Everybody On Board for the Parade!

I don’t like to talk about local affairs here except on rare occasions; this is hardly intended to be any sort of “Amsterdam blog.” One of the few things I’ll make an exception for is the “Gay Pride” festival occurring here every first week of August. It is known world-wide, to a considerable extent takes over the city, and features a unique “parade” on the Saturday (today!) that makes its way along the city’s canals (actually, mainly the Prinsengracht), not its streets.

It also enjoys a rather high level of public support. That was perhaps the main point of the article from Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza that I covered here on Tuesday, which noted that, for the first time, a national cabinet minister will be officially present in the parade (namely Ronald Plasterk, of Education, Culture, and Science) as well as an official boat from the police. But it turns out that Gazeta didn’t know the half of it (and probably did not want to know the half of it, in any case): this whole new politician phenomenon has mushroomed so rapidly that not only have plenty other national Dutch lawmakers scrambled to find a place for themselves for today on a Gay Pride boat, but questioning eyebrows are even being raised in the direction of politicians who will not be present.

So, at least, reports Yvonne Doorduyn of De Volkskrant (Absent Politicians Given a Problem By Gay Pride). “Today everyone is practically required to be homo-friendly” she declares in her first paragraph, and among the additional politicians slated to be on-hand to demonstrate that quality personally (besides Job Cohen, Amsterdam’s mayor, who is always there and whom I mentioned on Tuesday) are the Minister of Internal Affairs (i.e. cabinet member in charge of the police, Guusje ter Horst – a woman, by the way) and two staatssecretarissen, i.e. cabinet secretaries or the top civil service functionaries in a cabinet department. What is more, a number of Dutch political parties will be there on the water on their own sponsored boats, namely GroenLinks (i.e. the Green Party), D66, and the party (“Proud of the Netherlands”) only recently-formed as the personal vehicle for the right-wing, anti-immigrant (female) politician Rita Verdonk. It would therefore be no surprise to see Rita herself there on her “Proud of the Netherlands” boat, waving to the crowds on either bank.

So what about the other parties – what about the VVD (the leading non-extremist right-wing business-friendly party), for example? For that matter, what about Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende himself, or his vice-premier André Rouvoet, of the Christian party, the ChristenUnie, both of whom were specifically invited, after all, by Minister Plasterk? Frankly, of all of those one would expect at least Rouvoet to reply with some self-distancing remarks about homosexuality, given the stance and policy positions of his Christianist party. But nothing of the sort – as Doorduyn reports (in a section labeled “obstructed”) all these reluctantly reported that their schedules simply would not allow it – it’s vacation time, after all, so it’s hard to fit things like that in. Again, though, the truly remarkable thing here is how, from something that national politicians were attending this year for the first time, the Gay Pride parade has so quickly metamorphosed into something where the attendance of politicians – extending up to the highest levels of government (although not to the Royal Family – yet?!?) – has become expected.

“Thank God I’m Gay”

Anyway, all of those nice politicians whose schedules did allow it will be along for the ride as today’s Gay Pride parade pushes off from the North/West end of the Prinsengracht, floating along with other boats displaying banners with such messages (as Doorduyn records) as “Simply Gay,” “I Do Believe I’m Gay,” and “Thank God I’m Gay” (these all written in English). Meanwhile, elsewhere in town the city zoo is offering for the weekend special Gay Pride tours focusing on homosexual behavior by animals. (Dear reader, I kid thee not – although, interestingly, there’s no mention of these tours on the zoo’s website, neither its English nor its Dutch version.) It’s certainly somewhat of a different cultural we have here in Amsterdam, is it not?, if nothing else.

By the way, this year’s parade also records a “first” in that it includes boats representing commercial companies. You’ll probably agree that that is something rather less surprising to see come along. But it raises the question: Now that it seems everyone with something to sell to the public, whether it be for votes or for money, is clamoring to get involved in the Gay Pride parade, how long will it take before purists start to pine for those lost times of innocence – of pure unencumbered floating, costumed, dancing, codpiece-flaunting, buttocks-exhibiting homosexual innocence – before all the hucksters of one stripe or another started crowding in?

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