OP-ED: Why I Dream of Madrid Pride for America

By Jimmy Nguyen

Originally published on Advocate.com July 20 2011 7:55 PM ET

Earlier this month I went to Madrid Pride for the first time. A good friend told me that I need some controlled chaos in my life right now, so I made an impromptu decision to meet him and his group for five days of Spanish adventure. Controlled chaos is a perfect description for Madrid Pride, which happens the first weekend of July. At Saturday’s main Pride Parade down the Gran Via, an estimated 1.5 million people line the streets and plazas of Madrid to celebrate. That crowd is so large throngs of straight people join LGBT revelers in what is more a citywide street party than just a gay Pride festival. As I watched masses of Spanish straight people equal if not outnumber the gays, I wondered whether this could happen one day in America. Can we get to a point where straight people flood Pride parades to celebrate gay life?  I sure hope so, and that’s why I dream of Madrid.

First, I dream for the day when the U.S. catches up with Spain on LGBT rights. Spain is one of about 10 countries that give same-sex couples the right to marry. It also has a broad range of antidiscrimination laws, permits adoption of children by same-sex couples, and allows openly gay and lesbian people to serve in the military. While there is, of course, more to achieve for full equality, modern Spain (especially in its urban centers) is a terrific model for the integration of LGBT people into society. Perhaps that is why Madrid’s Pride event is less political and more celebratory in nature. In a country where LGBT people have most of the major equal rights they want, Pride in Spain is more jubilation about gay life than a political demonstration.  I hope for that day in America.

Second, I dream for a time in the U.S. when straights outnumber gays at Pride events. I’ve been to many Pride festivals across our great country. They can be great fun and very uplifting. Certainly, straight friends and allies come out to support us at Pride events, but not quite like in Madrid. In Madrid, I saw an entire city emerge for several days and nights to rejoice. The straight crowds dwarfed anything I’ve seen at any Pride event in America. At night, they filled plazas for a city block party. During the main Pride parade, they engulfed the 1.2-mile route down the Gran Via from Puerta de Alcala to Plaza de España in the city center; some 1.5 million people — many of them heterosexual — lined the streets to swarm around marchers and the occasional double-decker bus filled with dancing gays. Sure, there are probably many Spanish people who just want any good excuse to party or drink on the streets. Many straight partyers wanted to be doused with water by gay onlookers in balconies overlooking the parade route. Fun craziness, but then I realized there’s nothing wrong with that. Straight people came out for a city’s celebration of LGBT Pride — turning out en masse to equal, if not outnumber, the gay folks. That’s quite remarkable, and it should be our vision for the U.S.MADRID PRIDE PARADE X390For that to become reality, American gays will have to overcome our increasingly negative reaction that straights are “taking over” gay venues and events. Certainly, the LGBT community should have its own dedicated places. But if straight people want to outnumber us at the Halloween Costume Carnival in West Hollywood, by all means, we should welcome them with open arms. In fact, I long for a day when LGBT and straight populations integrate more seamlessly at venues and citywide events.

Finally, I dream for a time in America when straight and gay people are as well-integrated in metropolitan areas as they seem to be in Madrid.  Madrid’s main gay neighborhood is called Chueca; not scurried away in some obscure corner of town, it is smack in the city center. Although there are many gay restaurants, bars, and businesses in Chueca, you also see straight people intermingling comfortably throughout the area. I saw many couples, both same-sex and opposite-sex, kissing and holding hands, as they strolled through the winding streets. The central Plaza de Chueca was an especially vibrant mix of gay and straight alike. In short, it’s everything I want cities in America to be — a well-harmonized fusion of residents where the “gay” neighborhood is equally populated by heterosexuals.  

Years ago, one of my law school professors told me the LGBT movement in the U.S. will succeed when gay and straight people can just live openly with each other in the same communities. In Madrid that seems to already be happening.

I’m not oblivious to the fact that no country or city is perfect for the LGBT community. I’m sure Spain and its capital city have their fair share of issues to still overcome. But my quick adventure to Madrid Pride opened my eyes to a city’s life experience that I hope will come to America one day.

Now that I’m back home in Los Angeles, I still dream of Madrid for the ubiquity of Iberian ham, the great food, and the Spanish wine. I dream of Madrid for the wondrous plazas that make you want to just stroll and sit. But most of all, I dream of Madrid for the vision it provides for what gay life in America can be: an integrated  community where straights can outnumber gay people on the streets as an entire city celebrates its vibrant LGBT population.