Just a few decades ago, the mere idea of a large group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people coming together in affirmation of sexual diversity would have been thought impossible in many places around the world. Yet now there are hundreds of LGBT Pride events that have touched every continent.
These celebrations vary in size and scope but share a universal mission of promoting LGBT equality and human rights. They have also become major tourism initiatives. Community Marketing, a San Francisco-based research firm specializing in the community, has consistently found that many LGBT travelers plan their vacations to coincide with attending Pride events.
New York City
In 1970 on the one-year anniversary of the famed Stonewall Riot, New York City held the world’s first LGBT Pride event. There was no official calculation of the number of attendees at that inaugural gathering. However, the now nearly 50-year-old annual celebration, held in late-June, draws upwards of 40,000 marchers just for its Pride parade. Millions more as spectators and participants in the dozens of related events ranging from a massive street festival to over-the-top dance parties. The Big Apple truly becomes the city that never sleeps during Pride.
Mexico's Puerto Vallarta has received multiple accolades for being a welcoming destination for LGBT visitors. Its Pride celebration, held in mid- to late-May, includes events all over the city with many right on the famed beaches. The parade brings nearly all residents out to see the marchers and colorful floats pass along the picturesque Malecón and ends with a festive block party. Its over-the-top Drag Derby, a combination drag pageant and obstacle course race, is not to be missed.
The Netherlands has been long considered one of the most progressive counties of Europe in regards to LGBT rights—the country legalized same-sex sexual activity in 1811, nearly 200 years prior to the U.S. To showcase openness and honor its diverse LGBT community, Amsterdam Pride was launched in 1996. The centerpiece of a week-long series of events is a boat parade held the first Saturday in August, with around 80 elaborately-decorated vessels filled with festive participants floating through the city’s famed canal system, attracting a half million spectators. In the U.S., the port city of Norfolk, Virginia, also holds a boat parade.
It feels like everyone from Australia is in Sydney when its annual LGBT Pride takes place. Dubbed "Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras," the celebration is so large that events are held over multiple weeks from mid-February to early-March. Among the nearly one hundred official events are a community fair, comedy festival, pool party, art shows, and Pride parade. Its signature event is a massive all-night dance party with live entertainment that has headlined iconic performers such as Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Kylie Minogue, and Cher.
Ireland’s residents voted in 2015 by a huge majority to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first county to do so by popular vote, it likely came as no surprise to anyone who had ever attended Dublin Pride in recent years. The green hills of Ireland become awash in a rainbow of colors for the second largest public event in the county next to St. Patrick’s Festival. The week-long celebration cumulates with a Pride parade, held that last Saturday in June. It made history in 2017 with the participation of Ireland’s openly-gay Prime Minister.
Beyond the Pride observances in major U.S. cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Chicago are an ever growing number of celebrations in smaller—and just as prideful—in cities all across the county. Rhode Island Pride in Providence is a perfect example. First held with about 75 participants in 1976, participation has grown to more than 60,000 every mid-June. For a unique twist, it holds an after-dark illuminated Pride parade, one of the few nighttime Pride parades in the U.S. and the only one in New England.
Toronto’s Pride originated in 1981 as part of a protest against massive raids on the city’s gay bathhouses, an event often referred to as “Canada’s Stonewall.” From that dark time in the country’s LGBT history, Toronto Pride has now become one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world, with Canada ranking high among countries most protective of LGBT rights. The diversity and acceptance of Toronto’s community is reflected in its many Pride events held throughout the month of June, including specific LGBT-family events, Shabbat dinner, Dyke March, and Trans March in addition to the traditional Pride parade and festival held.
Based in Washington, D.C., Troy Petenbrink is a freelance writer covering LGBT travel. Follow his journey on Twitter.