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In Gran Canaria coronavirus is splitting Pride from the gay scene and damaging both

In Gran Canaria coronavirus is splitting Pride from the gay scene and damaging both

  • A row about the rescheduling of Pride in the LGBT+ holiday resort of Gran Canaria highlights greater fears about the scene.
Yumbo Centre

The LGBT+ scene in Gran Canaria may never be the same again amid fears bars and clubs won’t get the chances they need to bounce back after the coronavirus lockdown.

The Spanish island in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa, is hugely popular with LGBT+ tourists.

In particular, they flock to the city of Maspalomas during the European winter to enjoy almost guaranteed sunshine.

There gay and bi men dominate the loungers at the LGBT+ nudist beach and cruise vast sand dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see.

And at night, the Yumbo Center, an ugly, outdoor concrete shopping mall becomes a playground of restaurants, cabaret bars, gay clubs and sex venues.

But for now, the scene is silent. The tourists have gone home, the venues are shuttered and the Spanish police are enforcing a strict lockdown.

Of course, the precautions are essential. Coronavirus has hit Spain harder than almost anywhere. The number of cases has soared to 100,000 with deaths passing 9,000. Mercifully, infection rates are now finally slowing.

It’s almost too early to look to the future. But a recent decision by the people who run Maspalomas Gay Pride has sparked a debate about how the scene may recover.

The event was due to take place from 7 to 17 May. Naturally, organizers have had to postpone it as those dates simply weren’t safe.

But now they have decided to reschedule Maspalomas Gay Pride to early October. And venues are distressed it now clashes with other LGBT+ events. In particular, it overlaps with Maspalomas Fetish Week.

The dune along the beaches in Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria is famous for its sunshine and dunes which attract a lot of gay and bi men. @viaggiarelowcost

Only together can we recover from this global emergency

Why does that matter? Because venues rely on the carefully choreographed calendar of events across the year to boost their footfall and the amount of tourist Euros that ring through their tills. Therefore doubling up on events actually undercuts their income.

Many of them are small businesses and are already likely to lose months of income to coronavirus. So they will need all the help they can get to bounce back.

Moreover, it seems that the Freedom Association, an independent company which runs Pride, didn’t consult the Yumbo Center businesses before announcing its new dates.

As a result, the LGBT+ business association GLAY has issued a statement in English and Spanish. And the title – ‘We Stand Together’ – could barely be more pointed.

It says:

‘It has never been more important for us to stand together in face of these uncertain times.

‘The full social and economic impact of COVID-19 has yet to be seen, we have no clear idea of when our businesses will reopen or at what point we will be able to welcome back tourists to our beloved island.

‘We call on all business and community leaders, regardless of your affiliation to GLAY to work together as we rebuild, post lockdown.

‘It is with great concern that we learnt, via social media, the new dates for Maspalomas Pride.

‘To overlap established events such as Ricky’s Winter Warmer and Maspalomas Fetish Week and the close proximity to Winter Pride, leaves us with more questions than answers. The announcement last night has caused anger and confusion.

‘We will reach out to Freedom [Association] to request an explanation. As a community we need to work strategically – only together can we recover from this global emergency.’

‘It’s important the events all have a clear identity’

Of course, limited dates are available. And people on the island are sympathetic to Freedom Association for the need to reschedule.

But there’s a suspicion they may have chosen convenience over what’s best for business. One of the events the newly rescheduled Maspalomas Gay Pride clashes with is Freedom Festival, a kind of mini-Pride, that they also run. Was it just less hassle to merge the two?

There’s a sense of extra resentment as Freedom Association is a commercial organization brought in by the local government to run Pride. The team of volunteers who built the event up to be a success are no longer calling the shots.

Robbie Dean lives on the island is well connected to the LGBT+ scene.

He tells GSN: ‘What the decision has really undermined is trust that everyone will cooperate. It’s important that everyone works together and then you can market the island to tourists.

‘From that point of view, it’s important the events all have a clear identity and everyone knows what is happening and when.’

What is more, a lot of gay tourists to Gran Canaria are loyal repeat visitors. Some come back several times a year, spending their money at multiple events.

Darkrooms and social distancing

In the short term, those loyal customers can help the island. If they accept a credit voucher or agree to defer their trips to later in the year, rather than demand refunds for any trips they’ve booked, it will avoid the situation getting even worse for many businesses.

But Dean also says there is a wider fear that the island’s LGBT+ scene may ‘never be the same again’.

He says: ‘It’s particularly a fear for the fetish venues. The local authorities are extremely beauracratic and target the sex venues and the gay venues in particular.

‘About a third of venues in Yumbo Center have darkrooms. And, of course, people are going to be worried about viruses being spread in crowded darkrooms. So the fear is the authorities use the opportunity to put in a new law or new licences to make it harder on those venues.’

The uncertainty COVID-19 has created around the world is bound to generate worry and rumor. So far, the threat of new restrictions on the Gran Canaria LGBT+ scene is just that.

However, this little speck of land in the middle of a vast ocean is also a microcosm of Europe’s LGBT+ commercial community. And what happens here may very well be the canary in the mine for how coronavirus may affect other LGBT+ venues around the world.

UPDATE: Freedom Association responds

The Freedom Association has now responded to GLAY’s comments.

The association told GSN that it did consult people on the new dates for Maspalomas Pride. In particular, it said it consulted the City Council, Gran Canaria Tourist Board and the Community of Owners of Yumbo.

In addition, it said it reported the new dates to them ahead of posting the dates on social media. Indeed, it says it also provided the new dates to Progay which runs Winter Pride Maspalomas in November.

Finally, it disputes that it is a commercial organization. Freedom Association says it is a non-profit organization which was ‘elected’ to run Maspalomas Pride from 2016 onwards, after providing a proposal for the event.

It adds it wanted ‘a Pride for the whole world, not only for the British. 80% of the public [at the event] until 2015 was British and they did not even speak Spanish at public events in a Spanish city. And Maspalomas deserved a Pride for everyone including Spaniards.

‘Since our arrival, Maspalomas Pride has enjoyed a greater influx of public, exceeding 250,000 attendees [in 2019]. Pictures show the improvement in quality and number of attendees since Freedom organized the Pride.’

It says the other events in October which the new Pride dates clash with are private events held within clubs. By contrast, Maspalomas Pride will offer a big outdoor stage and is free for all.

Moreover, Freedom Association adds:

‘COVID-19 has caused thousands of events to change dates, so it is inevitable that other events coincide.

‘With the announcement of the new dates, many employers in Maspalomas are happy with this change.

‘It will attract thousands of people in October, [and] Winter Pride will bring thousands of people in November, thus offering double chances of economic recovery.’