the same way they would observe a religious ritual, except Pride demonstrates a type of secular ritual “in which bodies act out multiple and fluid sexual identities” (Johnston 2005, 23). Thus, with further commercialization and consumerist ideology surrounding Pride, queer people become further marginalized and ejected from their own spaces.

Furthermore, while the adoption of Pride in cities such as Rome was created for the intent to change the political and social climate surrounding LGBTQ+ rights and discrimination, once Pride is over and the tourists have left, if there are no further spaces to continually attract queer tourists, local queers have to fall right back into that cycle of discrimination and isolation (Luongo 2002). However, even though the development of Pride created an avenue for change in Rome through queer visibility and a highly mediatized event of World Pride, with the presence of the Vatican, there is still no established gay areas except for a couple bars and many queer Italians continue to face discrimination (Luongo 2002). Conversely, the fight for queer liberation and the freedom to be out and proud outside of Pride continues on, and with the influx of queer tourists for Pride, particularly from American and other European countries, and the visibility to the queer body that these tourists and Pride parades bring, is creating a more tolerant climate. Many people in the queer community in countries that are less tolerant will look to these places as havens to be out and proud and will construct a type of queer “elsewhere” for these individuals (Atwood 2013, 9). Gabriel Giorgi describes gay or queer travel as a process of “coming-out” to the world and the queer tourist is someone who plays a vital role in spreading transnational politics of visibility to queer people (Murray 2007, 52). Visibility is not always a positive consequence of Pride, as with more visibility for queer people, there is less privacy for them to be protected from those that reject them (Coon 2012). It also perpetuates an “othering” of queer bodies since they cannot simply feel safe in and frequent unmarked bars, but specifically have to frequent “queer” bars that are marked while simultaneously not doing much to better the situation outside of these spaces (Coon 2012). Drawing on Dan Murray’s research into gay tourism in Barbados, queer tourists, especially those attending Pride events have the privilege to be out, but when they leave, or the Pride event is over, certain local queer people experience their lives in a more private way (Murray 2007). Many of local queer people will not have the same queer bars that tourists have at home or that are created for Pride events. Instead, the queer scene after Pride is one that operates more underground and by word-of mouth (Murray 2007). This creates a complex hierarchy of race, ethnicity, social class, mobility, and gender that functions to allow a specific kind of queer tourist to participate in this niche tourist industry while not all queer tourists and locals are able to benefit from this industry that for many places, such as Rome or Madrid, is based around Pride and acts as a type of seasonal tourism.

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While the politics of visibility that queer tourism creates is complex, there complexity of who benefits from this tourism also wedges its way into the politics of these sites. These international spaces are dominated by White affluent gay men who have the financial ability to travel. This stems from the nineteenth-century European gay male travel where these men were able to liberate themselves from social constraints, but “other queer bodies are silenced or made invisible” (Rink 2019, 43). This reinstates the power hierarchies in play at these sites with gay White men at the forefront of these specific activities and dominating the scenes at Pride events around the world “while other queer bodies, such as working class and non-white lesbians and gays, are marginalized” (Johnston 2005, 25). Men are more likely to travel internationally because of the gendering of tourists which creates an idea of the male traveler and the feminized destination (Johnston 2005). This is not just the case with heterosexual tourists, but also with queer tourists as well. Not only are most of these queer tourists men, but they also have a higher socioeconomic standing in order to be able to travel for Pride. This hierarchical relationship between affluent queer travelers who have the ability to cross borders may contrast starkly with the lower income locals. Additionally, many of queer people of lower class may be unable to travel for different Pride events and find that their queer identity is subject to scrutiny from high income queer people due to this financial struggle. Attending Pride events like San Francisco Pride or World Pride, give queer travelers different status markers and cultural capital they then use to make claims like “if you haven’t been to S.F. Pride, you can’t even call yourself gay!” (Howe 2001, 44). This puts further pressure on queer people that do not have the ability to travel to Pride destinations, and for those queer people that may still be in the closet. The ability to attend Pride events further constructs an identity of what it means to be queer. However, at these events, many people are not given the same kind of spaces that gay White men are given, such as queer people of color (QPOC) or queer women and femme individuals. While many White men have the privilege of going to bars and events that are “unmarked by race” or gender, this is not the case for other queer Pride tourists (Howe 2001, 46). Many QPOC, are delegated to bars specifically marked by race while women and femmes are delegated to places marked by gender. These spaces are also few and far between may not even exist in some places.

Power and privilege does not just exist in queer spaces during or outside of Pride, but also exists in the parade itself. During the parade, queer identity is performed and acted out in different visual ways in order to reclaim the body and “undermine accepted values and truth” that is instated through heterosexual norms and is a source of defiance against those norms (Johnston 2005, 28). This performativity, as previously stated, directs the tourist gaze to queer bodies and further “Others” them as sexually and socially perverse. Lesbians are particularly vulnerable to the complex politics of pride and shame that during Pride parades (Johnston 2007). In the traveling women’s drumming groups and the Dykes on Bikes, there is a sense of pride and belonging amongst these groups that helps to affirm their identity outside of male-dominated queer spaces (de Jong 2019). However, as subjects of the tourist gaze, there is also the sensibility of fear and shame surround the problems of visibility and invisibility among queer women and “how the crowd might react” (Johnston 2007, 36). While many queer women do not have the same privilege as queer men to be “out” in the world, rendering an erasure of queer women identities, groups like the women’s drumming group and Dykes on Bikes allow women to celebrate their sexuality in a collective group and allow them to belong (de Jong 2019). Therefore, the ability to travel to these Pride events is critical for women to be able to claim queer spaces for themselves. It is necessary to research these power dynamics within queer tourist spaces and Pride events themselves to understand the multiplicities that create a concept of White gay affluent male tourist which leads to an invisibility of women, QPOC, and lower income individuals who may or may not be able to attend these events.

Ultimately, with the establishment of Pride came the influx of queer tourism to destinations offering Pride events and parades, giving queer tourists the ability to be “out” in countries they may not have felt safe to do so previously, such as Italy. Furthermore, the countries that have embraced Pride are marketing specifically to queer tourists to satisfy the specific needs and desires for spaces that they may have, profiting off what is known as the “pink dollar” (Murray 2007, 53). While many cities profit from queer tourism, that doesn’t necessarily mean that local queer people are profiting. While in some cases, like in Prague, there are many queer owned businesses that get their revenue from queer travelers, many queer people have to return to a rather private existence after Pride (Bourdillon 2018). However, while Pride allows people to perform a certain sexually “Other” identity as a defiance of heterosexual norms, many heterosexual tourists that find themselves at these events further the hetero/homo binary through their disgust and implementation of shame into queer existence (Johnston 2005). Inequalities further exist within the queer community as QPOC, lower class queer people, and queer women are further marginalized from queer spaces and travel. Pride is a complex event that simultaneously allows queer people to experience pride mixed with sentiments of shame. There are feelings of marginalization and feelings of belonging. However, ever since the very first Pride, the political climate surrounding LGBTQ+ rights on an international has objectively gotten better with more wide-spread public acceptance and through the politics of visibility through queer travel and the performance of Pride.

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