by Rex Wockner
The teeming border city of Tijuana, Mexico, saw its 15th gay pride parade June 19 and, for the first time, the march was accompanied by a festival, which ran for two days on three intersecting streets in the center of downtown.
Several hundred people joined the parade down Avenida Revolucion, the main drag of the city center that once was a raucous, pulsing tourist and nightlife district.
The avenue has fallen on hard times from a triple whammy that all but ended tourist crossings from the U.S. First, increased U.S. border security after 9/11 created hours-long checkpoint lines to get back into the U.S. Then the U.S. started requiring that Americans returning from Mexican border zones have a passport, which most Americans don’t have. Additionally, Tijuana was hit with an unusually violent crime wave starting in 2008. Although the security situation has improved substantially since last year, the impression persists in Southern California that it’s not safe to cross the border
As a result, LGBT residents of Baja California celebrated Pride on their own for the second year in a row, with minimal camaraderie from the other side of the fence. And celebrate they did.
The parade was around 10 times bigger than the first one 15 years ago, and this year’s first-ever festival saw LGBT Tijuanans claim the streets of the downtown core for 24 hours.
The free party, which ran from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, spanned three large blocks, stretching south, east and southwest from the giant Tijuana arch.
Three stages offered live music and artistic performances. Booths sold art, food and tchotchke, and provided organizational and HIV information.
It was a giant leap for gaykind from 1995, when 85 people marched in the first parade and the gay bars boycotted the march for fear that the authorities would exact revenge with raids or licensing hassles.
This year the city government co-sponsored Pride, along with the state government, the tourism committee, a merchants’ association and a brewery.
“Many people in the Tijuana gay community asked, ‘Is it possible to have a gay parade in Tijuana?'” the late Alejandro Garcia of Grupo ?Y Que? (And So What? Group) said at the endpoint of that first parade in 1995. “(Previously) we have gone to San Diego to taste freedom. Now we have tasted the freedom here. … Next year there will be more people.”