This article was written in collaboration between Cecilia Hyland & Natalie Albrecht.
There’s no denying it – it’s been a tough year for human rights, especially for our LGBTQ+ community. Restrictions, fear, and ignorance have tried to dictate the conversation surrounding identity and human experience. In the face of this adversity, however, there is even more to celebrate; more love to share, more honor to imbue, and more community advocating for us to be our full-blown authentic selves – proudly and unapologetically.
As the U.S. struts into our Pride Month, we wanted to pay homage to destinations and cities around the globe that are working to foster safe and colorful celebrations as well. Visiting a destination during a pride event not only provides an opportunity to learn about a city and its history, but also affords you the ability to immerse yourself in the local LGBTQ+ community. Peruse these ten destinations for some seriously prideful travel inspiration.
Jasper Pride & Ski Festival – Canada
Canadians are generally known for their overall good spirits and politeness, so it’s no surprise that Canada boasts some of the most extensive LGBTQ+ rights in the world. Yet it wasn’t always as such – same-sex rights in Canada have come a long way since 1965. It was in that year the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a ruling that labelled a man a “dangerous sexual offender” and threw him in prison for admitting he was gay and that he had sex with other men. In 2009 Alberta became the last jurisdiction in Canada to add “sexual orientation” to its human rights code, so while they get the slow, sarcastic clap for doing what should have already been done, we’ll give them a more enthusiastic clap for hosting one of the most renowned Pride festivals in the country – the Jasper Pride & Ski Festival.
If you’re looking for a dreamy alpine getaway, head to the eastern border of the Alberta province to get to the town of Jasper. Nestled in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Jasper is replete with jaw-dropping scenery, activities for every outdoor enthusiast, and affords the opportunity to view some of the largest animals in North America. Its National Park, aptly named Jasper National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world.
Aside from the ecological wonders, Jasper also the hosts the only gay ski week in the Canadian Rockies. Held in April, the festival is a ten day event which celebrates authenticity and liberation in a space which often underrepresents the LGBTQ+ community – outdoor recreation. Pop-up mountain parties, an eternal night scene, award ceremonies, family-friendly fun, and endless skiing all frame this alpine jubilee. Check out the Jasper Pride website to stay informed about their 2023 celebration!
Tokyo Rainbow Pride – Japan
If you have your sights set on something a little more urban – Tokyo is a must. Undeniably one of the most colorful cities in the world, you can expect an equally colorful Pride celebration. However, it should be noted that as a country Japan still has a long way to go in terms of legislation and equitability. Although the discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is banned in Tokyo, there are no national anti-discrimination laws, and no penalties for such discrimination. Furthermore, while homosexuality is legalized in Japan, gay marriage remains unrecognized. Inexcusably late to the game, those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are demanding action from their government, with Tokyo acting as the movement’s hub.
One of the world’s largest cities, Tokyo is a perfect juxtaposition – a cosmopolitan hub of exchange and development, with a culture deeply rooted in ancient tradition. Take their subway (which actually runs on time) and be transported to a traditional tea house. Hop off your business call and decompress with a visit to the Kouunji Temple for a Zazen meditation practice steeped in Zen Buddhist traditions. Or better yet, strip away the complexities and identities of everyday life with a relaxing soak in a sentos, or public bathhouse. Referred to as the “great equalizer,” people can talk on the same level in the sentos without worrying about social status, as status indicators are taken off before entering.
Now if only this concept – that everyone is different, but equal – could be fully extended to the greater cultural acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community…
Disappointing legislation aside, Tokyo’s Rainbow Pride is a triumphant celebration of community, love, and authenticity. While this year’s celebration (which was held in April) looked a little different due to COVID, they were still able to reach nearly two million people in celebration of “sexual and biological differences.” One of their main themes for this Pride was that of Youth Pride Japan, which seeks to reach out to young people in their teens and twenties to show community, support, and help the next generation set the tone for future cultural paradigm shifts. As they note on their website, “Our future can only start changing when we are all connected.”
Barcelona Pride – Spain
Historic Barcelona is a jack-of-all-trades; from the mesmerizing architecture, lively nightlife, sandy beaches, and world-renowned cuisine (and, yes, I suppose we’ll also offer a nod to their esteemed football team). Not only is Barcelona a cultural hub – attracting people from all over the globe to participate in their various festivals, but it’s also one of Europe’s most sought-out refuge for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Like most other regions, Barcelona’s queer community stands confidently on the shoulders of those who fought tirelessly and fervently for their rights throughout the last half of the 20th century. Now, no matter where you explore in the city, you’ll discover a society where gay life is integrated, acquiescently, into everyday life.
The center of the LGBTQ+ community is in Eixample, and locally known as the Gaixample. Taking a stroll through the streets you’ll encounter gay-friendly bars, shops, and restaurants, all touting rainbow flags displayed with pride (and really, is there any other way to display such a flag?). Aside from the culture, Gaixample also boasts some of the city’s best sightseeing routes, such as the Modernisme trail and the Gothic Quarter. If the Mediterranean is calling your name, head over to one of many gay-friendly beaches – the Mar Bella for a little nudey fun, or San Sébastian for some non-nudey fun.
Round out your entire experience by participating in one of Barcelona’s Pride celebrations. Travel Gay has all the most up-to-date information on gay events in Barcelona (which are a-plenty), but don’t sleep on their other international festivals such as the Circuit Festival and the Girlie Circuit Festival. Their next event, Pride! Bcn 2022, is focused on lesbian visibility. As a nod to the historic double structural and social standard that lesbian women face (for being women, and for being homosexual), this event seeks to bring visibility to the stigmas and realities faced by lesbians every day.
Sofia Pride – Bulgaria
If it isn’t already, Bulgaria should be added to your list of places to visit. A cultural melting pot rich with Greek, Slavic, Ottoman, and Persian influences, Bulgaria also touts some of the most impressive scenery around. From the Black Sea, to the Balkan mountain range, a visit to Bulgaria will check almost all the boxes. The one box it doesn’t check is a big box – and that’s in regards to its conservative and outdated views on the LGBTQ+ community. While discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is banned in all social spheres in Bulgaria, research shows that negativity toward LGBTQ+ persons remains widespread. Furthermore, Bulgaria remains one of the six countries in the European Union that have not provided any legal regulation for the safety of same-sex families.
All regions have to go through a transition phase with regards to any social change – and Bulgaria is no exception. Although the current statistics pertaining to the environment are demoralizing, they’re not without hope. The Western Balkans is experiencing a generational shift when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, and the last 15-20 years have seen the topic gain immense political, social, and cultural momentum. This momentum is further perpetuated by the tireless work of community members pushing for inclusivity in the human rights sector, making sure LGBTQ+ persons are visible and protected.
This year, the Sofia Pride Festival will be celebrating its 15th anniversary under the motto, “Be Proud to Be.” With an emphasis on political legislation, the event also seeks to elevate the voices and narratives of LGBTQ+ persons through various cultural and art events within the spheres of the Sofia Pride Arts, Sofia Pride Film Fest, and Sofia Pride Sports. Their website states that the main goal of this Pride is to “counter the forces and mechanisms of oppression and, ultimately, [aid in] the liberation of LGBTI people, not only through equal treatment regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but also through acceptance by society and by improving the lives of people living with all kinds of queer identities.”
São Paulo – Brazil
Brazil is the world’s 5th largest country, the largest in all of South and Latin America – and it has a diverse culture and landscape to match. From the Amazon rainforest, to the sprawling mountain ranges of Serra do Mar – and lest we forget the idyllic golden beaches contouring the Atlantic. Brazil also touts some of the most impressive sustainability initiatives in the game, with nearly 50% of its energy sources being renewable, the third-largest renewable electricity generation capacity globally, and the RenovaBio initiative – Brazil’s federal biofuel policy which aims to reduce carbon emissions through the use of tradable carbon credits.
Like most other nations, Brazil’s history regarding LGBTQ+ rights is far from linear, and still further from perfect. While the country has an Equality Index of 81%, it’s been an arduous road and still has much to realize. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Brazil since 2013, same-sex couple adoption has been legal since 2010, and there has been a process for legal gender recognition in place since 2009, Brazil was also the first country to ban “conversion therapy” back in 1999. Yet despite these legal protections, it has one of the highest murder rates of LGBTG+ people in the world.
In Brazil the expression, de grão em grão, a galinha enche o papo (from grain to grain, the hen fills her belly) serves as a reminder that big accomplishments can only be achieved one step at a time. This sentiment rings true not only for human rights in Brazil, but for human rights around the globe – the phrase encourages us to reflect on the momentous advances we’ve made, and look forward to all the work that’s still left to do. The São Paulo Pride event serves as one such reminder.
The São Paulo Pride Parade (Parada do Orgulho LGBTQ de São Paulo) is South America ‘s largest pride parade, and held the Guinness World Record for largest pride parade in the world from 2006 to at least 2016. The march is the event’s main attraction, and draws the biggest attention to the press, Brazilian politicians, authorities, and of course, local community members. Yet the city offers more than just the most impressive parade in the world, you can expect everything from concerts, dance performances, fairs, street markets, and queer-related debates and plays. If you’re still not convinced, do note that the dating app, Grindr, has elected it the best Pride across the globe.
Reykjavik – Iceland
Hosting both several active volcanoes and glaciers, Iceland is a place of polarizing natural beauties which earned it the nickname “Land of Fire and Ice.” Similarly, local attitudes about the queer community have flipped from being icy to warm, welcoming, and flamboyant.
Iceland was originally a closed off, conservative country, where it was uncomfortable to even consider marrying outside of the land. Likewise, LGBTQ+ people faced much harsh discrimination until the the formation of the National Organization Lesbians and Gay Men in 1978. In honor of the year they began their work, the National Queer organization adopted the name Samtökin ‘78 and has accomplished much since then. Today, they continue to have meetings, inform the public, and provide support and free counseling for the queer community.
Due to the efforts of Samtökin ‘78, LBGTQ+ lives were rapidly normalized and their rights were – for the most part – set into Icelandic law over the next couple of decades. The original problem of having such a small, relatively isolated country assisted in widespread acceptance once it became apparent that every person knew someone who was LGBTQ+. Iceland is now considered one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly nations in the world and was the first nation to elect an openly gay Prime Minister in 2009.
In Iceland, Pride is held in the capital Reykjavik during the second week of August, as it has been every year since 1999. The street is painted in the colors of the gay flag, the city mayor may be dressed in drag to participate, and it is one of the best attended festivals in the nation. The day before each Pride includes the publication of Hinsegin dagar or Odd Days magazine. They publish the program for the annual Pride while celebrating the queer community with a cover art competition and several interviews.
Iceland has a focus on making LGBTQ+ travelers feel safe that stretches beyond Pride. The capital, Reykjavik, hosts several events throughout the year to celebrate the queer community, including a vibrant drag scene. Rainbow Reykjavik Winter Pride, put on by Pink Iceland, happens every year in March in addition to the August celebration. March also happens to be a great time to see one of many natural beauties in Iceland: the Northern Lights. What better way to celebrate Pride than to see the sky light up and dance?
Taipei – Taiwan
The capital city of Taiwan is a unique blend of modern urban life – busy city streets, night markets, delicious street food– and history found in temples, shrines, memorials and museums surrounding the area. Along with having the tallest tower in the world, Taipei 101, the nation of Taiwan has brought the LGBTQ+ community in East Asia to new heights.
Taiwan was the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage in 2019 and has continued to set the stage for the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights across the region. A large part of Taiwan’s reputation for being the most LGBTQ+ friendly country in Asia has to do with the art scene. Queer expression is essential to progress, and Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art has fostered hope for the queer community both locally and regionally, as artists from less accepting nearby countries were able to take part in the 2017 exhibit titled “Spectrosynthesis — Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now.” The art brought public attention to both the community’s existence and the problems it faces.
Though Taiwan is one of the most progressive countries in the region, passing other LGBTQ+ friendly legislation has hit a roadblock. Increasing politicization of queer issues has made it difficult for queer couples to receive the same rights as cisgender, heterosexual couples. Public attitudes unfortunately remain discouraging, but will hopefully continue to become more accepting.
Despite the unfortunate politicization of LGBTQ+ issues, the resilience and continuous efforts of the LGBTQ+ community in Taiwan has been recognized. Recently, a city in southern Taiwan, Kaohsiung, was selected to host World Pride in 2025 over Washington DC. It will be the first WorldPride event held in Asia, which is a huge step in promoting a more widespread, truly global LGBTQ+ community.
Taipei maintained in-person Pride due to an excellent corona-virus response in 2020, hosting the largest in-person Pride with an estimated 130,000 participants. In 2021, the event was held online. On an average year, around 200,000 people or more gather from around the world to march and celebrate together, hitting up local gay bars and supporting LGBTQ+ businesses and charities. In 2022, Taipei Pride is set to be in-person on the last Saturday in October.
8. Johannesburg – South Africa
Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and is known for its many historical sites, rising art community, and proximity to safari parks and waterfalls. Johannesburg was a village until the Dutch and English saw its value as a gold-mining town. Rapid expansion occurred, which was unfortunately paired with harsh discrimination against the native people. The cruel treatment of native South Africans took another turn for the worse in 1948 when the National Party established a system of laws to uphold white supremacy and further attack land rights. South Africa became the largest racially segregated country during the Apartheid and would remain so until the 1990s.
At the end of South African Apartheid in 1990, the first Johannesburg Pride was held, which doubled as the first Pride held in Africa. The Pride parade is known for its global attendance, and is seen as one of the more racially diverse Pride parades with a focus on intersectionality. This year, Johannesburg Pride will take place on October 29th.
South Africa’s progressive laws cover all aspects of LGBTQ+ protection. Unfortunately, social attitudes have lagged behind legislation. There is still tension between conservative ways of thinking and the queer community, even in a nation seen as a haven amongst widespread criminalization.
Over half of the 54 countries on the continent of Africa still have laws that make gay relations illegal – some maintain that homosexuality is punishable by death. Aware of these hardships, Pride of Africa began in Johannesburg, with the mission to elevate the LGBTQ+ community across the whole continent. Pride of Africa has already begun to cause a positive change by helping Botswana host their first Pride in 2019.
Johannesburg Pride in South Africa, like many others, marches not just for themselves, but for the entire LGBTQ+ community that faces danger and punishment for existing.
9. Puerto Vallarta – Mexico
Puerto Vallarta is a coastal city that is known as the gay capital of Mexico. Though the city is smaller than actual capital, Mexico City, and Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta draws in an international queer community year round with its LGBTQ+ friendly hotels, shops, clubs, cruises, and beaches, all while maintaining a small-town feeling.
The region may not have the biggest Pride parade in Mexico – that honor goes to Mexico City – but it has a uniquely supportive history. Paco Ruiz is a key figure in the establishment of the city’s queer-friendly reputation. Ruiz opened a gay club named Club Paco Paco in 1989. Within the first 3 years of his club being open, police officers saw a lesbian couple kissing and tried to blackmail Ruiz into paying a bribe. When he refused, he was taken to jail for disorderly conduct. Ruiz’s situation caught the attention of journalists and community members, who shamed the local leaders.
Though Ruiz sadly passed in 2016, his legacy lives on. Puerto Vallarta continues to have a thriving gay district in Zona Romantica, many local businesses are LGBTQ+ friendly if not LGBTQ+ owned. The work he began to help those with HIV and AIDS is continued by the Solidaridad Ed Thomas Asociación Civil Foundation (SETAC). Puerto Vallarta continues to follow the spirit of Ruiz’s strength and help others during their Pride. This year, Puerto Vallarta Pride is raising money to fund social assistance programs through the organization DIF.
Pride in Puerto Vallarta began May 20th this year and ran over a week’s worth of events until it wrapped up on the 29th. Some of this year’s events include Pink Dinner, a drag show and other live performances, the Pride parade itself, and a block party. In addition to this, there are of course a myriad of things to do around town that cater to the LGBTQ+ community, such as a trip to the spa, places to shop, snorkeling, and more.
With both beautiful beaches and a strong LGBTQ+ presence that is fostered and not silenced it’s no surprise that Puerto Vallarta has gained notoriety and attracted visitors from around the globe. Though their Pride has passed, the celebration and acceptance of the queer community has no end date, so keep Puerto Vallarta in mind when planning a vacation to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
San Francisco – United States
Besides New York City, known for the Stonewall Riots and credited for sparking the Pride movement, the United States has another queer capital in San Francisco. San Francisco has a diverse LGBTQ+ community and a long history of acceptance.
The first gay bar in the city – and the nation – was opened in 1908, though the GLBT Museum is said to trace San Francisco’s queer roots back to the 1850s. The gay community gained further traction during World War II, when sailors and soldiers were discharged for engaging in homosexual acts. Due to its long established LGBTQ+ community, San Francisco lays claims to many “firsts”: first Lesbian organization, first Lesbian bar, first gay public official, and many more.
San Francisco has also always been active in LGBTQ+ activism. Before Stonewall, there was the Compton Riot in 1966. After Stonewall, there was San Francisco’s first gay rights march in 1970. The city’s first official Pride took place in 1972 and has continued since, marching for AIDS awareness, calling for action, change and equal rights. San Francisco is also the place where the rainbow Pride flag used world-wide today was debuted by Gilbert Baker. San Francisco still has a focus on supporting and uplifting queer individuals. Their LGBT Center works to help troubled and homeless youth, help queer businesses get a leg up and stay open, help those who feel isolated create deeper community bonds, help queer people find employment, and more.
San Francisco’s Pride is on June 26th, but celebrating being LGBTQ+ doesn’t have a time limit. There are many places to visit that honor queer people and welcome them to have fun while being themselves.
The Castro District is the heart of the gay community in San Francisco, and home to the gay activist and politician Harvey Milk. It’s known as one of the most popular gayborhoods in the U.S. and is dotted with queer landmarks, from memorials, to famous buildings like Castro Theater, to the GLBT Museum – not to mention the great restaurants and bars. In addition to the many queer scenes, Castro also has beautiful parks to visit, fascinating tours, and a unique blend of cultural cuisine to enjoy.
The LGBTQ+ community is an integral part of San Francisco, which already contains so many sights to see. Go see the fog roll out across the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the prison-island of Alcatraz, or take a ride in a cable car while exploring one of the most well-known LGBTQ+ friendly places in the United States.
Be Bold, Be Proud, Be Gay
People who identify on the nuanced spectrum of LGBTQ+ have always been part of society. In recent human history, however, these groups have been subjected to various forms and degrees of oppression, from relational rejection to persecution by law – and this has been further perpetuated through systems of religious stigma and pseudo-scientific medicalization of otherness.
Pride events have the power to increase visibility and awareness by uplifting the profiles of otherwise disguised peoples, and empowering them to be their authentic selves. Simultaneously, these events create a platform for public debate and discussions around dismantling the mechanisms of oppression, expressed in prejudice and discrimination against them.
Finding places where LGBTQ+ people can exist openly is daunting on a worldwide scale, but it’s comforting to see that so many places host Pride and other events to celebrate queer existence. The resilience of the LGBTQ+ community cannot be understated, especially when nations like Sri Lanka, Uganda, Singapore and so many others host events that represent the love and expression that their legislation condemns.
It’s easy to understand the struggles and humanity of such an ostracized community when you can see the beauty, strength, and individuality they hold. With all of the wonderful art, dancing, culture, and rainbows, Pride celebrates humanity, community, progress, and love – and who wouldn’t want to fight for and celebrate that?
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Want to learn more?
Jasper Pride & Ski Festival – Pride & Free Jasper Pride and Ski Festival
TIMELINE | Same-sex rights in Canada – CBC News
Jasper, Canada – Jasper Travel
TRP 2022 – Tokyo Rainbow Pride
LGBT+ Business Climate Score – OUT Leadership
The Most Authentic Tea Houses in Tokyo – The Culture Trip
Recharge your soul with these spiritual Tokyo experiences – National Geographic
POR LA VISIBILIDAD LÉSBICA – PRIDE! BCN 2022
Barcelona LGBITQ+ – visit Barcelona
Gay Parties and Events in Barcelona – Travel Gay
Програма на София Прайд 2022 – Sofia Pride HA 15
LGBTQ+ Equality in Western Balkans and Turkey with Amarildo Fecanji – Out Leadership
Balancing Growth and Sustainability: Lessons from Brazil – World Economic Forum
The Ultimate Guide to Gay Iceland – Guide to Iceland
PRIDE OF AFRICA – Pride of Africa
Hinsegin dagar – Odd Days Magazine
What you need to know about LGBT rights in 11 maps – World Economic Forum
Uncovering Gay History in San Francisco – New York Times
The History of Pride – Green Travel Magzine – ecomadic
The Obstacles Faced by LGBTQ+ Travelers – ecomadic