Pride and Progress: A Thriving Gay Culture, Lacking Acceptance

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Pride and Progress

A Thriving Gay Culture, Lacking Acceptance 

By Cody Bowman 

The bouncer in Barcelona’s club Arena Madre stamps my hand as I take shelter from the rain outside. I shout “Medium beer,” over speakers blaring “Party in the USA”—the irony! The bartender, wearing tight spandex shorts, pours me a glass from the tap. Lights beam across the alcohol bottles lining the wall, reflecting bursts of neon. Fog machines are spewing smoke from the dance floor as the booming base reverberates through my body. A couple standing next to me is too focused on each other’s tongues to notice the bartender asking them for their order. He grins and begins to swing his hips to beat. He hands me my beer and calls me, “Guapo” (handsome); a somewhat staggering reminder that I wasn’t in Boston. I pull out a few euro coins and put them on the bar before I move to the dance-floor.

The time is 2 a.m. and Barcelona’s gay club Arena Madre is packed with an ecstatic crowd hip thrusting and belting the Miley Cyrus tune. This scene isn’t uncommon for Barcelona, in fact Spain is the fourth country on the continent to legalize gay marriage. The Spanish parliament passed a measure in 2005 granting equal rights to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. The southwestern European country also permits adoption by gay couples.

Europe contains 10 (out of sixteen) countries that have legalized same-sex marriage. Compared to the USA, which currently has 14 states that allow same-sex marriage, Europe’s gay culture is thriving, particularly Spain. Pew Research completed a survey in 2013 that claimed Spain as the most accepting country for homosexuality (; compared to a 55% rate of acceptance in the United States of America.

As I make my way outside Arena, I meet Aleix Ferrer Pujol, an 18-year-old club goer who is smoking along the curb. He says that he studies at Universitat de Barcelona, one of the largest public universities in Spain. He takes a drag of his cigarette and wipes a bead of sweat off his forehead. “It’s too hot in there,” he says gesturing to inside the club.

He says that he moved one month ago from Lleida, Cataluna, a small, conservative town over 500 kilometers away from Barcelona. I ask how it feels growing up gay in a culture that so widely accepts your sexual orientation, to which he replies, “Not everyone.”

Aleix explains that his village is extremely conservative, particularly in terms of homosexuality. “I only knew of one boy who was gay in my village,” he says; “All the rest were hiding.”

I feel jarred by his response, in disbelief that the most accepting country in the world would make any gay person feel the need to hide their sexuality.

“I knew that I was gay in high school but not everyone would accept it. In university yes, but in high school–not,” he says. Aleix came out to his family that he is gay two weeks after moving to university. He wanted to be far away before he exposed his orientation to his village.

Lighting another cigarette, Aleix says “My parents said ‘yes’ that it was okay for me to be gay, but people in my village have called me Maricón, which means homo in a despective [derogatory] way.”

Breaking Down Barriers

Two-thousand kilometers north from Barcelona lies Amsterdam, the first city ever to legalize gay marriage in the year 2001. Almost 15,000 same-sex marriages were performed in the first ten years of legalizing marriage equality. This achievement has paved the way for Europe and other countries to pass similar legislation to improve gay rights.

While it’s been over a decade since the legislation has been passed, Dutch gay culture still faces oppression. reported that gay bashing and attacks on gay individuals has substantially increased the last few years. The Netherlands has been deemed a gay-mecca, but societies’ outlook on the subject seems to be more tolerated than accepted. As more and more gay men and women “come out,” the more the opportunity for gay oppression is present. This year EenVandaag reported a survey claiming that more than half of gay Dutch individuals feel less safe than they did a year ago.

For Willem Creemers, a 23-year-old grad student at Radboud University Nijmegen, gay life in the Netherlands has been anything but thriving. Willem was born and raised in Voerendaal, Limburg, a place he called “extremely closed minded toward gay [culture]. Similar  to Aleix, Willem felt uncomfortable coming out back at home where the topic isn’t widely accepted.

“I told one of my friends I was gay in high school,” he says, “but I was afraid to tell everyone. They will call you ‘homo’ if they know you are gay.”

He waited until his fourth year of university to come out at the age of 22. “When people are going to study at university in a city, coming out is a lot easier.” But although his coming out has been met with a lot of support, Willem clarifies that not everyone approves. “Some people still don’t like it [being gay], but I ignore them.”

A Work in Progress

Berlin, Germany is named as one of the most gay friendly cities in the world ( and ranks second on Pew Research’s study of the most accepting country for homosexuality. Unlike Spain and the Netherlands, Germany has not legalized gay marriage, but it is still considered as being an extremely progressive country in terms of gay rights.

Germany passed the Life Partnership Law Act in 2004 which gives limited rights to same-sex couples. Klaus Wowereit who has been the mayor of Berlin for the past decade created an impact on Germany’s gay culture when he came out to the world by saying, “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so” (I’m gay, and that is a good thing).

Thomas Reichel is a 27-year-old gay man who was born and raised in the city of Berlin. He says that although growing up in a city has helped him feel more comfortable coming out, he still faces oppression from the outside world. “I’ve been harassed many times for being gay, a lot of people still don’t like us,” he says.

He notes that the gay culture in Berlin is separated from the straight culture, particularly in nightlife. “We dance in our clubs and they dance in their club,” he says.

Oppression still remains

As Aleix finishes his cigarette, I hop into a cab and waive goodbye to him standing among Barcelona’s gay culture. He’s amongst others who have felt his oppression and fear to come out; just as those in Germany and the Netherlands do.

While Europe has led the path for passing legislation in support of gay rights, the actual gay cultures within the continent are relatively still struggling. As I look forward to going back to my own country, the United States, I realize that having the freedom to marry does not constitute freedom from oppression.





20 years old, journalism major at Emerson College

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