Zurich takes pride in gay festival

Zurich was chosen over Mannheim and Tel Aviv to be the EuroPride host city in 2009 Robert La Bua

With rainbow flags fluttering all along the River Limmat, Zurich has been playing host to the continent's biggest gay and lesbian culture event for the past month.

This content was published on June 3, 2009 - 14:15

This coming weekend, EuroPride reaches its culmination with what will no doubt be the most colourful parade of the year.

That Switzerland hosts major international events is well known, yet the idea of the country hosting a gay-themed festival still takes some people by surprise.

It's true that Zurich does not necessarily jump to mind as a primary destination for gay visitors, with such cities as Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, and London enjoying a more visible gay presence.

But it is also a fact that Switzerland has one of the best developed gay infrastructures in the world, with many social, political, athletic, and academic organisations enhancing Zurich's reputation as the European city with the highest number of nightclubs per capita.

Zurich was selected over Mannheim and Tel Aviv to be host city in 2009. The central purpose of each EuroPride event is to focus attention on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender culture on a European level and bring a stronger focus on these communities in each host city.

Dressing up, stripping off?

EuroPride celebrations do not usually last more than a week, but Zurich, already the location of gay cultural events, decided to incorporate these into EuroPride this year and extend the festival to five weeks.

"In Zurich we ran with the idea that we include the already existing successful bits into one - Pink Apple, Warmer Mai, plus the Christopher Street Day parade. Those were the three pillars," explained Michael Rüegg of EuroPride's organising committee.

"Then the gay sports association started planning a weekend of sports competitions, just like the Eurogames that took place in Zurich in 2000, but on a smaller scale."

Those who think gay events are merely an excuse for men to dress in women's clothes and for others to take their shirts off are in for a surprise.

EuroPride Zurich 2009 has incorporated a film festival, business symposia, political discussion, sports competitions, and many a cultural event into the celebrations, which are meant to welcome everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

Tourist magnet

The event has attracted travellers from as far as California and Australia.

"We have Glasgay and other festivals back home, but I wanted to see what Switzerland could do with it," said John Douglas of Scotland.

Another visitor, Ana María from Spain, explained that while Barcelona and Madrid are well known as having thriving gay communities, her small town has nothing like the big events that take place elsewhere in her country. Coming to Zurich "gave me the chance to meet other people and find out about lesbian life in other parts of Europe", she said.

Recognising the important economic contribution to the coffers of the local and national tourism industry, Switzerland Tourism produced a glossy, 32-page brochure to encourage visitors to come to Zurich for the event.

Zurich Tourism, too, has gone all out to welcome visitors and make their stays in the city as enjoyable as possible. EuroPride's own 120-page magazine details day by day the calendar of events, which will reach its peak this weekend.

The Town Festival taking place on Saturday and Sunday in the EuroPride village will offer food stalls, open air concerts, bars, street artists, and information booths. On Sunday, there will be a political rally with speakers including Moldovan activist Mihaela Copot.

Robert La Bua, swissinfo.ch

In brief

This year's EuroPride marks the fortieth anniversary of New York's Stonewall Riots, widely regarded as the seminal event that served as a catalyst for the creation of an active gay rights movements across the world.

Zurich was a safe haven for gay people long before June, 1969. The city's Barfüsser claims to be Europe's oldest continuously operated gay bar (open since 1956), and the magazine Der Kreis, an important vehicle for gay liberation and culture in Europe and beyond, was founded in Zurich in 1943.

Laws against homosexuality were abolished in Switzerland in 1939 and civil partnerships were legalised in 2005 - the first time a partnership law was approved directly by the people. The citizens of Switzerland accepted the Partnership Act Registration for same-sex couples with a vote of 58 per cent in favour on June 5, 2005 and the Act came into force on January 1, 2007.

The city of Zurich's newly elected mayor, Corine Mauch of the centre-left Social Democrats, is openly gay.

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Adoption chances

On Wednesday the newly founded "Family Chances" committee launched a petition on the sidelines of EuroPride calling for same sex couples to be allowed to adopt children.

It proposes that homosexual couples are put on an equal footing with married couples when it comes to parental and adoption rights.

Currently couples in registered homosexual partnerships are not allowed to adopt, including any stepchildren that might be brought into the partnership. Single gay people are allowed to adopt.

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