Pride season is revving up worldwide and with it comes the rush of rainbow flags being hoisted, glitter factories doubling production and group texts seeing high ratios of frantic unicorn emoji. Belgian Pride, or Brussels Pride – as Antwerp’s edition is scheduled for August – is set to kick off on May 4 and will ramp up during Pride Weekend from May 17 till May 20. You know we love a theme, so this year’s edition is titled “Your Local Power”: it's about being unafraid to be yourself in public. Holding hands. Showing love. With communal elections in Belgium approaching, “Your Local Power” means all people holding local politicians accountable and asking how they make a difference for LGBTQIA+ citizens.
With news of 2 men getting attacked at Miami’s Gay Pride not even a week ago, we’re reminded of the importance of this particular festivity. I for one will never forget my first Belgian Pride: a semi-shy and offhand “oh let’s just go and see” afternoon trip with my partner that quickly turned into an eye-widening, heart-padding experience. A colour-blast revolution. This guide is here for those who are entertaining the idea of trying out Pride and for all who’ve got an annual alarm set. May it be the best one yet.
Why You Should Go
Every year around this time, the same think pieces whirr into action after their winter dormancy: “Do we still need Pride?” In a world of Drag Race Season 10, Palomo Spain, Janelle and Tessa, Queer Eye, Hayley Kiyoko and Troye Sivan? It’s “20-geighteen” and all is well! Undeniably, there is so much to be joyful about. Real progress is happening, I benefit from it greatly - especially in this country. But there’s still so much work left to do, kitty girl.
It’s actually bizarre to expect such a diverse community to be coherent in any way, shape or form but that’s the plight of this movement. We need to stick together because most of us are under siege, every day. For instance, the disproportionate amount of violence against and murder of trans women of colour and trans sex workers. We lost at least 190 trans lives last year, and that’s just the number that was actually reported.
Disabled queer people still face added discrimination, non-binary folks are not being included, even in queer spaces. There’s bi-erasure, census omission, conversion camps welcoming new ‘guests’ every day, blood bank bans, higher suicide rates, gay propaganda laws and torture camps, forcible sterilization, corrective rape, queer refugees fleeing persecution, a little thing we call HIV/AIDS and its perennial stigma, the list goes on - darkly and endlessly.
If you ask me, we still need Pride. If only to remember the people who lead that first charge, like Martha P. Johnson. Around the world there are so many people who don’t get to express Pride at all, have to hide and go underground or organize hyper-local miniature versions just to escape crack-downs. “But must it be so loud and overtly sexualized, right in front of the children”? Well if it gets you to pay attention, sure. PS, your kids think you’re late and they're way ahead of you.
How to Show Support
You want to head down to the parade, “but can straight people come?” Being an ally is a wonderful thing, as long as you keep in mind that the very existence of this Pride was hard-won and remains a true celebration against the challenges of just existing – a reality you may experience in your own way if you’re not cisgender, white, able-bodied and male – but you will never fully grasp the depth of. So join us, uplift us, try not to fetishize or infantilize us (we know we’re cute lol), make us feel safer, clock your peers when they’re being problematic. Throw in the occasional ‘wig yas binch werk’ but be cool and refrain from climbing on top of a float to declare yourself the ‘queen of the gays’. That’s a rarely-awarded and official title, actually.
What Could Be Improved?
Because queer folk form a massively heterogeneous (yes, pun) club, an intersectional approach to Pride remains the biggest challenge. That’s no exception for this one. Yes, Pride is about letting loose. It is about blasting bops from a float full of exultant bare-skinned dancers, drag queens and leather lovers showing off what they've got. But we should simultaneously remember that’s not where it ends. There’s heaps of education we could all benefit from, interesting voices and art and culture that are not given the proper platform at these events. Non-cookie cutter groups, people of colour, trans folk are still too often underrepresented. In Brussels, it’s mostly the language divide that gets in the way, with programmes offering only Dutch-speaking or French-speaking content, leaving out one group or the other or international visitors as a whole.
A few organisers aim to tackle the general divide, even if the language barriers still persist. Trans Antwerp movement ‘Genderflux’ will be hosting a group outing to the parade, details here. A (French-spoken) lecture called “Trans for Dummies” will be hosted as well.
You can join a (French-spoken) lecture on colonial oppression and sexual emancipation, featuring Moroccan literary icon Abdellah Taïa on May 8.
There’s even a body positivity workshop, “Fatlesque” with London artist Rubyyy Jones: a 2-hour session for people to explore their curves, sexuality and burlesque persona at the same time.
Don’t Miss This
The main event will always be the parade, and on May 19 (2:30 PM) you get to join this conga line of joy all around the centre of town. There will be local and national non-profits, clubs, drag performers, political parties floating through the streets from the Mont des Arts to the Rainbow Village in the Quartier Saint-Jacques. There are acts, there’s food, a market and DJ’s giving you life on every street corner. If the weather’s not too Belgian - and even if it is - it’s lit.
Also, Brussels’ first pop-up lesbian bar “Mothers & Daughters” is opening up for the occasion. After a first run at Beursschouwburg last year, the temporary bar will open on May 3 as a safe space for queer & feminist history, art and community meeting until July 2. You can join a crowdfunding effort to support the project here.
Pride is also a time of remembrance. On May 17, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Belgium remembers the tragic murder of Ihsane Jarfi who lost his life in a homophobic hate crime in 2012. During Ihsane Jarfi Day, a bright mural will be revealed and a march and memorial service will mark the occasion as well as an educational programme that involves local schools.
On Saturday May 19, and this is not technically a part of Pride but it could be no coincidence in the planning, head to the Big Freedia concert. She just gave you everything on ‘Nice For What’, you besta believe this concert is going to go off.
That same night, there’s the Los Ninos & Vicuna Party: an open-minded, boundary-pushing party concept and a hot ticket at that. Featuring dance, grime, vogue and queer hip hop DJ’s and performers. Order that Burberry rainbow piece you've been eyeing and if they don't play "Crayons" by Cupcakke, you have my permission to sue.
Also, don’t miss the HIV/AIDS exhibition ‘Get HIV/AIDS Out of The Closet’, which includes personal testimonies.
You can join a Rainbow Tour as well, if you like, where sociologist Marian Lens will show you the city through local herstory and history.
Plenty of reasons to go, but remember: if you’re not ready to march, haven’t come out yet, can’t risk to be out or have any other reason to skip the party, you can always celebrate in your own, personal way.
May 4 – May 20 2018
Info & practical details on www.pride.be
Header artwork: Patrick Hughes - "Shadow of a Rainbow" (1978)