Last month, I witnessed an historic event. For the first time in history, a crowned head of state visited the GLBT community.
COC Netherlands, which celebrates its seventieth anniversary this year, was bestowed the honor of a royal visit by His Majesty King Willem Alexander on November 22.
The King took part in three meetings with activists, volunteers and COC staff, discussing youth and education, religion, culture and asylum, and COC’s commitment. Afterwards there was a reception to which a number of key partner organizations were invited.
An hour later, the guests of the reception were received and were asked to keep quiet until the King would enter the room. The atmosphere was tense. Everyone had tried their best to look as smart as possible for his or her meeting with the King. When it became clear that most of them would not have the opportunity to exchange a few words with the King, the animated conversations started. I was talking to Amsterdam Pride’s ambassador MayDay and with Fredrik van den Bosch of gay.nl. Meanwhile, the King had entered, and the DJ started spinning.
The bar opened, and everyone seemed thirsty. After talking to Döne Fil (Turkish boat) and Manon van Linschoten (Roze50+) I noticed Erwin Olaf. I thanked him for his words on the emancipatory value of corporate boats in the parade. He was very surprised to hear that rumours about a staggering registration fee were not based on facts and would love to discuss a possible participation in the 2017 parade.
There was some turmoil, and people started pushing. We were asked to settle in because of the group picture. The King arrives, stops right next to me, says “cheese” and is gone. The next morning I wake up with coffee on the couch and get a whatsapp message from a friend in Australia: “Who is that man in the blue suit next to you on the picture?” I was totally confused. On my whatsapp profile picture, I am standing next to my husband in organge Pride shirts in Paris. I respond: Blue?
The photo was published in all the newspapers, and I discover that many people still do read newspapers. Even from Canada, Venezuela and Germany, I got messages from friends who saw the photo in their (online) newspaper. Some thought I had been given a decoration. This I got for my contribution to the Inauguration of the King in 2012 and this was the first opportunity to wear it officially. Questions about what the King is like, and whether I have invited him for next year, I can only answer by telling people I did not talk to him.
On my way to the reception, only one question stuck in my mind. What to say to the King and what to ask? Questions such as “Do you forgive us for publicly claiming over de period of years that your brother is gay?” or “How would you feel if one of your daughters is a lesbian” are obviously not done. But these subjects will surely have played through his mind during discussion with Maxima at the kitchen table.
I can even imagine that Maxima has had to urge him to accept the COC’s invitation. She convinced him of the fact that for the GLBT community to get recognition from the King Laureate is just as important as a parent’s recognition of a child. Maxima is from a macho culture in which homosexuals often cannot come out because of their fathers. Mothers still play a very important part in the acceptance process.
Maxima has previously demonstrated to have love prevail over social prejudices. When her godmother Marcela Cerruti came out as a lesbian, she immediately supported her as one of the few in the family, and choose her as marriage witness.
Anyway, visiting the COC was not an everyday occurrence for our King. I think it speaks for him that he came without Maxima to serve as a distraction. She has already proven that she is accepting by being present twice at GLBT gatherings. I would never have thought that I did see his visit as actual recognition. When I walked out the door of the COC I felt it, making me proud of our King.
PS: Next year we should perhaps invite the entire family to the Canal Parade?