While other South Africans squirmed in shame on Africa Day (May 25), I joined millions of Latin American GLBT’s in one of Johannesburg’s sister cities, SÃ£o Paulo, in celebration of the world’s largest gay pride parade – Brazil style!
Varying reports estimate that between 2 and 5 million people took part in the various activities and events throughout the week. The actual parade, which is now in its 12th year, is the largest of its kind in the world, and makes history each year by improving on its 2006 Guinness Book of Records entry of 2.5 million.
But who cares about details when you are in Brazil to have some fun. And, believe me; you have not partied until you have partied with the Brazilians!
Having spent a week with a mate visiting from Manchester enjoying all the gay community has to offer in Buenos Aires beforehand, we arrived in SÃ£o Paulo on the Friday night a little dazed and confused, and not entirely sure what we were letting ourselves in for. Judging by the number of gays on our flight, and the others arriving on alternate international flights, we knew we were in for trouble!
Imagine a city bursting with over ten million people, and almost twenty million in the greater metropolitan area. To this, add over three hundred thousand gay revellers from the continent and around the globe, and you have a recipe for complete madness.
We eventually made our way through the crazy and unending streams of traffic to our hotel where we took a much needed power disco nap. (Fortunately things in Latin America don’t start until the wee hours!) After making ourselves gay ready, we met up with some Brazilian friends where we gathered group strength and courage, and eventually made our way to SÃ£o Paulo’s most (in)famous and biggest club called The Week International.
Rather foolishly, Andy and I had not planned too well in advance, but fortunately, with the help of our friendly locals, we eventually scored our hard-to-find tickets, got through security, and then finally registered for our bar tabs (a ‘complicated’ system that allows you to drink as much as you like and only get the very scary bill at the end of an evening).
We then joined the throng of gorgeous Latin Americans all strutting their stuff around this very funky, albeit jam-packed, club. (For anyone wanting to go, I would suggest trying to buy tickets for all the various main events beforehand as it will mean one less queue. There are outlets in the city where one can do this that will make your life a little easier.)
SÃƒO PAULO FACTS
SÃ£o Paulo was founded in 1554 by Jesuit priests.
It’s the largest city in Brazil and the 3rd largest in the world.
People from the city of SÃ£o Paulo are known as ‘paulistanos’.
Expect 12,000 restaurants and around 62 different cuisines.
6 million citizens are descendants of Italians.
It has the highest Japanese population outside of Japan.
It is known for its nightlife, and cultural and arts scenes.
It is ranked among the 5 most courteous cities in the world.
It is one of the most gay-friendly cities in South America.
The city’s main gay areas are Largo do Arouche and Jardins.
Many of the popular events prior and post SÃ£o Paulo Pride are hosted or run by The Week- either at their venue which has two dance floors and an outside area with pool and dark “forest” (as opposed to room), or at other venues across the city. This year, their parties featured the likes of Chris Cox, Offer Nissim and Peter Rauhofer as well as other talented and popular local DJ’s.
[A quick aside: The Week is well organised and has little note pads on bar counters throughout the club with pens for those needing to exchange numbers or emails. And interestingly, these note pads are sponsored by South African Airways. Does SAA sponsor any LGBT events or initiatives back home? Just a thought…]
We only did The Week parties as that’s what our party circle wanted to do. You are guaranteed to find loads of beautiful boys and it’s probably a lot more cosmopolitan than some of the other venues. There are however, several other alternatives catering for all requirements of the LGBT spectrum.
These range from afternoon to evening pool parties, fetish parties, girl’s only nights and much more. It’s pretty much non-stop partying from the Wednesday right until the Monday which, quite fortuitously, was a holiday in Brazil and Argentina.
Apart from the endless official and unofficial parties that start on the Wednesday, the other attractions include a Cultural Gay Fair, Gay Day (And I thought everyday was Gay Day – or is that just me?), and the International GLS Tourism Forum. These celebrations and other events culminate in a street parade and spectacle like no other on the Sunday afternoon.
Surrounded by impressive high rise buildings on either side in the heart of the city’s financial and commercial district, the parade is interspersed with over 20 sound trucks blasting all sorts of disco, rave, house, samba, reggae, pop, and dance music. They’re followed by crowds of people, all filling Avenida Paulista, one of Sao Paulo’s main thoroughfares, to beyond capacity.
Waving rainbow flags and carrying banners with slogans such as “Dignity for All”, and “All Forms of Love Bring Us Closer to God”, people celebrated in true Brazil Carnaval style- dancing, singing, drinking, cheering and in the end creating one of the most awesome spectacles I have ever seen or participated in. The energy was amazing, and you need to have your wits about you so as not to get trampled by the masses of people; especially after a few beers and cocktails that are on offer from street vendors along the route.
“This is the biggest parade on the planet,” Tourism Minister Marta Suplicy said in her address to the crowds. “Our city is showing, once again, its respect for diversity.”
“We still see cases of homophobia in the country,” she added. “We still don’t have a law making homophobia a crime, and that needs to change. Congress has to approve this law.” Suplicy spoke to the crowds from the top of a sound truck together with SÃ£o Paulo Mayor, Gilberto Kassab.
According to Parade organiser, Nelson Matias Pereira, the parade this year was an appeal for a “world where racism, sexism and homophobia, in all their forms, no longer exist.” A lofty global ideal I suppose, but a message that I feel has particular relevance for the African continent at the moment.
This was my fourth visit to Brazil, and each time I am more in awe of this amazing country and its wonderful people. I have done Carnaval in Rio