Gay Pride is celebrated with a canal parade in Amsterdam, so yesterday 80 boats, with 50-100 performers on each, sailed slowly along Prinsengracht. Through the cheers of thousands of Amsterdammers and visitors to the city.
It really is a fantastic atmosphere, the crowd is supportive, lots of people wearing pink or carrying a rainbow flags. It’s an event for everyone, every age group, and some make it a family day out. It was sunny and warm yesterday so it was like a city-wide street party. I watched the parade for a while, perched in the crowd. On a boat near me was a group of lesbians, with their children. Gay marriage has been legal here for 12 years, so all of their lifetime.
Each boat represents a different organisation, there are gay bars and gay rights organisations, various companies – vodafone, ING, Akzo Nobel, and government organisations – the tax department featured this year. The military have had a boat in the parade the last few years, everyone is in uniform and saluting the crowd, always gets a huge cheer.
The gay rights issue that gets the most media coverage is gay marriage, particularly in relation to the US or the church in the UK. But a couple of boats reminded everyone that there are other, more serious issues. On this boat participants carried signs saying “er is nog veel voor te vechten” (there is still a lot to fight for). Some carried the Russian flag in “honour” of Russia’s anti gay legislation – holding a similar parade is illegal in Russia. More seriously, some banners pointed out that homosexuality remains a criminal offence in 76 countries, and that includes the death penalty in some.
In the global sense there still is a lot to fight for, but we’ve come a long way in my lifetime. When I was at university the fight was to change the law and stop homosexuality being a crime, when I lived in Australia Tasmanian gays were trying to get the (unenforced) anti sodomy law changed by going into police stations and confessing – while the rest of Australia boycotted Tasmanian products. And it’s only fifteen years ago that Ellen Degeneres’ show was dropped when her character came out, now she hosts a talk show where she talks openly about her life and her wife.
So yesterday was mostly about celebrating the freedoms we have in this country. If you missed the parade, or you view was blocked by a large man with a bald head. You can see the whole thing on YouTube.