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Row y`r boat

by René Zuiderveld in Events & Agenda , 01 januari 1970


Ever since the Gay Games took place in Amsterdam, already two long years ago, the gay community couldn`t ignore anymore the hundreds, no, thousands of gays and lesbians who like nothing better than sweating it out in some kind of sport. So Gay Business Amsterdam, organiser of the city`s annual Gay Pride weekend, wised up and since those memorable Games days has diligently included sports events in their four day program. After last year`s success with athletes active in football, volleyball, swimming and rowing, Pride 2000 will once again welcome queers from all over Europe to compete in their favourite pastime, but also to revel in the special atmosphere of the Dutch capital when it turns pink all over for one gorgeous long weekend.

One of the sports scheduled again this year is rowing. This prompted your Gay News roving reporter to contact John Avis, board member of rowing club Willem III. Avis, always a prominent figure (certainly when it comes to sports) changed position from active spokesperson for Amsterdam`s gay volleyball club Netzo to active gay member in Willem III.
"Willem III is not a gay rowing club", says Avis, "though people might think so after our participation in the Gay Games. Financially it is simply impossible to run an exclusively gay rowing club. The members should donate enough money to invest in a suitable building, which means a lot of money. A building alongside one of Amsterdam`s waters will of course cost a fortune. Then boats have to be bought, furniture and what have you not. So, no gay rowing club." "I wouldn`t even want to", he adds; "while I was still a member of the volleyball club I always wanted it to be open to straights and lesbians as well. If a straight person would join, he or she would know what he or she got into anyway. There would be nothing to worry about for gays. That`s the policy I prefer."
Rowing may have an elitist image, reality these days shows quite a different face. Never in his life did Avis row before. He wasn`t raised by parents who considered rowing part of his education, in those days when it was still an exclusive activity for the well-to-do. No, one day he simply felt a rowing urge and started looking for a club that would accept new members. Willem III it was and rookie Avis began his training. He must have been a dedicated fanatic; what could otherwise be the reason for his swift rise in the club to board member. Yes, he comes across as a self-assured, outspoken man, qualities that will always help one cimb ladders. Add his openness about being gay to this, leading to a more open attitude in Willem III towards gays in general and its gay members specifically. Though this might make you think Avis had to wage a small battle for gay rights, he himself flatly denies that. It all developed sort of matter of fact and when the Gay Games took place in Amsterdam, it was logical the gay section" of Avis` rowing club wanted to participate, for Avis was not the only gay man weekly rowing the boat.

Mixed

The team in the first boat, heading back to Willem III`s boat house on Amsterdam`s Amstel river, is mixed. On a drizzly Saturday morning four straight and four gay guys are rowing back to the boat house`s cantine, looking forward to having a cup of coffee together. Excuse us for gettng a bit tearjerky, when we see a mixed team like this one working in perfect harmony, representing a near perfect symbol of a society that so many gay men and lesbian women still desperately long for. It also forces your Gay News reporter to stop trying to guess immediately who amongst these men prefer doing it with men and who don`t. It`s simply not the atmosphere for toying with such thoughts. Actually a blessing of sorts the reporter of an exclusively gay paper tends to forget too easily. And to the gay members of Willem III it is not all that important either, although understandibly they often tend to "flock" together. The second boat which is being prepared for an hour of rowing has an almost exclusively gay crew, presenting us with a perfect moment for a group picture. The one straight guy in this morning`s group joins for the picture being taken, till he realises it`s meant for a gay magazine. He steps aside and the other members snigger and start teasing him with the question what people might think if they would spot his face in Gay News. A funny incident, telling of the relaxed atmosphere in this rowing club better than any lengthy interview could.
"It is quite exceptional", says Avis. "Our matter-of-fact approach of gay issues is far less accepted in foreign rowing clubs. I think gays and lesbians should really support each other and create a feeling of solidarity, in order to defend their position. Not that I have ever heard of discrimination against them, but they don`t seem to feel as much at ease as we do here."
Yet it`s obvious Willem III is not a club to join, when you`re still trying to define your sexuality and are looking for extra support in that struggle. The club accepts gays completely, but somewhat on the premise that you have a confident attitude regarding your (homo)sexuality, are open about it and act accordingly. Not a club to participate in, when you want to raise the political banner for your gay rights. It`s a rowing club. To be active in, to have a good time in, when your interest is rowing. No matter your sexual orientation. Also this year the Willem III rowing club will compete with several other (inter)national teams. And we are sure that Avis and his rowing partner Thijs Mol will be peddling their watery way together in this year`s Canal Pride, Saturday August 5th. The rowing competition is sponsored by bar Rouge (former Monopole)



 







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In the New Issue of Gay News, 316, December 2017

















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