The Malta Independent 2 December 2023, Saturday
View E-Paper

First spontaneous ‘Pride’ party held at the Orpheum Theatre in 1990s

Giulia Magri Saturday, 14 September 2019, 13:00 Last update: about 5 years ago
Joe Fountain and James Caruana (Photos: Alenka Falzon)
Joe Fountain and James Caruana (Photos: Alenka Falzon)

Established in 2016, Lollipop events have attracted numerous groups of young, old, gay and straight to come together under one roof to dance. These monthly events have taken the Maltese gay-party-scene by storm and for many people these fun-themed parties are marked down in their diaries in advance. For the more recent generations of LGBT+ youths, such parties are advertised and discussed openly, but Joe Fountain recalls a very different scenario of going out as an openly gay person in Malta in the mid 1980s. Joe, along with a few other eccentric characters, decided to take matters into their own hands and shake up the gay party scene at the time.


"I came out at 18 years old, and at the time there was simply Potter's in Paceville, a small bar where everyone went to. When I look back, although we complained there was not much going on, they were still good times, everything and everyone all in one place." Joe reflected back to a time when it was still taboo and shameful to come out as gay in Malta, in fact no later after he came out, together with some friends, he moved to London. The scene and atmosphere in London was completely different from the island life he grew up in. The capital was buzzing with life, fashion, music and parties. "Although being gay in London was still a bit underground, it felt like it was the start of something bigger happening. Pride marches in London were political, especially after Margaret Thatcher's controversial Section 28 legislation was being discussed."

Coming back in the early 1990s, Joe realised that nothing much had changed since he left. "Still the same bars and same people complaining how there was still nothing to do. With the experiences I gained in London, I decided to start organising some events." Joe remembers how he and some friends began organising gay parties at a club in Xemxija called Natasha's. The first party had an attendance of around 30 people which by the third party alone had people waiting around the block to enter the famous Natasha's. "The popularity of the party grew by word of mouth. We organised so many parties, pantomimes and drag shows. Many people till this day tell me that those parties at Natasha's were the best thing that could have happened at the time." After a while Joe let go of Natasha's and left it in the hands of Stefan Aquilina to organise.

Police had intervened the first 'Pride' party at Orpheum theatre just hours after it began

Sometime in 1993/94, Joe decided to take the gay party scene up a notch and organise a big party at the Orpheum Theatre in Gzira, calling it Pride. Along with Aquilina and DJ Pierre Parnis, they began planning for the party. "I remember speaking to the owner of the theatre and he was not sure why of all places we wanted to rent his theatre. It was not the easiest of times, but it felt like we were doing something important and in some way we organised the first Pride party, even though police intervened just a few hours into the party, it was great fun."

Joe noted that mentalities were beginning to change in the late 1990s, as more people began to stir away from their perception of what a stereotypical gay man looked like and acted. "Many of us did not fit the stereotypical gay man who was feminine or a transvestite, instead we portrayed to be what society's idea of a man was and for a while that freaked people out. Also more girls began hanging out with us because we were cool and fun to be around, which made our groups bigger and more visible." He said that the scene also changed drastically once drugs came into the picture; everything changed. Ecstasy broke down all the barriers of the past; straight and gay people began experimenting together.  

Joe left Malta in 2001, and whenever he did come back between travels, he realised that not only more people were becoming tolerant but also that there was a proper discussion being held on LGBTQ+ rights and communities. "There were more educational discussions and a topic spoken about, it was a slow but a sold shift that was gradual. Looking back I would have never thought I would get married in Malta. The night the Equality Bill passed will be forever one of the most emotional nights of my life."

Station to Station parties

James Mifsud makes up one half of the popular Station to Station events. James and Joe go back many years and Joe is not just a mentor for James but also a family member. "Station to Station parties began early noughties and we had a blast. We were the club kids," explained James. Recalling his memories, it seemed like it was a great time and many people came together full of energy, ideas and a genuine wish to have a good time. "The idea for station to station was born from our travels, travelling to different places and gathering ideas to have a party themed from that country."  Each party had a different theme and was full of colour and character.

"It was surreal to see Malta finally gain LGBTQ+ rights. Seeing that made me realise that before that the community was living behind an invisible cage," reflected James. He remembered that many people were not happy and that unfortunately many had passed away due to the fact that the community had no rights.

While Joe enjoyed reflecting on the fun and glamour of the party scene, he still highlights the importance of Pride and what it truly means. "It's been 50 years since Stonewall riots, and while for a lot of people Pride is a party to celebrate in glitter and fun, there are still many LGBTQ+ communities abroad that are still unable to celebrate the achievements we have reached and that we should still continue to fight for them." 

  • don't miss