Political statement or reinforcing a stereotype?

There was a thought-provoking article in the Dutch NRC weekend paper today, in which Stephan Sanders questioned the political effectiveness of the Gay Pride Canal Boat Parade.

Why should we be ‘proud to be gay’, he asks, when it’s no more an achievement than being born with a certain skin colour?

There are gay people who should rightly be proud of the battles they have fought against discrimination.

But in the present-day Netherlands, where openly gay people can be police chiefs or mayors, where they won the right to marriage in 2001 and are legally protected from harassment and discrimination (which is far from saying that it doesn’t still happen), who should take pride in simple sexual orientation?

Plenty of heterosexual people, argues Sanders, would feel mighty uncomfortable being dragged through town on a float, wiggling their hips to techno music under a confetti-storm and a ‘Proud to be straight’ banner. Why should gay people feel they ought to do it whether they want to or not?

Sanders questions whether the image of gays, lesbians and transgender people portrayed in the canal parade merely reinforces the stereotype in the minds of many, particularly those inclined to be homophobic.

‘(It’s) the paradox of gay life, or rather, of the life of all minorities. You have to assert your right to be there, but even more important is that you shouldn’t have to live life as a walking billboard.’

Sanders yearns simply to be able to put his arm around his husband in the street without feeling it’s a political act.

Having read his article, I went off to see the parade and decide for myself.

Getting a view of the canal was never going to be easy.

The best vantage points were all taken.

Fine if you knew someone with an apartment and a convenient window.

Eventually I found a dress circle spot, three or four rows back, overlooking the party boats lining the Prinsengracht.

Techno music is not my thing, and probably not even the thing of many of those on the boats, but at an event like this, it’s infectious.

First and foremost, this canal parade is fun!

Sure, there was plenty of tat and tackiness. There’d been some hard work done on the costumes, less on the choreography and a lot more on the bodies in the gym.

But there is also a serious political point to be made in this parade; there are gay people in all walks of life, and being gay is not the only thing in their lives.

I was moved to see members of the Dutch armed forces there, in uniform, under the banner, ‘Proud to Serve’.

I bet their lives in the services are not always easy, but it’s a far cry from the American ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, let alone what may happen in the armed forces of other countries.

The police were there too, not just the Dutch ones, but representatives of various European police forces.

There were boats of gay rugby players, postal workers, health care providers, bank officers…

Publicising gay-friendly companies.

And there were church members with ‘A wink from God for you’ on the side of their boat and ‘Oh Happy Gay’ on their t-shirts.

These statements are important, even in one of the most tolerant cities in one of the most tolerant countries on the planet.

There is still plenty of work to be done, but if Mr Sanders and his husband want to hold hands in the streets of Amsterdam today, nobody will take a blind bit of notice.


Filed under Holland

4 responses to “GAY PRIDE CANAL PARADE- Amsterdam

  1. Great post. It is not easy being green, or gay, or different.

  2. Michael Wansbrough

    Great article, Richard. And you got the point: it’s an opportunity to show the diversity, Having armed forces, godbotherers ;o) and tradespeople, as well as cross-dressers, leathermen, etc., is very confirming for those who are not yet ‘out’. They can see homosexuality as what it is – ‘normal’ & natural & diverse. I was told in 1975, when I first went to Amsterdam, that the Queen was the patron of the DOK (the Dutch gay society) before the 2nd WW! Unfortunately during the Nazi invasion, they got hold of the files, & many finished up in concentration camps, wearing upside-down pink triangles. Nice article & photos, Richard. Goodonyer!

    • Thanks Michael. I enjoyed it very much and the smiles on the faces of the crowd and participants said a lot.

      Amsterdam police reported 41 arrests on the day, and thought that acceptable considering the size of the crowd.

      One person was charged for (allegedly) homophobic violence. The other 40 were charged with (allegedly) being drunk and having too good a time. All about right, methinks.

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