On August 2, the Prinsengracht will again be washed over with the rainbow colors and pink, as the Canal Parade will take possession of this stately canal. Over the past few years, the Amsterdam Gay Pride has become a multi-disciplinary festival. It does not only include parties, but also has an extensive cultural program with the participation of a large number of cultural institutions in Amsterdam. The combination of parties, culture and emancipation differentiates the Amsterdam Gay Pride from many other prides.
Since the beginning, the absolute highlight has been the famous Canal Parade, where content and entertainment come together in a dazzling spectacle.
Each year, there are some know-it-alls who claim that the Canal Parade isn’t “representative.” Two years ago, a dating site published a survey with 251 “highly educated” homosexual and lesbian respondents. The study showed that nearly seventy percent did not recognize themselves in the publicity about the boat parade. According to this group, the publicity doesn’t show the “true” face of the Dutch gay community. Ten percent was even of the opinion that it was “absolutely false.”
Yet, approximately sixty percent did think that Pride does contribute to the emancipation of gays and lesbians themselves. The respondents had a more balanced opinion on the question whether the event contributes to social acceptance and tolerance of homosexuals. A small majority of fifty-two percent stated this was not the case, while the other forty-eight percent did think the event made a positive contribution. In response to this survey, Irene Hemelaar of the organization that organizes the Parade, remarked: “During Amsterdam Gay Pride we celebrate that everyone can be who they want to be. Just as at the Summer Carnival in Rotterdam, participants of the boat parade dress extravagantly.
At the Rotterdam Summer Carnival nobody wonders whether it is the true face of the heterosexual community that is shown, but strangely enough, the boat parade does make people question how representative it is of the GLBT community. Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders are just as diverse as straight people, and this diversity is reflected in the large diversity in participants and boats.”
Of course, the 350,000 visitors that, on average, watch the Canal Parade are not in the least bothered by these pedantic “small surveys.” It is possible that some visitors experience some exoticization by this “gay spotting,” but is that such a bad thing? At other times, they are confronted with singers Gerard Joling and Gordon camping it up, or a frumpy gay couple on “Goede tijden, slechte tijden” (the longest running, most popular soap in The Netherlands) that is dressed in virginal (?!) white getting married. Is this supposed to be better? The mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, has called the Gay Pride “one of our capital’s top events.” According to the mayor, Pride is: “the party of tolerance, showing what Amsterdam stands for, namely diversity, multi-coloredness, openness and being welcoming.” He also noted that “Amsterdam Gay Pride shows that the people of Amsterdam are capable of welcoming everyone. Heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, homosexual; everyone can be who they want to be.”
Pride World Wide
It is common knowledge that not everywhere in the world, the situation for GLBTs is as (relatively) rosy as in The Netherlands, despite of incidents of gay bashing that the capital is confronted with at times. According to Irene Hemelaar, the need to organize prides in general, and the Amsterdam Gay Pride in specific, has therefore only increased. “Besides the anti-gay law in the Russian Federation, another anti-gay law has now also been implemented in Uganda. Now, thirty-eight countries on the African continent have anti-gay legislation in place. Worldwide, the situation for GLBTs is getting worse. And this is a dangerous development, because intolerance in Africa also has direct consequences for The Netherlands.”
With the motto “My Pride World Wide,” Amsterdam Gay Pride will therefore pay more attention to human rights worldwide. Many human rights activists will visit the capital during the festival, and a lot of activities that want to draw attention to dire human rights situations will be organized. Special attention will be given to Belgrade Pride. In Belgrade, the parade has been banned for the last three years. From the middle of June to July 30, a number of organizations, including Hivos, Amnesty, Roze50+ and COC have placed eighteen portraits of activists and their stories on their Facebook page.
These activists have something to say about the place they live in and their pride. Of these portraits, eight will also appear in the festival brochure that will be distributed during Pride. “It is the first time ever we have made these portraits in cooperation with various human rights organizations,” Mrs Hemelaar notes. “What their lives looks like, and how they experience ‘pride,’ are only some of the issues that are dealt with. It becomes painfully clear after reading these portraits that organizing prides remains necessary, also in Amsterdam.”
Listen: You Were the One
Listening to the experience of people in other parts of the world, dovetails with this year’s theme of Amsterdam Pride: Listen. Listen to each other, try to understand what the other is saying, and show understanding. But also listening to yourself and following your heart are elements of this theme. Listen and be creative.
Listen is also the subject of the special Pride song. For a number of years now, an “anthem” is written in honor of the Amsterdam Pride. This year, the title is “Listen: You Were the One.” It is a cooperation of host and singer Yvonne Coldeweijer and DJ Sjeazy Pearl, winner of BNN’s “Beauty and the Beat.” The lyrics were written by Yvonne Coldeweijer and are about not expressing your love. Next to the most beautiful thing in the world, love is also very difficult to be open about, regardless of sexual preference, background or age.
Yvonne Coldeweijer on this song: “When Sjeazy made me listen to her beats, I got inspired immediately. I wrote a number about a lost love, because I think everyone can relate to that. Of course, love is universal.” Sjeazy Pearl explains: “Your sexual preference doesn’t determine who you are, but is only a part of who you are. You can be anything you want to be, just as long as you listen to yourself and have to courage to believe in yourself! By telling my story, I hope that people will see that ignorance and not being accepted by your immediate surrounding doesn’t have to stand in your way of making your dreams come true!”
Sjeazy Pearl is ambassador of the Amsterdam Gay Pride 2014 and will sing “Listen: You Were the One” during the Canal Parade and on different outdoor stages during the Pride festival. The Pride ambassadors are promoting the event, and are working to increase its visibility. The ambassadors were photographed during a photo shoot for posters and adverts in various gay media. From July 23 to August 4, posters with the faces of these ambassadors will also brighten the streets of Rotterdam, Den Haag, Utrecht and Amsterdam, also by implementing twelve advertising columns in the capital. The ambassadors, who are appointed for life, will also be interviewed for the festival paper. Each year, three new ambassadors are appointed.
Sjeazy Pearl is not the only award-winning artist that will perform at the Canal Parade this year. The presence of Conchita Wurst, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, will undoubtedly draw more international attention. La Wurst will join the Canal Parade on the boat of Gay Care Amsterdam, the first home care organization for GLBTs in The Netherlands. On Sunday August 3, she will also perform during the closing human rights concert on Rembrandtplein. With her choice for Amsterdam Pride 2014, Conchita Wurst continues to build on her message of diversity and tolerance.
Conchita Wurst calls herself a “statement for tolerance and acceptance,” and thinks it is not about appearances or looks, but about man itself. Conchita Wurst was created because of the discrimination her alter-ego Tom Neuwirth experienced as a teenager. In an interview he stated: “Being a teenager, a gay teenager, in such a small village [Bad Mitterndorf in Austria] is not that much fun. I am part of the gay community and most gays have a similar story to mine.” He therefore is of the opinion that “everybody should live their lives the way they want, as long as nobody else gets hurt or is restricted in their own way of live.”
The president of Gay Care, Jan Nieuwenhuis, is proud having brought Conchita Wurst to Amsterdam. “At the moment, she is the symbol of diversity and openness in Europe, which fits in with Gay Care Amsterdam’s objectives.” He calls it “important to oppose pride and tolerance to discrimination and violence.” Irene Hemelaar is also very pleased with the Austrian artist’s attendance at the Pride: “With her appearance and message for tolerance, she contributes to the fight for GLBT rights in Europe. In The Netherlands, we seem to think that this is no longer necessary, but we need to remain vigilant.” The designers of the Gay Care boat, Marco Bakker and Jelle Tinholt, are over the moon. Marco Bakker: “With Conchita on board, the party is complete. We had no problem designing a boat that would relay both Conchita’s and Gay Care’s message. They follow suit perfectly.” Jelle Tinholt adds: “We will not tell what the boat looks like, but it will be spectacular.”
During the canal parade Conchita Wurst, “the woman with the beard,” will be seconded by Dana International, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 with the song “Diva.” Dana International, which is Sharon Cohen’s stage name, will sail on a boat of Exodays, an international event for Jewish GLBTs that will be held during the Amsterdam Gay Pride 2014. Her presence is also conveniently in time for TransPride, which will be held this year for the first time during Amsterdam Pride.
At birth, Dana International was considered to be a boy, but discovered at a young age that she was transgender. At thirteen, she came out of the closet as a trans-woman, and gender reassignment surgery was performed in 1993, the same year her debut album was released. Dana International is “crazy about Amsterdam”: “I call on everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, cut or uncut, GLBT and straight allies, to sail with us. The Jewish boat is for everyone and is about diversity, connection and peace.”
Being a part of the Canal Parade with the “Jewish Boat” is the highlight of Exodays. The Jewish boat has another first with the first rabbi ever to sail along during Canal Parade. Rabbi Marianne van Praag of the Liberal Jewish Community in The Hague thinks it is important that a statement is made against anti-gay violence and discrimination from the world of Judaism. “It is terrible to see how tolerance in The Netherlands is decreasing. Young gay couples are afraid to hold hands for fear of being molested, and youngsters are experiencing even more difficulty to come out of the closet. It is high time that the world of religion also makes a statement. So, I’m sailing along!”
Gay and Muslim
Besides the Exodays boat, there is also an American boat and a Moroccan boat this year. The American entry is called “Freedom to Marry,” and draws attention to the wish of same-sex couples throughout the United States to be able to marry. The initiators of the Moroccan boat find it important to increase the visibility of Moroccan GLBTs and break taboos. The Amsterdam City Council therefore decided to invite representatives from the gay community in Morocco, just as last year, a group from Kiev, and the year before from Saint Petersburg were invited. This spring, former deputy mayor Freek Ossel personally extended the invitations during a visit to Morocco.
At this occasion he noted: “Whether people want to attend is their own choice. It is a public event, and images may reach Morocco. That is something they have to take into account. For some, this was reason enough to say they would not attend.” Others were willing to make a statement like Van Praag and said: “I’m sailing along!” One of those people is the twenty-three-year-old Rayan, who lives in Morocco and was the central character in the documentary “I am Gay And Muslim.” “I want to show people you can be Muslim and gay. People will attack me for it, but I’ll be ready for that,” Rayan stated. It is a brave decision, as in Morocco, homosexual acts are still punishable with six month to three years in jail. Last year, four men were convicted to prison sentences ranging from four months to three years.
The battle against criminalization of homosexuality is part of a more general fight for GLBT rights. Human rights will also be the focus of the “My Pride World Wide Closing Party,” which will be held on August 3, from 13.00 to 22.00 on Rembrandtplein. With this very central location, it will be easy for visitors to attend the party. Besides performances by Eurovision winners Conchita Wurst and Dana International, this party will include many other (inter)national artists and human rights activists. Irene Hemelaar notes the closing party aims to “inform thousands of visitors of the human rights situation of GLBTs worldwide. This event brings all projects together.”
An overview of all activities during Amsterdam Gay Pride can be found at www.amsterdamgaypride.org, and of course in our agenda sections.