“¡Botella dimisión! ¡Botella dimisión!” The crowd packed into Plaza de Chueca on Thursday to celebrate the start of this year’s Madrid Gay Pride (MADO) festival cried out to demand the resignation of city mayor Ana Botella over her perceived insensitivity to the gay community.
Featuring prominently on the stage was Conchita Wurst, aka Thomas Neuwirth, the bearded Austrian drag queen who swept to fame earlier this year after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
But this was the first and only of this year’s Pride events to be held inside the Chueca square, which is a key location for the city’s LGTB movement. Concerns about excessive noise are pushing the street celebration to other parts of Madrid’s gay neighborhood this year, and even the traditional parade will not go down Gran Vía on Saturday. Instead, the floats will begin their route by Atocha, cover part of Paseo de la Castellana and end at Plaza de Colón.
Local residents feel that the festival has turned into “a horror”
“Although in years past the city approved performances in Plaza de Chueca, for this edition it estimated that noise levels will be in excess of 45 decibels, the legal limit, and it did not allow us to program anything here,” says Juan Carlos Alonso, secretary general of AEGAL, one of the associations that organizes the festival. “We are not going to make any political interpretations. We are simply going to obey the law.”
“It’s not the decibels, it’s LGTB-phobia,” says Carla Antoneli, a Socialist representative in the Madrid regional assembly. “To push us out of the neighborhood is evidence of how the mayor despises this community. Then again, she has no qualms about selling the city abroad by showing off its gay-friendly aspects.”
Gay Pride is the capital’s largest street festival. Organizers estimate it will draw over two million people and bring the city profits of €110 million.
“People identify it as Madrid’s fiesta,” says Alfonso Llopart, editor of Shangay magazine and the stage coordinator for this year’s MADO. While there were once six stages scattered across Chueca, there are now only two: one in Plaza del Rey, and another in Callao, which is near Chueca but not part of the neighborhood proper.
Organizers have complained about the double standards used by the city over noise levels, noting that other loud celebrations such as the Fiestas de la Paloma, or street parades held when the national soccer team wins a major tournament, are never objected to.
Organizers estimate MADO will draw over two million people and bring the city profits of €110 million
But the Popular Party wants to prove that this is not so. “I spoke with the mayor this morning and she wants to try to find a solution,” wrote Iñaki Oyarzabal, the party’s secretary for justice, rights and liberties, on his Twitter account several days ago. “It’s the neighborhood association that opposes it.”
“The celebration has not been pushed out,” says Esteban Benito, president of the local neighborhood association. “Gay Pride began as a spontaneous, citizen celebration, but it started acquiring fame and has become a huge event.”
Benito, a city planner, feels that the small Plaza de Chueca becomes “a highly dangerous place where you can’t fit in sideways” once the celebrations get underway. Local residents also feel that the festival has turned into “a horror” as a result of the permanent blare of loud music, open-air bars serving alcohol and people urinating on street corners and against walls.
“You were trying to steal my cellphone!” screams a young man seconds before Conchita Wurst takes to the stage.
“This neighborhood is the soul of the celebration, I can see why people would get mad if it gets taken elsewhere,” says Ángel, 58, who is here with his niece Lucía, 16, and his nephew Javi, 11.
“I like the atmosphere and the way people are dressed,” says Lucía. “When I am older I plan on coming here.” In the background, the whistles and the shouts against the mayor continue.