Seriously, how gay can London get in 2012? If the Queen's Diamond Jubilee isn't queer enough, "The Old Smoke" is also playing host to WorldPride in June.
WorldPride, created by InterPride, is a popular celebration of all things LGBTQ that attracts revelers from ... yes ... around the world. This is the third installment of WorldPride, the previous celebrations took place in Rome and Jerusalem.
While the past events drew hundreds of thousands of visitors, organizers anticipate more than one million people will flock to London to take part in the festivities thanks to the upcoming 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. What's on tap for this year's WorldPride? Theatre shows, debates, poetry readings and other events are planned but let's get real, it's all about the parade and parties.
Parade Day is July 7th, at the end of WorldPride. This year the route will start on Baker Street and will run more than a half mile longer than usual, covering more of London's iconic landmarks including Piccadilly Circus, where a Pride Rally will take place. Several of the UK's brightest stars are scheduled to appear on the main stage in Trafalgar Square, including X Factor finalist Lloyd Daniels and pop-punk band Twenty Twenty. In addition to the musical acts, there will also be comedy shows and dancers. In Soho, partygoers will converge at the dance stage where they'll be entertained by London's hottest DJs. If you're in the right place at the right time, you might find yourself hobnobbing with Sir Elton John, Sir Ian McKellen or another A-lister who's been known to attend London Pride.
Most of the action takes place in the heart of Soho, London's gayborhood. The yellow brick road? Old Compton Street. A street lined with the city's most popular gay bars, pubs, sex shops and restaurants. When you see the rainbow flags and cruisy blokes, you'll know you're home. The most popular venues in the West End include the spacious and stylish Ku Bar, G-A-Y Bar and The King's Arms, catering to bears and the cubs who love them. Soho will also be closed to traffic on the day of the parade and many of the clubs will be open until 4am.
For gents who dig leather and fetish clubs, you'll want to head to Vauxhall, a neighborhood south of the river. Crash is the hottest venue in the area on Saturday nights, Instinct is also a great spot if you love house and techno music. Horse Meat Disco/The Eagle London attracts a variety of gay patrons from bears to twinks. The bottom line, during pride, every visitor will find a bar or club to fit their individual preference.
Getting around London is incredibly easy thanks to the city's great public transportation system. For less than £5 you can buy a daily travel card which gives you access to the London Underground (the tube) and buses. Route maps are also available at several locations throughout the city, so you should have little trouble getting from point A to point B. Several high-profile companies are helping to underwrite this year's festivities, including Smirnoff, Coca-Cola and Tesco, the UK's largest private employer. Recently, some LGBT activists, including Hannah Dee, have criticized London Pride and its organizers for becoming a corporate sponsored event more interested in generating a profit than celebrating the achievements of the gay and lesbian community.
Despite the criticism, London Pride is still a great fundraiser for organizations that benefit LGBT organizations. This year Kaleidoscope Trust was selected as the official charity partner.
Kaleidoscope International Diversity Trust is a nonprofit organization that campaigns for equality for gays and lesbians people around the world. For socially-minded Marys and ‘mos who want a break from the pride debauchery, there will also be a conference on gay rights featuring several renowned speakers.
England isn't known for its great weather, but the summer months can be beautiful. Luckily, WorldPride happens at the beginning of the summer, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy the local landscape. London's premier gay cruising area is located in the northwest part of the city in an area called Hampstead Heath Ponds. It's no South Beach, but it's great if you want to check out some hot locals and out of towners and get a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
There's a men's bathing pond located here which gained worldwide notoriety when singer George Michael was photographed here. If you don't have a number one hit song, chances are you can fly under the radar.
2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the first London gay pride parade and this year's event promises to be biggest yet. So if you've never had the opportunity to explore this sophisticated, thriving metropolis, now's the time check out the city where you are encouraged to live like a Queen.
By Jon Fairbanks, Gay Travel Team Member, GayTravel.com. Images courtesy of "Pride London/ One Sunny Day"