Just days before the release last month of the United Nations’ first official report on gay rights the small Amazon town of Benjamin Constant also marked an important milestone—its first gay pride celebration. The Brazilian town, with over 30,000 people from multiple ethnic backgrounds, sits at the triple border with Colombia and Peru, overlooking the junction of the Amazon and Javari rivers. It is a quintessential Amazon town—a colorful market with abundant local fruits and fish, a deprived economy, high migration, and a rather religious community.
Benjamin Constant, like many other Amazon towns, also boasts a thriving gay community. It is a reminder that gay rights are spreading to the furthest corners of the world, and that the Amazon may be more modern than often assumed.
After a full-day LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) forum to discuss education, security, health, and work at the Universidade Federal do Amazonas, over 60 participants then paraded a large rainbow flag through town. Transvestites dancing to the gay anthem “I Will Survive” in sexy glittering outfits opened the march alongside anthropology students, followed by a diverse and lively crowd chanting slogans against homophobia and honking motorbikes. The march brought together soccer players and Indigenous lesbians, math teachers and sex workers, and grandmothers and little children.
Benjamin Constant’s first gay pride celebration generated some confused looks and awkward smiles, but no violence. Instead, the contagious enthusiasm enticed bystanders to join in as the lively group of perhaps a hundred people made their way to the port. Transportation difficulties prevented others from participating, notably a Tikuna Indigenous group from Feijoal, which got stuck on the way upriver. The crowd would have been larger if the event had not conflicted with the annual Country Drag Queen Contest in the old rubber town of Cavallo Cocha, Peru. (Jackie, the town’s recurrent Carnival Queen, had won last year’s contest and expectations were high for a repeat.)
Far from being an isolated event, the local celebration echoes a larger trend across the Amazon. In 2011 Manaus (Brazil) celebrated its 12th gay pride event and Iquitos (Peru) the sixth. Over 10 smaller towns along the Amazon River have already held such celebrations and Tabatinga, the military town across the river from Benjamin Constant, has hosted four successful gatherings.
View a slideshow of the LGBT pride parade:
All photos courtesy of the author.