My Adventures in Pride: LGBTQ+ Festivals Around the World

From big cities to provincial towns, Pride is magical, empowering, and impactful

Queer Liberation March and Rally
Barbara Alper / Getty Images

It’s Pride Month! We’re kicking off this joyous, meaningful month with a collection of features completely dedicated to LGBTQ+ travelers. Follow along on a gay writer’s adventures at Pride around the world; read about a bisexual woman’s journey to The Gambia to visit her staunchly religious family; and hear from a non-gender-conforming traveler about unexpected challenges and triumphs on the road. Then, find inspiration for your future trips with our guides to the best LGBTQ+ hidden gem attractions in every state, amazing national park sites with LGBTQ+ history, and actor Jonathan Bennett’s new travel venture. However you make your way through the features, we’re glad you’re here with us to celebrate the beauty and importance of inclusivity and representation within the travel space and beyond.

"What are you doing for Pride this year?" a friend inevitably asks me each June.

"I'm going to the beach," or "I'll be traveling" or "nothing," is sometimes my reply, garnering a quizzical, surprised, even horrified look (or emoji) in response. I quickly follow with a jaded yet firm "I'm Pride-d out this year. But please, go and have fun! Werk, yasss, honey," and so on.

As a New Yorker, I'm fortunate to live in a city that's home to not only one of the biggest, oldest, and world-famous Pride marches and festivals in the world—it was born in June 1970, commemorating the first anniversary of the watershed Stonewall riots—but a generous handful of them: Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, Harlem, and even suburban Westchester and New Jersey's Jersey City and Hoboken, have their own dedicated Pride celebrations. Plus, a scrappy political Queer Liberation March takes place on the same day as New York City's official event on the last Sunday in June. I'm surrounded by Pride Pride Pride! So why the jaded response, you might ask?

You see, I've spent the better part of my life gorging on pride festivals, both at home and while traveling all over the world, from big cities to provincial towns. And despite how figuratively hungover I get from this sometimes nonstop glut, I deeply understand how magical, empowering, impactful, lifesaving and straight-up joyous pride celebrations can be, especially for first-timers and those living in places where LGBTQ+ life isn't accepted or a norm.

I certainly remember my first Pride vividly. I was living in Los Angeles at age 20, having traveled 3,000 miles from my suburban New York hometown to finally feel free enough to explore gay life without worries that my family or friends would find out. My openly gay roommate suggested we check out Long Beach Pride. Taking in the sheer numbers of people strutting their stuff, I was wowed. And when the PFLAG group came by (which stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), with straight parents waving "I love my gay son/daughter" signs or accompanied by queer family members, I let loose with tears and a dream that my parents might someday fit among that contingent. (They're not big on parading in the streets, but that dream was realized as they're super-duper LGBTQ-accepting today.) I looked at my roommate, and he was crying, too.

So began my Pride addiction. I craved that rush again. Nothing could ruin or get in the way of up a Pride weekend for me. Sickness, rain, nothing could dampen my spirits. Those hours were protected, like an unbreakable dome filled with happy gas and marshmallows and empowerment. After my stint in Los Angeles, I moved to North Carolina's Triangle region, known for its brain pool and large Yankee ex-pat populace (thanks in part to Duke, UNC, and top pharma and computing businesses). At the time, NC Pride took place in different cities each year—now you'll find local annual editions in Charlotte, Durham, Wilmington, Raleigh, and Winston Salem—and I got my first serious dose of anti-gay protestors in the mountain town of Asheville (considered by some the Portland, Oregon, of the Southeast that's now home to the annual Blue Ridge Pride).

A clutch of Christians held ugly signs and screamed at us about Jesus and hell and AIDS at several points along the march route. It was a freak show as far as I was concerned, especially when several of these men clustered on their knees to pray at screaming volume, sweat streaming down their faces as they attempted to shout the queerness right out of us. Unsurprisingly, I'm still queer AF and can report that those efforts were for naught and pathetic. These ignorant displays show a despicable obsession with marginalizing and tormenting people for whom they choose to love; they only fuel hate crimes, including the one that claimed the life of my friend Matthew Shepard, who also lived in the Triangle at the time. (He moved to Wyoming, where two virulently homophobic men beat him and left his battered body for dead, dangling on a fence in a field).

Hungry for bigger pride events free from Southern fundamentalists, I booked several trips to San Francisco's, which are as energized as New York's and diverse and eclectic in makeup, with a memorable "dykes on bikes" procession leading the parade. However, it became clear that not all Prides are created equal, and there are deeply unique differences to be experienced, including cultural.

Montreal's Divers/Cite marked my first international (and bilingual) Pride, and its ribald Quebecois spirit, humor, sexiness, and local drag icon Mado made it completely stand apart. (Alas, Divers/Cite came to an end in 2014, but Fierte Montreal endures with a 2021 edition slated for Aug. 9 to 15).

Pride Winnipeg

Lawrence Ferber

One of the unique aspects of Manitoba province's Pride Winnipeg is its acknowledgment and inclusion of indigenous First Nations peoples (the majority of which are Métis and Inuit). When I attended in 2017, Pride Winnipeg kicked off with its first Two-Spirit powwow, which was a deeply affecting, beautiful experience, particularly in light of how much injustice the First Nations have endured historically. A Pride Week Tour of Winnipeg's iconic Canadian Museum of Human Rights also proved enlightening and is a must-visit.

I attended my first European Pride in the small city of Lucerne, Switzerland, which had its charm, and then the significantly bigger CSD Berlin. The latter's acronym, short for Christopher Street Day, is a nod to the Stonewall Inn's location in New York City.

Completely unlike any other Pride in the world, Australia's mind-blowing Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in New South Wales is as colorful, crazy, queer, and destination-worthy as they come. The parade, which is to Australia as Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is to the U.S., features outrageous contingents with choreographed routines. One year that included both a legion of dancing George Michaels divided into different looks from his too-short career and a speedo-clad team of water polo players. I've been lucky enough to be there twice, and I'm aiming for a third time. Taking place around the same time, Victoria's comparatively low-key—like, way way way low-key—ChillOut Festival takes place in the spa resort town of Daylesford, about 90 minutes by car from Melbourne. Here I competed in a three-legged race and enjoyed the friendly queer crowd without needing to jostle for a good viewing spot!

Although I often prefer to be a spectator at pride events, especially with the privilege of a press/media badge so I can weave within the police barriers freely for optimal photos, there have been times when you get caught up in the procession, regardless, as was the case of my first pride experience in Asia, specifically in Hong Kong. Simply being present meant joining the throng and walking together from start to end. It was more a demonstration and gleeful show of solidarity than a parade, at least at that time. (I'll forgive the guy from mainland China who got so excited to finally meet other gays he gave me a frontal grope.)

Taiwan Pride in Taipei

Lawrence Ferber

Taipei's annual Taiwan Pride is Asia's largest, scheduled close to (or on!) Halloween during October's last Saturday, and I was not disappointed by its contagious excitement and the throngs of Taiwanese people and those who made the journey to join.

So sprawling and jam-packed that it breaks off into at least two snaking routes from City Hall's kickoff point, Taipei's Pride is part political demonstration, part costume party (imagine a dozen Taiwanese bears dressed like Nintendo characters), and part celebration of sexuality, identities, and love.

So many memories and images from Taipei Pride, both amusing and profound: a group of men sharing their HIV+ status via signs, T-shirts, and other props to help de-stigmatize those living with the virus; couples holding "Marry Me!" signs with frequent kissing stops (this was a few years before Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage); and a lanky, nerdy Taiwanese lad in a leather harness, ballgag, and jockstrap (honestly, it was as far from a Tom of Finland or Gengoroh Tagame illustration as you'll ever see). And I would be remiss not to mention the three days of Formosa Pride's dance parties and events held concurrently.

A few of my other favorite Prides?

Well, of course, New York City. New York City's WorldPride on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall in 2019 was a got-to-be-there, once-in-a-lifetime event with thousands of people traveling from all over the world to take part in its multitudinous events, parties, rallies, and smaller marches—and let's not forget, a free surprise street concert by Lady Gaga outside the Stonewall Inn, during which she pledged to "take a bullet" for the LGBTQ community. I wouldn't have missed it.

Toronto Pride

Lawrence Ferber

Toronto's and Vancouver's are definitely top of my list, though vastly different from one another. Toronto's can be more subversive politically; one year, a lookalike of the then-mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, who's been criticized for being anti-LGBTQ+, stalked the route in undies on a leash).

Vancouver Pride has a more commercial vibe, with plenty of corporate-sponsored floats handing out and tossing swag to excited crowds of onlookers. The commercialization of Pride has sparked conversations in cities where corporate presence is growing or already significant. I remember when gay activists lamented the utter lack of respect or support corporate entities showed LGBTQ+ people and events, especially when AIDS ravaged the community, despite how much these entities gained from "pink dollars."

Today, the pink dollar is recognized and valued. Corporations have taken public stands on behalf of LGBTQ+ people when their rights and safety have been threatened or impinged upon by politicians and right-wing media. (Let's not forget North Carolina's HB2, aka the "bathroom bill," that cost the state more than $3.76 billion due to lost contracts and events as companies boycotted due to the discriminatory legislation.) So I'm pleased to see a bank, airline, hotel, clothing line, or pretty much any corporate brand take part in Pride and have our back, so long as politics and grassroots involvement aren't excluded or deprived a seat at the table.

Besides, if a big pride event seems too commercial for you, there's always another one worth traveling to that isn't: South Korea's Seoul Queer Culture Festival, South Africa's Pink Loerie Mardi Gras, Iceland's Reykjavik Pride, South America's Marcha del Orgullo, or Singapore's Pink Dot, to name a few. My list is long, and I can already feel that Pride hangover wearing off...