Originally published in the June 2009 issue of The Advocate.
When my friend Josh asked me to join him at the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam, my American heart skipped a Eurobeat. Of course I wanted to be there to support him in his quest for a gold medal in cycling. But more than that, I wanted to come along for the Pride festivals. Turned off by the crass commercialization of American celebrations and turned on by most things European, I was itching to experience Pride in Europe. With Amsterdam?s famous Canal Parade scheduled during the Games and something called EuroPride happening just a week earlier in Stockholm, I was about to dive headlong into what would become my obsession with European gaystravangazas.
Our adventure began in the Swedish capital, where the 18-hour-a-day Nordic summer sun was shining brightly on EuroPride, the annual event that rotates throughout the continent?s gay meccas. This was Stockholm?s debut as the host city, and its gay populace had devoted itself to presenting an ambitious monthlong agenda. Thousands of people -- gay, straight, hipsters, nerds, musclemen, lesbian moms, locals and visitors (both European and international) alike -- descended on the designated Pride Park to watch performances, trade political ideas, and just mingle with one another. The energy was electric and unifying, so much so that somehow here in this alien land of seemingly 10-foot Scandic giants I felt more connected to my gay brothers and sisters than I ever had in the U.S.
Mind you, the Stockholm homos also know how to put on a party. On the eve of the parade, Josh and I joined a couple thousand of Scandinavia?s finest at an official EuroPride bash in a massive warehouse in S?dermalm. At midnight a dark, goth-tinged fashion show commenced with ominous artiness, and the crowd watched in silent deference. Then, very suddenly, the room exploded with glee as the emcee introduced the next performer, and the audience only gushed more excitedly as an aging disco diva appeared onstage, belting a song that was clearly some Euro equivalent to ?I Will Survive? (I?d later learn it was Britain?s Tina Charles and her 1976 disco hit ?I Love to Love?). The whole scene was incredibly surreal. A few minutes later I met Kalle, who?d just arrived from Helsinki on his 30th birthday and who would become my boyfriend for the next few years: a Finn and an American, whose first words to each other, ?Hej, hur ?r det?? (?Hi, how are you??) were in Swedish, brought together by EuroPride.
Following a Pride act like that wasn?t going to be easy, but the following week Amsterdam gave it its best shot. With the Gay Games in full swing, the Dutch capital was packed to the gills with 250,000 gay people from around the world. On the Saturday afternoon of Pride weekend, they mingled with what seemed like the entire city as throngs lined the banks for the Canal Parade, a vibrant water pageant where the floats actually float.