A Small Beach Town

Amos Lassen

Sitges is a small beach town about 40 miles south of Barcelona, Spain that has long been recognized as an international mecca for gay tourists.  The main day time attraction during the summer are the 17 sun soaked beaches that line the coast of this tiny Catalan town. Later on comes the nightlife of bars and restaurants (and cruising spots). make it the firm favorite with the LGBTQI crowd.

Brandon Jones, a Brit  settled in the town in 1985 with his partner Juan and has been the co-owner of Casablanca cocktail bar and art venues or the last 20 years.  This is his first attempt at filmmaking in which he delves into the intriguing question of how on earth did this sleepy fishing town become such a major gay destination.

He goes back over 100 years to trace the history through early artistic and gay pioneers who  ‘discovered’ the town and slowly help transform it. It is important to remember that the whole of Spain was controlled by the military dictator Franco for some 35 years until 1975.  Under that regime homosexuals were imprisoned,  but as Jones says, the local gay population could push the limits to what they could achieve more successful than those in Barcelona.

Sitges has had its fair share of oppression and homophobia and concerted efforts by Town Hall to try to stop its being a haven for gay tourists have been unsuccessful. They may have managed to make things tough in general, but  Jones talked to some of the old local colorful characters who looked back fondly at how the community found its place and voice.

Nowadays in this very diverse and tolerant town, there are still far more bears than lesbians, and there is a definite political edge to some of the partying.  Most of all though there is a sense of a community that has gone through so many changes, and that is now accepting of the fact that it will continue to have to do so to survive.   

Jones highlights the history in such a way Jones  to give hope at the end of the tunnel for people in less tolerant countries, showing them how a small Mediterranean village(and Spain!) in less than 100 years was able to overcome repressive laws and a dictatorship, to become a tolerant, all-inclusive place. We get fascinating insight to this  sleepy fishing village with an original population in 1900 has now grown into an internationally well respected gay resort.

Jones reminds us that “In the dark days of Franco’s dictatorship Sitges became an almost secret haven for gays who felt safe here although they still had to behave discreetly.” Apart from a dark period in the late 1990s when homophobic demonstrations left a local barman in a coma, Sitges has triumphed as a liberated, tolerant and diverse community. It is therefore surprising that the first LGBT association began in only 2001. The theory is that until recently most gay visitors were just that – visitors for a few days or weeks. But with a notable number of gay people buying properties and paying taxes, it was inevitable that social action groups would be formed, as Brandon did in 2011 as co-founder of Gay Sitges Link.

Sitges has always managed to avoid becoming a gay ghetto, the film tells us, and the newly formed associations are committed to integration within the wider community, while supporting events like World Aids Day. The film also makes it clear that it’s always been easier to be gay in Sitges than elsewhere in Catalan.

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