Barcelona, 1977. Source: COLITA/El PAIS
The summer of 1977 was a moment of tension and transition in Spain. The first general election since the Spanish war of Succession was in the cards – but not everyone was fully satisfied with the rules. Political contestation preceded the polls. The economy was rickety and several questions hung in the air. Thousands were forced onto the streets in what would become some of the largest protests seen in that part of the world.
What better backdrop could there have been for disgruntled queer folk to add a dash of gay tenor to the rising choir of discontented voices?
In June of 1977, seven years after the first march in New York to commemorate the Stonewall riots, Spanish activists added to the growing transatlantic culture that was emerging around what had started as Friday night Greenwich Village shenanigans gone bad in 1969.
In effect, what had begun as a local series of riots over the treatment of some LGBT people in New York City was being actively transplanted transnationally – a testament of America’s growing global status as a source of cultural power far beyond its shores.
News reports of the first ‘pride march’ in Spain framed it as part of a wider celebration of ‘global gay pride day’: an interesting turn of phrase that, in retrospect, brings into question how it is that global American cultural power produced ‘globalised’ New York’s neighbourhood experience.
The question of this ‘queering of America’s soft power’ is a broad one that could easily take up a few hundred pages. However, in that first Spanish march of 1977, the effect of American soft power is seen at work through the re-appropriation of American/New York City memory, semiotics, and language, now associated with gay pride (itself a re-appropriation translated into Spanish).
The translation of American experience into the Spanish context is also seen in the adaptation of ‘pride’ to address local issues in 1977: the first marchers demanded amnesty for people convicted for homosexuality during the Franco years (even as a larger national movement for amnesty was making itself known and visible at the time). The first ‘pride’ march was also used to call for a repeal of Franco era laws that included homosexuality in a list of anti-social behaviours punishable under the law.
FAGC – the Front d’Allibrament Gai de Catalunya that lead the first march in Barcelona – styled itself in a language and ethos of the gay liberation movements that emerged out of the American experience.
Consciously or not, FAGC’s effort to combat Franco-era laws helped validate a nascent, queered form of American ‘symbolic power’. ‘Symbolic power’ here being understood as Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist framed it.
Among other things, Bourdieu saw language as rarely, if ever, innocent. All new discourse was not just about producing “signs destined to be understood and decrypted, it is also what signals richness, it is destined to be valued” in a kind of market of words and symbols with different economic and cultural value.
In Bourdieu’s thought, people who produce new language, as Spanish activists were doing, consciously or otherwise, seek to assert a new “authority to be believed and obeyed”. Bourdieu took it even as far as to say that producers of new ‘legitimate’ languages were, however unconsciously, ultimately seeking to make “symbolic profit”. In this context, the new language and symbols of pride contained the promise of future ‘profit’ for those who controlled and diffused a new discourse on LGBT rights.
The first pride march in Spain, then, presents an interesting case study in the queering of global American soft power while also giving insight into how US symbolic power has played a formative role in the emergence of effective transnational/transatlantic sociocultural movements.
Bourdieu, P. 2011Langage et pouvoir symbolique. Paris, Seuil
Lavanguardia. 1977. Cuatro mil homosexuales se manifestaron por las Ramblas.in Lavanguardia. 28 June 1977
Quinta, Alfons. 1977.‘Dia mundial del orgullo gay” in El Pais. 22 June 1977