The rainbow flag has officially been unfurled on the desolate landscape of Antarctica, in the name of celebrating pride. Antarctica was dubbed the first gay-friendly continent on the planet by humanitarian organization Planting Peace, and a group of McMurdo Station residents will hold the first-ever official pride event on the ungoverned continent sometime in June, according to NewNowNext.
On April 22, 10 employees of McMurdo Station, Antarctica’s largest research station located almost 900 miles from the South Pole, set the stage for this upcoming LGBTQ pride event by traipsing into the cold, holding their rainbow flag high, and documenting the occasion with photographs. They plan to hold a larger event in June, during the official pride month. But because the sun disappears in Antarctica in June, they photographed the flag a few weeks early — before there was too little light to snap a good photo.
Ten may not seem like many people, but during the off-season, when it’s too cold for aircraft to function and too dark for scientists to do much of anything at all, only 133 employees remain in the area. In such a small community, the odds of finding like-minded people can be slim, and in such close quarters, expressing yourself and receiving support for doing so can be an even greater challenge.
When so many countries are still struggling to create safety and equality for sexual minorities, citizens and visitors alike, the representation of Antarctica as a gay-friendly place matters. “With crackdowns and rollbacks to LGBTQ equality happening around the globe, it’s heartening to see this showing of pride from one of the most remote places on the planet,” Zeke Stokes, a vice president at GLAAD, said in an email interview. “Whether it’s 10 people or 10,000 people, being visible and showing LGBTQ pride moves acceptance forward and can change hearts and minds.”
Shawn Waldron, who oversaw much of the planning in Antarctica alongside galley co-worker Evan Townsend, told NewNowNext in an interview, “My biggest fear before I left was, I’m going to be the only gay person, there’s going to be no one else here. I was wrong.”
Townsend, who had the pride flag with him in Antarctica, tested the waters before orchestrating a larger public statement. “We had a few LGBTQ social events that people showed up to,” he said to NewNowNext. “Because it’s such a small community, it’s easy to find out who is and who isn’t in the LGBTQ community.”
LGBTQ events in Antarctica are more commonplace during their summer, which is October to February. This is when the population of McMurdo can grow to over 1,250 people, and events of all sorts take place, such as a New Year’s Eve music festival called IceStock. Hosting a pride event in the dark winter is especially impactful because there isn’t much else happening in Antarctica at that time.
Even before the presence of humans, queer and otherwise, Antarctica has always been a little gay. Penguins, the most popular resident of the continent, have been known to engage in homosexual acts and maintain relationships with members of the same sex.
This isn’t the first time residents of Antarctica have expanded the global stage for discourse. In January 2017, the Women’s March was represented by about 30 protesters, also alongside penguins, who are well-known marchers.
Townsend hails from a small Missouri town and he told NewNowNext that “having an example of somebody who travels and can have those adventures would’ve been a great thing for me as a kid.” He added that it’s important “to see that there are queer people out there who are proud of their queerness and that in no way inhibits them from living these adventures.”
There are plenty of places in the world where LGBTQ people are discouraged from visiting, and plenty more where they’re forced to hide who they are due to the prejudices of others. But now it can officially be said that Antarctica isn’t one of these travel destinations. It’s only fitting that in a place defined by darkness, there is so much light.