GLAY is the volunteer-led LGBTQIA+ not-for-profit association that founded Maspalomas PRIDE back in 2002. The Gay & Lesbian Associates of Yumbo were responsible for establishing communication with their local town hall, San Bartolomé de Tirajana, taking this community event from very humble beginnings, during the quietest month of the year, to becoming one of the single most highly attended annual celebrations on the island, bringing foreigners and native Canarians together, visitors and residents, businesses and activists. Of course GLAY had built on the work of many before them, stood on the shoulders of giants, as the saying goes; from a locally organised association they reached for the stars.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Faced with innumerable obstacles the gay community in the capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, had been marching for attitudinal change since the mid 90s, but here in the south there was still a rather old fashioned “rural” approach to a changing society, yet GLAY emerged through persistence and patient hard work. One of the founders, Claudio Falcon founder of ACES (Amigos Contra El SIDA), when faced with opposition, has been often quoted as saying “Let’s be reasonable, and ask for the impossible!”

By 2015 the estimated cumulative attendance at the 10 days of events was around 100,000 annually, more than half of whom flew in specifically during the second week of May. More than 45% of attendees came directly from the UK, though some estimate that number now to be as high as 70%, meaning the majority of them are, and have always been, English speakers, along with a good mix of Spanish and Canarian attendees as well as many other nationalities including German, Dutch and Italian. Maspalomas PRIDE Gran Canaria became one of the best known PRIDEs in Europe, in turn making Gran Canaria one of the most famous LGBT destinations in the world. This success was specifically built by volunteers, working alongside local businesses, to produce an unparalleled economic and promotional triumph for the island and for most who have involved themselves in its creation. As the event reached its 14th edition it looked set to go into profit for the first time in a decade. This was genuine cause for celebration.

Why is any of this significant?

Well, first and foremost, PRIDE has been our local expression of a very important global movement for equality and visibility, since the start of the 21st century, the authenticity of which is unquestioned – if that is unclear to you, please Google “Stonewall”.

That 1969 New York standoff, between the police and clients of a gay bar, an event sometimes referred to as the “riot”, saw the gay community openly fight back against institutional brutality, which then lead to the first Pride marches in 1970 and a global movement. This year is in fact the 50th anniversary of that movement having arrived in the UK. Spain was not quite ready for that yet, it would take the fall of a dictator and the country’s first democratic constitution in 1978, along with tacit decriminalisation of homosexuality, before the Spanish queers felt they could take to the streets of Madrid. Still they faced brutality and discrimination, which in some quarters continues to this day. It would be almost another two decades before they marched in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Here, GLAY represents the single most organised group of foreign residents, business owners and native Canarians, working together with local institutions and regional government to produce a uniquely successful major event celebrating diversity.

It became the highest yielding single attraction, primarily attended by foreigners, anywhere on The Canary Islands. This unique Yumbo-born community association developed a capacity, almost unintentionally, to act as a true model for social inclusion and citizen participation; something that is all too lacking among the estimated 100,000 foreign residents who have made this island their permanent home. It is a real story of achievement, promoting the highest ideals of inclusive democratic participation and local activism.

That is to say, pretty rare, and very precious.

Andre, GLAY’s last elected president in 2015

Of course, like every grass roots PRIDE movement anywhere in the world, they also had their problems. By 2015 GLAY’s last elected president, Adrianus Van Warooij (André to most!), a semi-retired dutch national, and technical democrat, with a process driven legal mind, said that around 175 businesses in the south directly profited from the event during the annual week of festivities in and around the Yumbo Centre. That may not be true any longer.

His opinion at the time was published in an interview with Spanish language daily La Provincia, and supplemented in the print edition of The Canary News, that year, “more and more people want a slice of the cake that is PRIDE, but do not want to share their profits with the rest of the Gay and Lesbian community on the island, a community whose interests are represented in the south by GLAY.” Revenues in recent years have seemingly been refocused towards just one or two organisations with a near complete lack of transparency. In short what was once a community affair has started to look like a proprietary commercial venture. There are many who are upset.

This could be seen as a predictable consequence for such unparalleled success, particularly an event run by a small, often unguided, volunteer force, managed by foreign residents. An event of this scale comes with its own peculiar headaches, and opportunities.

GLAY found itself the focus of repeated criticism, undermined while trying to take some responsibility for maintaining a voice and a strong presence within local government thinking, however the fact that most of its members did not speak Spanish left it as an easy target for those looking to improve their own profile as part of the PRIDE legacy in Playa del Ingles.

For the town hall all of this became an unwelcome tussle, with their focus being, obviously, to ensure a fully successful public event that could continue to grow along with their, by now, outstanding LGBT tourism numbers. They looked to the community themselves to create unity, and to ensure that this in-fighting got resolved. GLAY felt they were of course to be instrumental in ensuring that happened. They were, afterall, the founders. They focused on improving the health and safety requirements of such a massive event and making more transparent the tendering and awarding of contracts. Work that has been continued by the current town hall administration, under Mayor Concepción Narváez Vega, this has meant improvement to other longstanding events like carnival, where private commercial enterprises have had to work with the town hall, rather than simply focusing on their own unregulated profits. GLAY held the municipality’s first ever local electoral candidates debate, in a public meeting, at the Yumbo tourism centre during the 2015 local elections, it was well attended by all the local political parties, except the incumbents at the time. Not everyone likes the gays getting political.

Sources then within the town hall told us that PRIDE “was always only ever a business opportunity”, in a somewhat ironic twist back to the primary method by which LGBT campaigner, Dario Jaén Rivero {PSOE), had originally fostered this relationship between the local community and the town hall. He told them this diversity could also be good business.

An equality activist, Dario Jaén “the driving force behind PRIDE”, made clear at the time that the LGBT community was a simple reality in the modern world, and particularly in Maspalomas, where he estimated LGBT tourism was nearly double that of the global average. It would be foolish, he argued, to pretend otherwise, promoting the facts would be good for tourism, good for the municipality and good for the island.

The epic founder John “Hollywood” Barrie

He pointed out that resisting the economic opportunities on offer, while also accepting that fact, did not make business sense. It seems some memories may have faded a little when it comes to who the original group of gentlemen working with Dario Jaén were, and who first suggested PRIDE in Maspalomas. It was the GLAY community, gathered by Claudio Falcon in partnership with Dario Jaén Rivero, and several other key entrepreneurs (John Hollywood, Phil Ross, Barry Davison among others) working alongside their town hall, who first proposed this authentic PRIDE event for the south. Their proposals worked for the whole community.

Those founders were leading members of the foreign and native LGBT community, operating businesses and other projects and endeavours, from within the safe space of the Yumbo commercial centre, for the benefit of everyone who frequented it. Maspalomas gained a destination now well known as the hub of gay nightlife and culture on Gran Canaria, world famous for its acceptance of diversity.

They represented a tangible community, connected to a particular place. Every politician or elected official will tell you, however, how difficult it can be to try to represent absolutely everybody in a place. It takes the building of a lot of trust, and serious commitment, an understanding of democratic procedures and the law. Most of all it means being effective with communication.

The shift in perspective, brought about by Dario Jaén and his allies, within what was a deeply conservative right-of-centre administration, ended up working out very well; leading the town hall of the time, and those that followed, to not only support the creation of the event, but also stand by it in years to come. PRIDE is now actively protected as part of the established order. There are many who seek to control it, but of course, in truth, it only belongs to all of us, and in particular the community surrounding the Yumbo, in service of our visitors and our community.

Yes PRIDE has brought some prosperity, for some more than others, but it also embodies the wholly more precious profits of a vibrant community, acting as a representative voice for all who share in it. GLAY’s legacy, as it stands today, has been to offer a pathway to being heard, to understanding, and toward continued growth, as a business community, and as a place in which to live a happy life, connected to decisions and supported by the administration.

It is perhaps a shame, then, that in recent years there has been little focus on the founding principles of the event.

Since 2016 a newly appointed group of organisers have sought to promote only themselves, and used the word PRIDE to repeatedly deliver little more than a commercial dance music party, offering little connection to the wider community. Certainly the biggest complaint is that attendees who don’t speak Spanish have little idea what is happening on the main stage, which appears to have been reduced to a promo tool for temporary chiringuito bars set up in the square, funnelling profits and curtailing benefits to the Yumbo businesses who originally created the event. No one seems to feel they have a voice in it any more.

Unity, equality and freedom must represent more to us than simple cash control and commercial conquest. This is surely true whether you like boys, or girls, or both, or neither; PRIDE belongs to all of us, it must always be ours to nurture. This has been GLAY’s contribution to our future. After 20 years it is still down to the members of this community to act, and to make sure they are fairly represented, and their legacy protected from marauders.

Gran Canaria has dealt with pirates before.

GLAY were recognised and awarded the Roque Nublo award for services to tourism in 2016 by the Cabildo de Gran Canaria. In 2017 the Yumbo main square was officially renamed Plaza de la Diversidad Dario Jaen Rivero, after their main founder. The group remains as the only democratically constituted association seeking to listen to, and give voice to, the concerns of the wider community, irregardless of language barriers.

To this day there is still a team of volunteers who want to make sure the voices of the Yumbo and the LGBTQIA+ community are heard, and involved in the decision making that affects them as citizens, residents and taxpayers.

Over the 6 years since GLAY last organised PRIDE, numbers attending the event have dropped (tourism entrepreneurs FEHT estimated no more than 25-35,000 foreigners attended this year, in a year where overall tourism has already exceeded pre-pandemic levels) and many complain that the commercial entity that took over, appointed by finger and naming themselves “freedom”, are lacking in transparency or any form of collaboration, unless it earns them a significant financial profit. They are brusque and vindictive.

No one yet knows if GLAY will ever be invited back to advise on the development of their creation, but they are present and they are willing to help.

What is clear is that trying to turn the event into a giant commercial dance party has not really been a success nor has it been appreciated by the majority of people who should be at its centre. Perhaps it is time to think again, let’s be reasonable, and ask for the impossible.

Timon .:.

GLAY will have their first post pandemic General Meeting at 3pm on Thursday June 30th, in the ACES Remembrance garden of Plaza de la Diversidad Dario Jaen

Everybody is welcome to participate in regenerating this iconic local association defending LGBTQIA+ ideals.