Antwerp Pride 2022 made big impact with Queertopia, monkeypox highjacked the festivities

It’s that time of the year again: Antwerp Pride and Antwerp Queer Arts Festival. Pride focuses on the second weekend of August: from Wednesday 10 to Sunday 14. AQAF runs from 5 to 28 August. In 2022, Antwerp Pride turns 15 and looks 15 years into the future under the banner of ‘Queertopia‘. AQAF hasn’t communicated a specific theme.

Antwerp Pride 2022 was a special edition. 2022 marked the return to a full-fledged pride week featuring events, debates, receptions, performances, concerts, meet-ups, partying, drinking, touching, sex and (emotional) hangovers. 

Some 120,000 to 125,000 attended the pride parade on Saturday as a participant or as a spectator. The organisating committee estimates some 180,000 attended one or more of the many events. 

Antwerp Opera House with rainbow coloured columns.

Queertopia

This year’s theme was ‘Queertopia’. As Antwerp Pride celebrated its 15th anniversary, it looked forward to 2037. How queer would or will our world be? Will a pride still be necessary?

Yes, the necessity question is an obsession in Flanders. For prides or for other things in life, the Fleming loves to ask “Is dat nu nodig?“. “Is it necessary?”. Usually with a tone of voice illustrating the person asking the questions thinks all this fuzz is good for nothing. 

I viscerally dislike this question. I’d rather debate if pride is useful or achieving its goals. That’s another kind of debate.

I do not have statistics, but I feel media have spent more time and attention to Antwerp Pride this year, thanks to this very interesting theme. Usually it’s the regional news oriented media who cover Antwerp Pride most. And usually it mostly covers what pride will offer for events, how popular the pride is and was and so on.

But this year, with ‘Queertopia’, media, and especially the more high-brow, qualitative newspapers De Standaard and De Morgen spent heaps of column inches talking to so-called prominent LGBTQIA+ people about the hopes and fears for the future. 

Queertopia logo.

Liliane Saint-Pierre

A little controversy also helps to gain media attention. Eurovision Song Contest 1987 contestant Liliane Saint-Pierre (73) got embroiled in a little controversy on the Opening Night at OLT Rivierenhof, where there was an issue over her allocated time on the podium. The public loved it. 

Monkeypox

But there was a big party crasher this year: monkeypox or MPX. As Antwerp Pride is a big event, media interviewed gay men and others about their fears, their coping strategies, their opinions and their frustrations. Because there are a lot of frustrations about the slow reactions of the health authorities and of the officially recognised LGBTQIA+ organisations such as çavaria and Sensoa.

In the days up to the pride weekend, Sensoa and çavaria did up their game. But it feels too little too late. It must be said, çavaria has always had a difficult, prude relationship with the sex part in sexual diversity. It does’t fit in the ‘Love Is Love‘, ‘we’re socially acceptable people’, ‘we’re not sex perverts’ narrative. 

Sensoa changed its main message at pride from HIV to focus on monkeypox. According to De Standaard, Sensoa was the inly of 65 floats to work with monkeypox as a theme. 

The matter of fact is men who have sex with men (MSM) have more sexual partners than straight people. They are more likely to be open about their sexual activities and less apologetic about having loads of sex. Within or outside a long-term relationship. 

From the 2017 European MSM Internet Survey (EMIS 2017) we know that in 49 countries in Europe, plus Canada in general and thus also in Belgium specifically, half of them are single. And they will have sex with multiple people in the course of a month, a year, a life. 

Flag of Belgium.

Image and imagination

Monkeypox appeal to the imagination, of course. That also explains media attention. There’s the name. It sounds both cute and beastly. Although technically not a sexual transmittable infection (STI), it involves close skin encounters also known as sex. 

People are both intrigued and repulsed by gay sex. Maybe jealousy plays a part. Some straight people are perhaps jealous of the unapologetic sex life of some MSM. Often, that results in homophobia.

Also within the LGBTQIA+ world there are people who reject this ‘lifestyle’. “I am not like this”, “this is bad for our image” and so on. That’s called slut shaming. And it’s also a form of homophobia. Classifying and judging people for their sex life, because it doesn’t matches theirs and their expectation. 

They’d rather focus on family rights such as relationship recognition, foster parenting, adoption and surrogacy. But that is couples’ privilege. And half of MSM are single.

Rainbow colours at Antwerp-Central Railway Station.

Reality

Reality though is monkeypox are here for the moment and that was and is the news. Like it or not, we most cope with the virus and the fact it affects MSM as a group much more. 

And that will stay that way for a while. 

When the curtain rises

But you know what? On parade day, that all doesn’t matter. Themes and issues are all very good beforehand. It gives talking points. But the vast majority comes to celebrate, to party and to make a political or societal point. I’m just avoiding the overused trope of ‘pride is protest’. 

Images just show that. People dress up and down, they go parade, they dance on the festival music and if they have the spirit for, they party all night long. 

Rainbow basketball hoop.

Anyway

Personally, I missed most of the activities of Antwerp Pride 2022. Friday was my only day off and I worked day hours on Saturday and Sunday. So I missed most fun and couldn’t go out after as I had to get up early the next day. And to be fair, I’m just not that much of a party animal (anymore). 

I’m 41 now, I don’t want to be dead beat at work because I overdid it the night before. 

That’s okay. I enjoyed the build-up to Antwerp Pride a lot. It’s like playing with Lego. The fun is in building it. 

Happy organisation

Antwerp Pride vzw, the organisation behind Antwerp Pride the event, is happy how proceedings went. Would you have expected anything else? 

“Saturday night at the Love United Festival, two visitors had to be taken to hospital. Apart from that, the whole party went without any major incidents”, a press release from Sunday night says. 

“The organization therefore regularly called on visitors to take the heat into account, to drink plenty of water and to party responsibly. Water-Link had provided free drinking water along the parade route, additional shaded areas were provided on the festival site, which was also misted.”

2022 was very hot edition. And I mean that literally. Temperatures of 32° Celsius are even in the era of climate change unusual. 

The organisation is extremely satisfied with this successful edition and would especially like to underline the excellent cooperation with the City of Antwerp and all (emergency) services. 

“Although it is already my fifteenth Antwerp Pride, I was really overwhelmed by the enormous turnout and the once again positive atmosphere in the city,” said chairman Bart Abeel

Bart Abeel in 2019.

“We have made Antwerp our ‘Queertopia’ for a while, but I hope that we can live up to the values and the message we propagate throughout the year so that everyone can be who they are every day and not just during these five days. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this celebration.”

European sub-top

For Abeel, Antwerp Pride is European sub-top, after the major prides of Amsterdam, Madrid, London and Cologne. He estimates a third to half of pride attendees come from abroad, Abeel says in the De Standaard item ‘Godzijdank komen er ook veel gezinnen naar de Pride en ja, ook hetero’s‘ on 12 August. 

Fifteen years of more or less the same management obviously gives Antwerp Pride consistency. Antwerp Pride is less political than the Belgian Pride in Brussels. The Belgian Pride is held close to the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT or IDAHOT) and also close to usual election dates. In Belgium, federal, regional and European elections are held in May or the beginning of June.

Antwerp Pride is more convivial. More commercial, yes. Although it does make efforts to couple human rights events and activism to its calendar. 

A typical Antwerp Pride weekends consists of 

  • Opening concert, reception and first main party on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Focus on activism and human rights on Friday.
  • Parade and party on Saturday.
  • More straight-friendly and family-oriented closing concert on Sunday. 

That concept seems to catch on.

Antwerp Pride Information Centre

New chief

“15 years of Pride is an ideal time to hand over the baton”, Abeel wrote in his yearly introduction to the pride. Dropping a serious hint he’s stopping as chairman. 

“In 2008, I had the enormous privilege of working with an inspired team to place the first building blocks of what has today become the most loving and connecting event in our city.”

“Over the years, we have managed to grow a tiny idea and blossom into an inspiring project that offers a lot of people happiness and inspiration. I am very grateful that I have been able to achieve this with so many beautiful people – volunteers, fellow directors, partners, friends. And I am convinced that the Antwerp Pride family will to continue to work with equal enthusiasm.”

“Thanks to all the volunteers, partners, sponsors, governments without whom we couldn’t do.”

Antwerp Pride 2022 & Antwerp Queer Arts Festival 2022

Queer Antwerp

Darklands 2022-2023

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