Portugal - The Gay Lesbian Experience
Since the 1990s, there have been huge advances in gay liberation in Portugal, though the bigger cities of Lisbon, Porto and the more cosmopolitan Algarve region are more accepting than the largely conservative countryside.
The first LGBT campaign organization in Portugal was founded in 1992. 1997 then saw Portugal's first Pride Festival, its first Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the opening of the first gay and lesbian community center.
Although homosexual liaisons were decriminalized in 1945, gay life in otherwise deeply conservative Catholic Portugal was, for most of the twentieth century, not easy. In a radical departure from this state of affairs, in 2004 Portugal became the first country in Europe (and the fourth in the world) to constitutionally prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Gay and lesbian couples who have lived together for two years have had the same legal rights and tax status as common law straight couples since 2001. The universal age of consent is 16.
Lisbon has a party reputation as the kind of city that doesn't really get serious until the early hours of the morning, when everyone really comes out to play. The city's gay scene is no exception - in fact it leads the way. As with anywhere, the drinking bars tend to start and finish earlier, from about 9pm to 2am, than the dance clubs, which tend to get going around 2-3am and finish in the morning.
A recommended place to start your Lisbon experience is the Centro Comunitario Gay e Lesbica de Lisboa at Rua de Sao Lazaro 88, the street that runs along the eastern side of the massive Hospital de Sao Jose. (See details below)
This is the headquarters of IGLA Portugal and arranges gay events in Lisbon. Having its finger on the city's gay pulse, it is the idea resource for those setting out, providing contacts or at least pointing you in the right direction for more information.
There is also the Associação Opus Gay on Rua da Ilha Terceira, 36 R/C, and Associação Abraço on Rua da Rosa, 243 1F.
The biggest event of the year is Lesbian & Gay Pride (Arraial Gay e Lesbico) that happens on the Saturday nearest June 28. The Festival de Cinema Gay e Lesbico de Lisboa happens during the last two weeks of September.
Lisbon's thriving gay scene is located mainly in the Bairro Alto area. The Bairro Alto is one of the city's oldest quarters, and more than retains its roots with the past with its grid of steep narrow cobbled alleys dotted with fado cafes, bars and tascas. Its plethora of restaurants make it the ideal, picturesque, atmospheric area to relax in over a caiphirinha or two while the evening progresses and before the clubs get going.
Gay partying is centered around the palmed, fountained plaza known as Praca do Principe Real. It's at the northern end of Bairro Alto, just across the big main Rua da Escola Politecnica from the Jardim Botanico (a spectacular botanical garden well worth a visit). Be warned that there is no adequate public transport around this area, so if you're trying to get to here, take a taxi.
The Bairro Alto is not only bars and clubs. It also had numerous designer boutiques, including those dedicated to the fashion item Portugal is most famous for - shoes. Continue on to the Chiado area, just across the Rua d. Misericordia that runs east of the Bairro Alto, and a little to the south, for more. The Chiado is still the most stylish of Lisbon's shopping areas, with its elegant tearooms, even after the devastating fire of 1988.
Lisbon has its gay saunas, but unless you're particularly into ugliness and tawdriness, the saunas here cannot be said to be recommended.
Of course there's much more to gay Lisbon than its nightlife. Just south-west of the city, across the Ponta 25 de Abril bridge is the Costa da Caparica in the Almada region: 30 kilometers of beautiful white sandy beaches. If you're looking for men and sun, head for beach no.19. Beginning life as a nudist beach, it quickly became popular as a gay beach. While straight nudists maintain a presence, it is mainly gay. The last we heard, there is a bar there which also serves food.
There are various ways of getting there. From Lisbon take either the ferry from Belem to Trafaria, or from Cais do Sodre to Cacilhas. Then take a bus to the summer resort town of Costa da Caparica. A tourist train leaves from Costa da Caparica and runs as far as Fonte da Telha. Take that, and rather than getting off at the official beach 19 stop and missing the bar and cruising area, get off at beach 17, walk down to the beach, turn left and walk about 400 meters. At the time of writing, the last tourist train back is at 7pm. Please be aware that this is the only way back. (Fun as it may be during the day, beach 19 is not the safest area to be in after dark.)
Useful Addresses & Resources
Associação ILGA Portugal
Associação Opus Gay
Lisbon Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
The Algarve in southern Portugal is the country's main beach resort area and there are gay bars and clubs in the area's main centers of Faro, Tavira, Albufeira and Lagos.
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