Montreal becomes an epicenter of gay culture this week as thousands gather for the world’s largest AIDS benefit, the Black & Blue.
The theme of this year’s festival, which runs Oct. 9 to 15, is humanity. Event organizers with the Bad Boy Club of Montreal (BBCM) are promoting a message of tolerance, openness and charity in light of the current international situation.
“Black & Blue celebrates being human, where we can express who we are,” said Kat Coric, special events co-ordinator and director of awareness with BBCM, who noted that half the participants are straight.
The week-long entertainment festival unites international and local talent to raise money for the BBCM Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports HIV and AIDS direct care facilities for gay and lesbian community groups. Since its inception in 1992, the Foundation has raised $1 million.
Black & Blue’s main event occurs at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday night. Organizers anticipate 15,000 revelers for a 14-hour DJ lineup that includes Tracy Young and a live-show by British new wave icons, The Human League.
The music, which at 500,000 watts will be three times louder than the average concert, is only one component of a multimedia production of lights, visuals and sound that event organizers describe as an interactive, sensory experience.
“We are producing an event where people are actually part of the show. There will be stages all around the dance floor with a main stage in the middle,” said Caroline Rousse, BBCM’s director of media relations. “The main feature this year is a huge railway above the dance floor on which a mobile stage will enable us to do shows up in the air.”
Rousse expects at least 60,000 participants for the seven day event, which now ranks third as Quebec’s most lucrative tourist draw after the Grand Prix and the Jazz Festival.
Montreal’s tolerant reputation has made the city an attractive destination for gay tourists, causing Tourism Montreal to peg an economic spin-off from this year’s Black & Blue festival at $35 million. Coinciding with Canada’s Thanksgiving and Columbus Day in the U.S., the event draws thousands of out of town guests.
The Black & Blue includes more than 60 activities spread over seven days and nights. These range from Big Jump, a gay volleyball tournament, to a fine arts exhibition and auction called Full Pressure. Cinema Beaubien is presenting gay movies and restaurants in the gay village are hosting lunch for participants.
All daytime activities, however, culminate in an over-the-top Black & Blue gala. The launch party kicks things off on Wednesday, followed by the Jock Ball at Stereo on Thursday. Medley hosts the Leather Ball on Friday, and Metropolis has the Military Ball on Saturday. After Sunday’s main event, recovery and closing parties at Stereo, Metropolis and Unity will take participants well into Wednesday morning.
For an event of this caliber, organizers stress the importance of personal health and safety, noting that many tourists at Black & Blue lack proper drug awareness and safe-sex education.
Dr. Pierre-Paul Tellier, the director of student health at McGill, co-ordinates Black & Blue’s onsite infirmary. He noted that despite BBCM’s non-judgmental policy, many partygoers are reluctant to seek medical attention when a situation occurs. This increases the need for effective awareness campaigns.
“We want people to know how drugs can put their health at risk,” said Tellier, who explained how drug use is linked to the spread of HIV. “Certain drugs like crystal meth will decrease a person’s judgment while increasing their libido. This diminishes any intention of having safe-sex.”
Coric said that health campaigns are more effective when they target a specific group. Her campaign, called ‘The Party Needs You’, incorporates icons and symbols of gay culture into drug awareness literature distributed to participants.
“Our campaigns are focused. We use a language that speaks to young, gay men,” said Coric, who has educated task forces in the United States on drug awareness. “We don’t condone and we don’t condemn. That gets the message across.”
The Black & Blue mega party takes place at Olympic Stadium on Sunday night, 10 p.m. to 12 noon.
Student tickets: $60 (limited), available at Wega Video (930 St.Catherine E.) Regular tickets: $80, available in the village. For more information check out www.bbcm.org.