From Iceland — Gay Pride Celebrations Float On

Gay Pride Celebrations Float On

Published August 10, 2007

Gay Pride Celebrations Float On

The publication of this issue goes hand in hand with Iceland’s annual Gay Pride festivities, a merry tradition championing gay, lesbian and transgender rights since 1999. The celebration will peak on Saturday, when a huge, merry and colourful Gay Parade will make its way through downtown Reykjavík onto Lækjartorg square, culminating in a massive outdoor concert that usually sees around 50,000 attendees showing their support for gay rights.

This is a far cry from Iceland’s first celebration, when a few hundred marched through Reykjavík, and it is even further removed from places where marching in a Gay Parade will pose a direct threat to your life (as it reportedly will in many Eastern European countries). That the festivities are increasingly considered to rival Iceland’s 17th of June Independence Day celebrations in terms of popularity and sheer JOY indicates that a lot of ground has been won, but there’s still a lot to be done and thus room for plenty of criticism and discourse on the subject.

Curiously, a lot of that criticism may be found in the parade itself, taking the cheerful form of floats that, at first glance, seem akin to those found in your average small town tickertape parades. However, further inspection will reveal that a lot of those floats carry messages that, like most good ones, are snuck into the general consciousness under the guise of good spirits and party fun. This is of course a brilliant strategy, one that should (and hopefully will) be carried out relentlessly.

Gay Fishermen Unite!
Some of the floats carry enormous weight on the sole strength of their appearance and visibility. The MSC fetish club’s float, for instance, features hordes of eroticized, muscular, leather-clad men in various states of undress prancing to a soundtrack of Rammstein and shitty Eurotechno. With the courageous act of subjecting their usually tabooed fetish to a suburban, middle-class public, they are actively and cleverly promoting diversity and acceptance: “We’re here, we’re queer, don’t be scared!” seems to be the message, and it is one worth celebrating. This of course applies to the whole Pride parade in general, and should be lauded as such.

Others carry a subtler message, even if they fit in with the general theme of things. When asked, many of those interviewed for this article cited the “queer fisherman float” of a few years back as their all-time favourite one. “I just thought the whole message was brilliant,” Hilmar Magnússon, a young architect (who admittedly partook in said float) told the Grapevine. By dragging a full-fledged fishing boat down Laugavegur, smoking pipes, singing sea-shanties and carrying signs that read “Fishermen are fags, too!”, it underlined the fact that not all young gays are choreographers or hairdressers – being gay isn’t a choice at all, especially not a career one. Gays, lesbians and transgender folk are a considerable part of every society, whether that society chooses to acknowledge it or not, and may as such be found in every rung of the economy.

Architect Magnússon has marched in the parade since its first incarnation, sometimes carrying a flag and sometimes waving from a float. He will partake in another float at this year’s parade, now presenting a collaborative effort between Samtökin 78 (The National Organisation of Lesbians and Gay Men) and Amnesty International entitled “Verndarvættirnar” and meant to advocate action and raise awareness on the international struggle for gay, lesbian and transgender human rights.

“We are building a float that we’ll ride down Laugavegur. Our slogan will be ‘Illegal in 100 countries’ and is meant to emphasize the fact that there are presently 100 nations that enforce laws against homosexuality in some way, by doling out fines, jail-time or even public executions. We’ll also be collecting signatures and handing out pamphlets, enlisting new members. We are a new organisation and Gay Pride 2007 is our first major operation,” he told the Grapevine. When asked about the so-called “message floats”, he says that he knows about at least two others that will be promoting a specific cause in this year’s march. “I think people may be opening up to the idea that the parade is an excellent venue to promote messages and sentiments, in front of 50,000 people who are all in good spirits.”

Gay Pride Is Brought To You By…
As Reykjavík’s Gay Pride celebrations grow in popularity, it would seem natural that advertisers and corporate sponsors were desperate trying to latch on to some of the good publicity. Lest we forget, Iceland’s Independence Day celebrations are becoming increasingly reminiscent of an extended, perverted version of a cell-phone carrier ad.

As we learned, they are. And they’re not having any success. As Katrín Jónsdóttir, veteran marcher and manager of this year’s parade told the Grapevine: “We are part of InterPride, which is an international organisation that oversees Gay Pride celebrations around the globe, and their rules state that the parade isn’t meant to advertise anything but ourselves. All the work is done by volunteers, and we finance the various costs we face by throwing benefits throughout the year. To some people’s surprise, we are very clear on the fact that advertising at the parade is strictly forbidden.”

Jónsdóttir tells us that she expects around 25 floats at the 2007 parade, which is an increase from last year. She says that participants usually put a lot of work into their floats, and that the week leading up to the parade is resultantly an extremely busy one for them, usually with great success. “Marchers are envisioning and planning their floats for the whole year leading up to the parade, and it’s amazing what many of them come up with. They put such work into their costumes, practicing dances, it’s a great thing to witness.” She says that while many floats promote some message or the other, however cunningly, the parade is mostly about showing the gay community’s strength through joy: “We can be angry for the other 364 days of the year, Gay Pride is about celebration more than anything.”

“I’m Coming Out”
The positive effects of the Gay Pride celebrations are obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. With increased visibility comes increased confidence; the sight of gays, lesbians and transgender folk marching openly and proudly through a city centre will hopefully convince those currently in hiding to embrace their gay selves, to come out to the world and to themselves. Twenty-year-old Arna Arinbjarnardóttir was busily organising the Junior Gay and Lesbian Coalition’s float when the Grapevine caught hold of her. This year’s theme will be “coming out”, and they hope to inspire. She recalls, following the junior coalition’s very first float down Laugavegur in 2004, “They had a huge wedding cake, promoting gay marriage. That was my first march, and I still cherish the memory. I wasn’t out at the time, but the experience encouraged me to set my own coming out in motion. I kept wishing I were up there with them. Well, now I am.”

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