Did you know that Johanna Sigurdardottir, Former Prime Minister of Iceland , is openly a lesbian? And that famous Hollywood actresses such as Ellen Page are actively promoting LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Transgender) rights? Nowadays you will find top women in politics, cinema, business, sports, fashion, and culture on the international level, that are very proud to be who they are and love who they love. They are an inspiration and references for many. From the 2nd until the 9th of September Palma de Majorca will be the venue and host for the third Ella Festival, a pioneering and innovative initiative for lesbian women. The event is organised by a Majorcan based business, Hansen & Partner, headed by Kristin Hansen, the originator of the festival, with Marion Couturier, Project Manager and a team of another five people. I went along to their offices in Santa Catalina to find out more.
Vicki McLeod: Tell me how the Ella Festival began.
Marion Couturier: I was studying International Business here, and I met Kristin Hansen, we hit it off and found we had a lot in common. I went to study in Australia and we kept in touch, then she had the idea to do the festival and got in touch with me asking if I would like to be involved. I immediately said yes and returned to Majorca. The gay “scene” is not so big here, the “Pink Pound” has been exploited in other countries, but not so much in Majorca and there’s almost nothing for women. We knew that Majorca was a fantastic place to come for a holiday: we decided we wanted to promote Majorca as a good place for lesbian women to visit all year around.
VMc: The image of lesbianism has really changed in the past thirty years hasn’t it?
MC: From being very manly and butch as the stereotype now I think that women feel that they can present themselves how they feel they want to. Maybe back then their reason for dressing or acting that way was more to do with the politics and being a radical or fighting for rights. Now I think many women feel more empowered and can dress and do what they would like to. When we were coming out we didn’t have points of reference or people to look up to. It’s important to have this visibility for the young women growing up now.
VMc: You’re in your third year of organising the festival, how has it been, did you encounter any discrimination when you began?
MC: Not at all. No. We have been quite careful about how we present ourselves, we aren’t using overtly sexual marketing, we are presenting very feminine looking women in our marketing and it’s a very professional product. Aesthetics are very important to us . We always ask ourselves, what would WE like? Then we decide which venues and which organisations we would like to work with and approach them. We’ve had a lot of support from Palma 365 and the office of tourism, and now the Ayuntamiento as well have all been very helpful as well. We have big brands supporting us as well, like Fuji, Sixt, Iberia, Air Europa, Fiat, fertility clinics like Stork in Denmark, and the Institute of Fertility here, the list is long!
MC: Gay men and gay women are very different, just like men and women are different. So it’s just like that but double! Festivals have generally been designed with men more in mind than women, the female part of it has been an afterthought or a sideline, and we felt that we could do something for women which would be a good event and experience for everyone. For example, women don’t want to be in nightclubs all night long, they want to be able to be somewhere to talk to each other, they want to make friends and meet potential partners. But they don’t like the blatantness of a “Singles’ Night” they just don’t respond well to that. The mentality is “Oh god, look at me, I’m so lonely and now I have to go to a dating night to meet a lover” but if you organise a “Business Networking” event for example then they feel that there is less pressure and they will go along with the thought in the back of their minds, “perhaps I will meet someone nice”. We’re wired differently.
VMc: So, what has the response been like?
MC: The Ella Festival was the first ever stand alone festival in Spain. Last year we had almost 2000 women from more than 20 countries gathered at the Ella Festival, representing a growth in attendance of 150% against the previous year! Now Spain has five lesbian festivals around the country.
VMc: Wow. That is impressive, so you are looking forward to a big festival this year then?
MC: We’ve extended this year’s programme to include more events. The main part of the festival offers a fully packed agenda of day and evening activities, showcasing Majorca’s culture: the beach, visits to the historic centre of Palma, bike tours, themed club nights and entertainment, catamaran days out, and wine tasting in a bodega are all planned.
“Ella Talks” will start off our festival with a selection of inspirational women giving speeches and personal insights. These openly lesbian women work within areas such as politics, culture, sports and business. Among the key note speakers will be Claudia Brind-Woody, a managing director of IBM UK and one of the most influential openly gay women today, and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the former Prime Minister of Iceland who was the world’s first openly gay head of government with her wife, the writer, Jónína Leósdóttir. The speakers will talk about their projects and professional careers with the added perspective of being openly gay. This will be held on Wednesday 2nd September at the Hotel Be Live Marivent. Tickets are free to Majorca residents but you must register in advance online. The talks will be in English with Spanish translation. Then we are also introducing “Ella Mix Film Festival” where we will show films with a lesbian theme. We are doing this in collaboration with the Copenhagen Film Festival, one of the oldest film LGTB festivals in the world. (7, 8 September Municipal Theatre Catalina Valls)
This is just our first step in our medium to long term vision to make Palma de Majorca the world leading les-friendly tourist destination that it could be.
VMc: So, if a man is reading this article and wants to attend some events, can he? Do you have a policy on this?
MC: We have learnt that it’s better if any man who wants to attend comes with a woman. Especially with the night time events. We want the people at our festival to feel comfortable and at ease. It’s very important that we maintain that atmosphere.
MC: We’re doing a survey of lesbian women at the moment and will present the findings at the FITUR World Travel Fair in Madrid in January 2016. These days we are often asked to work as consultants on behalf of lesbian women: we’re really seeing an interest in the market now, it comes down to money in the end doesn’t it, and there are lesbian women who want to come to a friendly place to relax and have a holiday, and Majorca is proving to be perfect for that. The authorities in Majorca are not interested in making a second Ibiza, they want to make a more cultural, richer place which is appealing to a wide range of travellers, not just for the traditional image of family travel.
It’s a courageous, pioneering festival, and good luck to them. I am certainly going to go along to some of the events, and in particular want to see the “Queer Tango” at their Argentinean night, drink some cocktails at their opening party at El Divino, listen to and be inspired by some impressive women at Ella Talks, and finally catch up some movies I’ve wanted to see for a while at the Ella Mix. You can get more information at http://www.ellafestival.com There are resident discounts on all events. To read more articles about people and events on the island visit http://www.mallorcastories.co
By Vicki McLeod
Article published in the Majorca Daily Bulletin Sunday 23rd August 2015