Pride festivals are great reasons to get away, but these niche events offer LGBTQ travelers something special.
For the past half-century, annual Gay Pride events have gathered local communities to march and rally for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights. But now more than ever, LGBTQ travelers are drawn to destinations based on personal interests. From cinema and performing arts to sporting events and wine tours, there are an incredible array of experiences and outings worth traveling around the globe for. Here are the top non-Pride events not to miss in the year ahead.
WHERE: Paris, France
Yes, there’s an LGBTQ equivalent to the Olympics. It, too, is hosted by a different city every four years, hosts a tremendous range of sports, and draws an international crowd. It’s the Gay Games, and in 2018 it’s bringing to Paris more than 500 competitions across 36 sports, with 15,000 participants representing 70 countries. The Gay Games takes place August 4-12 at venues in and around Paris, with athletes competing in familiar sports, plus cultural events and unofficial competitions like choir, hiking, cheerleading, and visual arts. Paris is the 10th host city and is expecting upwards of 300,000 spectators for this summer’s games, and there’s still plenty of time to register, buy tickets, or volunteer.
Dublin Gay Theatre Festival
WHERE: Dublin, Ireland
The renowned Dublin Gay Theatre Festival describes its mission as aiming “to explore the concepts of gay theatre”—a lofty goal, considering LGBTQ audiences’ devotion to live entertainment. Thankfully, the festival lives up to its ambition by promoting new works and playwrights, supporting youth in theater, and connecting with international creators and audiences. This year’s festival, May 8-20, marks 15 years, during which it’s become the largest event of its kind anywhere. Its program is themed to commemorate the 25 years since homosexuality was decriminalized in Ireland, with imaginative and humorous takes on sexual taboos and modern love. Irishman and festival muse Oscar Wilde certainly would not have missed it.
WHERE: Manchester, UK
Since 2005, Great Britain’s National Transgender Charity has organized Sparkle Fest, a weekend celebration that takes over Manchester’s Gay Village each summer. This year’s festival happens July 7-8, starting with the annual Sparkle Ball, and leads into a weekend of musical contests, socializing, and cultural events. With the help of partners like the UK-based satellite radio station Gaydio and Lloyd’s Bank, Sparkle continues to grow, and this year expects more than 12,000 attendees to join the revelry in Sackville Gardens, home to the National Transgender Memorial, and around the city.
WHERE: Los Angeles, California
Of the countless, invaluable LGBTQ film festivals around the world, few can compete with the rich programming of Outfest—the oldest film festival in Los Angeles. Regular and educational programs take place throughout the year in locations around the city, including the Fusion LGBTQ People of Color Film Festival in March, the UCLA Legacy project and archive, a youth-mentoring program, and other initiatives. It all culminates with the annual 10-day July festival, screening more than 150 feature and short films to more than 40,000 attendees (plus Outfest leads the programming for October’s NewFest, New York City’s LGBT Film Festival).
Gay Wine Weekend
WHERE: Sonoma, California
Sonoma Valley is a favorite getaway for gay travelers from San Francisco and beyond. The weekend of July 20-22 is an especially delightful escape, however, thanks to the annual Gay Wine Weekend. Organized by local travel and event company Out in the Vineyard, the big weekend is a VIP event that includes winery tours, tastings, dances, a champagne brunch, pool party, and other events—all paired with local vintages, naturally. Bonus: The event doubles as a fundraiser for Face to Face, the Sonoma County AIDS Network.
WHERE: Amsterdam, Netherlands
In an already open-minded city, Milkshake festival takes personal liberty and free-minded fun to the next level. The weekend music festival, happening July 28 and 29 in Westerpark, overlaps with Amsterdam Pride (July 28-August 5), and puts global DJs, drag queens, and dozens of famous, racy, and/or experimental performers on its multiple stages. Dancing is the common denominator here, and just to ensure the all-welcoming vibe, the festival’s website comes with enlightening vocabulary list “for anyone who does not quite understand.”
WHERE: Mallorca, Spain
The greatest lesbian escape of them all may be the ELLA Festival, which takes over the island of Mallorca this year August 30-September 6. Now in its sixth year, the festival attracts queer women from around the world to enjoy a slew of activities like tango classes, sails, restaurant takeovers, group beach activities, and lots of dancing. Expect to groove to international DJs and live bands, plus the occasional impromptu drum circle, throughout the week. And this past New Year’s saw the first ELLA Winter Festival in Davos, Switzerland—keep an eye out as this might L-fest continues to grow.
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
Yes, “Gay Mardi Gras” is a thing, and it takes over the French Quarter with every Labor Day weekend (this year August 30-September 3). Called Southern Decadence, the event started more than 40 years ago, and today draws a huge crowd that rivals New Orleans June Pride festival. The weekend-long revelry tends to be heavy on parties and turns racy, in true local fashion, but hold out for the fun Sunday walking parade setting off mid-afternoon from the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann Street, the epicenter of LGBTQ NOLA.
International Gay Rodeo
WHERE: Various Locations
LGBTQ cowpokes in Colorado, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and a handful of other states are no strangers to wrangling steers, thanks to the International Gay Rodeo Association. Local gay-rodeo outfits join IGRA as members to comprise a network of like-minded rodeo participants and fans. Throughout the year, events happen across America and Canada concerts, dances, cookouts, trail rides, horse shows, fundraisers and, of course, rodeos. Check out the IGRA site or local gay-rodeo partner websites for upcoming rodeos and other hoedowns.
WHERE: Prague and Brno, Czech Republic
It’s mostly a queer film festival, but Mezipatra also serves as a multi-media art and social event in Prague and Brno. Taking place over the first two weeks in early November in both cities, Mezipatra has screened international works for Czech cinema fans since 2000. Beyond the screen, the festival also brings workshops, visual-art exhibits, lectures, and live performances. Even better is the chance to meet Czech locals and explore LGBTQ culture thanks to a shared love of film and arts.
WHERE: Provincetown, Massachusettes
Comedy, sunset sails, tea dances, dune tours, and one rowdy touch-football game are just a few reasons why Provincetown Women’s Week has grown in popularity since the first lesbian clambake back in 1984. The 10-day “week” takes over Cape Cod’s favorite LGBTQ town each early October, organized by the local Women’s Innkeepers association. Events take place all day and night and will suit both sober participants and late-night carousers, all of whom flock there to be surrounded by thousands of like-minded women. The annual highlight is attending one of the most hilarious all-female comedy lineups anywhere on the planet, so be sure to lock in your tickets early.
Whistler Gay Ski Week
WHERE: British Columbia
Just outside of Vancouver, LGBTQ ski and snowboard enthusiasts gather to channel their inner winter unicorns and kick off the new year. Whistler Gay Ski Week doubles as Pride in western Canada’s favorite mountain town, and its 27th annual event next hits the slopes January 20-27, 2019. It’s one of the biggest gay ski weeks in the world, thanks in part to Whistler’s fantastic restaurants, a range of winter-sport options, and the extra-soothing naturally-styled Scandinave Spa.
WHERE: Manchester, England
It makes sense that one of the gayest cities in Europe is home to one of the most exciting visual- and performing-arts festivals anywhere. Manchester’s Contact is a unique arts organization that’s youth-led and creativity-driven, and each January-February, its Queer Contact takes LGBTQ artistic expression to another level. Dance, live music, slam poetry, experimental film and theater, and an ever-popular Drag Queen Storytime infuse annual programming curated for adults, teens, and kids. Most events sell out early, so plan ahead, and leave time to explore Manchester’s Gay Village and LGBT Heritage Trail while you’re in town.