An estimated 40,000 people took to the streets of Buenos Aires for the city’s 17th annual Gay Pride March, or Marcha del Orgullo LGBT, on November 1st this year. The theme for the event was “Voten Nuestras Leyes”, which roughly translated means “Vote for New Laws”.
The march is traditionally held on the first Saturday of every November to mark the anniversary of the launch of Buenos Aires’ first gay organisation, which formed back in 1969.
As with many Pride events around the world (and I do seem to be reporting on quite a few of them over the past year), the event included a number of satellite events; leading up to a fair and market of sorts before the march. The feria started at 3pm and spectators and participants converged on the famous Plaza de Mayo in the gorgeous spring sunshine to begin the festivities.
The Plaza de Mayo is home to an unmistakable presidential palace, the Casa Rosada – quite literally a “Pink House” – where Eva Peron, Juan Peron and football legend Maradona have been among those to address crowds below from the infamous balcony. Madonna even secured special permission to shoot her moving Don’t Cry For Me Argentina scene, in the musical film Evita, here.
The Plaza de Mayo has seen many protest demonstrations and political rallies throughout Argentina’s colourful history. The square lays claim to some of the most historic monuments in the city, and it is also home to the Catedral Metropolitana which houses the mausoleum of South American independence hero, General San Martin.
With a pink palace, the phallic Piramide de Mayo monument in centre stage surrounded by painted white scarves representing the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (mothers of young dissidents, whose sons went missing during Argentina’s military regime), and the corpse of an independence hero, this is truly a square like no other. It makes for a rather auspicious starting point for a Pride march; also quite unique in its own right.
Several rousing and emotional (this is Latin America after all) political speeches by community leaders started the proceedings, along with organised and spontaneous performances on stage and in the square. Rather surreally, in the middle of all the festivities, lay the frigid corpse of a homeless man who must have died in his sleep the night before. As bizarre as that was, in true theatrical spirit, the show went on, as police ushered revellers and spectators around the body, with no-one really seeming to notice.
In fact, one of Argentina’s top gay designers, who was wandering through the crowd, was soon swamped by reporters and fans, and ended up giving an impromptu press conference about a metre away from the body, which rather morbidly looked like some sort of political art installation or performance art piece in the background.
Macabre sideshow aside, the day’s activities continued, and the Marcha, initially scheduled to start at 18h00, eventually got underway around 19h15. As with African time, the Argentines work according to their own clock, and I am not sure if anyone even noticed that they were running way behind schedule. Thank goodness for daylight saving and the inimitable spirit of the LGBT community which never turns down an opportunity to parade through the streets, no matter how late, or who is watching.
Comprising twenty-or-so basic floats, the parade made its way along the grand tree lined boulevard of Avenida de Mayo, across the majestic Avenida 9 de Julio (one of the widest thoroughfares in the world) and finally onto Argentina’s most important democratic institution, the Palacio del Congreso. While the distance from one square to the other is approximately ten city blocks, and probably less than one kilometre, the last of the floats and marchers eventually arrived at the final stop about three and half hours later.
The slow procession was a festive event, with Latino and other pop tunes blaring from the various flat bed truck floats, and with a number of live bands and drummers assisting in the noise department. It must be noted that the downtown area of Buenos Aires is a largely commercial district, and with the march taking place on a Saturday, not many spectators were on hand to witness the start of the march. Once the parade crossed over Avenida 9 de Julio, the number of spectators increased, but I couldn’t help wondering if they were there by accident, or if they had come specifically to witness the parade.
Making up for the rather dull floats, the transvestites and transsexuals on hand provided the glitter, sequins and body paint. Rudimentary floats are not only a reflection of the lack of money in these parts (Argentina is slowly recovering from a total financial collapse in 2001), but also an indication of the seriousness of the event and the message of the day. This was a protest march, and a demand by the community to be taken seriously and to be heard.
Noticeably absent from the day were the shirtless ‘Muscle Marys’ and pretty boys, who are normally on hand at these events to strut around half naked and gyrate their hips to an adoring public. I am told that they don’t really attend these events, as it is “not their thing”. Rather, the day’s events were mostly attended by the groups who still suffer the most discrimination – lesbians, transsexuals and transvestites; one more thing that set this Pride apart from so many others I have attended.
Eventually the crowds and revellers descended upon the Plaza del Congreso, another of Buenos Aires’ impressive architectural and historical squares, with this plaza traditionally being the rallying point for many political demonstrations over the years.
In the middle of the square stands a weather-beaten statue of Rodin’s The Thinker; one of only two copies in the Americas. The statue is also known as kilometro cero – the point from which all roads that lead from Buenos Aires are measured.
It was in these state buildings in 1996 that the first clause banning discrimination based on sexual orientation was entered into the Buenos Aires Constitution. In July 2003, Buenos Aires also became the first city in South America to legalise same-sex civil unions; a remarkable achievement in a relatively conservative country dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and military rule for so long.
However, these advances are only in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Rio Negro and more recently Villa Carlos Paz, with the same privileges not being afforded to citizens in the other 20 Argentinean states.
I found it interesting that well past 11.30pm, and after much skipping and marching, revellers stopped partying and listened intently to what the community leaders had to say. This was not just a party, but a huge political rally and demands for the voices to be heard from kilometro cero and changes to be enforced from the big city to its outlying provinces.
All in all an intriguing experience in a city that continues to enthral, amuse and perplex me with its range of contradictions and cultural nuances. While Buenos Aires Pride may not be anywhere as large as the event I attended in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in June, it was certainly a fun day, and a great chance to mix with the broader community that is helping to set new standards for LGBT equality in Lat