Europride Amsterdam June 15-25 1994

Gert Hekma / Gay Studies / University of Amsterdam

Since 1992, every year the European gay celebration day takes place in another city. After London and Berlin, Amsterdam organized it this year. It became a party that lasted 10 days, from the 15th till the 25th of June. In many countries, the national celebrations and demonstrations took place the weekend before the 25th, so that everyone who wanted to do so could join the festivities and the parade in Amsterdam on the 25th of June. The most important feat of the Amsterdam Europride was the variety of the events. There were about 100 manifestations announced ranging from artistic and historic exhibitions to a diversity of gay and lesbian parties. Another important feat was the bad organization of the manifestation: most parties before and after the parade were cancelled and in the end the organizing foundation was left with a deficit of half a million guilders.

Gay and lesbian emancipation has seen some important results over the last years in the Netherlands. This year, an equal rights law was accepted in the Dutch parliament that included gays and lesbians. Most parties in parliament endorse the idea not of the instalment of gay and lesbian marriages, but of an abolition of all civil marriages and the introduction of a radical individualisation of rights and plights. An effective policy to prevent Aids has been put in place, certainly in the gay community. The Dutch army not only accepts gays and lesbians among its soldiers, in stark contrast to the situation in for example the US Army, but also endorses a policy of contesting homophobia among its ranks. In The Hague, the police actively looks for gay and lesbian officers. In Rotterdam, a special gay team is formed to combat anti-gay violence in cruising areas. So, it seems that all the typical aims of the traditional homosexual right movement have been reached in the Dutch situation, and that Europride could simply be a pleasant party.

Europride was indeed a series of exciting parties. But as alderwoman Jikkie van der Giessen, responsible for homosexual emancipation in Amsterdam, made immediately clear in her opening statement, there is still a lot to do even in Amsterdam. Most gays and lesbians hesitate to make their sexual preferences clear on their working place or in their social life, because they fear aversion, avoidance and aggression. As long as this is the case, the alderwoman stated, we need a clear policy to combat discrimination. But also the organizers of Europride introduced politics in their party, by using the Netherlands as an example of tolerance, "The Dutch Way of Gay", and by stressing the need to get a European equal rights law to guarantee respect for gay and lesbian lifestyles in Europe.

The history and future of the gay and lesbian movement in Europe was the topic of a scholarly conference. Comparisons between the different countries were made. Scholars of lesbian and gay studies may be quite critical of concepts of identity and community, as they most explicitly developed in the Northern-American situation, but everyone agreed that there should be equal rights for gays and lesbians. But what has to happen in the Dutch case, where most of these rights have been granted and where it seems only a matter of time that these rights will be put into social practice? Some advocated complete integration of gays and lesbians and opposed the idea of a gay and lesbian community. Others proposed the continuing struggle for sexual openness. Contemporary sexual ideology and practice underline the naturalness and privacy of sexuality and its link with love, whereas sexuality might flourish in a richer way when we add to this traditional ideology that sexuality has also its cultural and public sides, for example by coming out as gay, or with sexual education or gay cruising areas. It might be better to endorse the separation of love and sex and to skip traditional beliefs about adultery and jealousy. It might be better for love when it does not depend on sexual contingencies, and for sex when it has not to die in the arms of love. Facing biological theories on the origins of sexual preferences, and of sexual drives, it might also be important to stress that even if there were a biological basis to sex and preference, its contents and contexts have to be culturally formed. The gay and lesbian movement could well enter a next phase in which the ideology of emancipation and discrimination will be replaced by an ideology of a public sexual culture. Nowadays already, the most important debates about gay politics in Amsterdam concern questions of public space: about cruising areas, about dark room in bars where gay men have sex with each other, about the publicity allowed to sex shops. The new themes for struggle about sex are thus in the open, especially about the factual and imagery space reserved for sexual endeavours.

But apart from political and scholarly ventures, there was a great gay and lesbian party going on in Amsterdam, the largest ever held in the Netherlands. There were two historical exhibitions on the history of gay and lesbian activism in the Netherlands and in France. There were several art expositions with a retrospective of the German artist Jürgen Baldiga. The gay art was exhibited in a very expressive way in a harbour building. In the cultural centers of Amsterdam, as De Balie and the Milky Way, a continuous series of musical, theatrical and political events took place. One of the nicer occurrences was the chance for gays and lesbians to register fake marriages, either with their lover, their animal pets or whatever came to their mind. These were daily returning events that attracted a lot of attention, and provoked strong emotions among the participants. A lesbian group organized daily boattrips to the outskirts of the city, but also guided tours through gay and lesbian Amsterdam.

For ten days, Amsterdam was a gay and lesbian capital as it had never been before. Everywhere in the city, you would see couples of men or women holding hands or kissing. The 50 gay bars and the 2 lesbian bars, and the building of the Amsterdam gay and lesbian movement saw a large public pass its doors. But the main interest of most visitors were the parties. Especially the leather parties attracted many men, and some women. Therefor, it was a pity that some parties were cancelled for organizational reasons. The major scandal was the annulation of the end party so that about 60.000 gays and lesbians had to resort to the available venues of Amsterdam. Happily, the Dutch football team lost that evening its game from the Belgians in the Worldchampionship, which prevented major clashes in the inner city between the parading gays and lesbians and football hooligans who are known for their hatred of gay men.

The parade was in the end the most successful part of Europride. After some summer rains in the morning, the air cleared up after the parade started at 1 o' clock in the afternoon. The first tramway carriages were for the organizers and their guests, and local gay and lesbian politicians. An openly gay alderman, and about five openly gay and lesbian city council members (out of a total of 45) were present. The first banner was the slogan of the day: "The world should always welcome lovers. European Equal Rights Law Now!!" According to estimates by the police, about 65.000 persons joined the parade. Major delegations came from Germany, France and Britain, but also from Eastern and Southern Europe and Northern-America. Twenty beautifully made floats were the main attraction of the parade, representing the bars of Amsterdam, the leather scene including volunteer slaves and lesbians, many drag queens, and also the Brazilian carnival. It was a pleasant and quite outrageous statement of the gays and lesbians of Amsterdam that they have not the faintest intention to go back to normal.

Europride was perhaps not successful on the financial side, but is was certainly so on the pleasure side. It was indeed a time of pride for the privileged participating gays and lesbians. Critics of Europride have stated that there was nothing to be proud of for gays and lesbians in Europe these days, and organized a counter-festival Euroshame. But as the alderwoman said, Europride refers not to a situation that exists, but that is desired. And indeed, with Italian fascists, nationalisms of all kinds everywhere in Europe, repressive laws concerning homosexuality in Britain, Rumania and Serbia, the absence of adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples in any country, there are indeed many rights to win.

Another sad side of Europride was the lack of media attention. Although the Europride was by far the largest and nicest gay event ever having taken place in the Netherlands, the newspapers, radio and television paid scarce attention to it. The main liberal daily reserved more space for what happened in New York with the Gay Games and the 25th anniversary celebration of the Stonewall Riots, than to what happened in Amsterdam. The main television networks reserved in their news only one minute for the parade, and gave no context. But even the gay bars and the gay and lesbian movement were quite slow in collaborating with Europride. Everything made clear that the gay and lesbian world is still a very weak network where ties break down for the most trivial argument or slightest countercurrent. The outer world may consider the gay and lesbian world as a dangerous conspiracy, the events in Amsterdam, the best organized gay city on continental Europe, made quite clear that gays and lesbians face still great difficulty even to organize their own interests and desires. There is indeed a world to win.