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Pride, Freedom, and Amsterdam’s Mayor

by Rick van der Made in Columns & Opinions , 31 augustus 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
Length: 5 minutes

Before I met my present partner, I hadn’t bothered to attend the Amsterdam Pride Canal Parade for some years. I’m not very tall, and the past few years the canals were dominated by tall inebriated straight women in pink hats and trendy high heels, who responded with irritated looks when I politely asked if I might move to the front so I could catch a glimpse of the parade.

The fact that inebriated heterosexuals attend this party, a friend of mine, Alfred, recently pointed out, is in itself a sign of the success of GLBTI emancipation in general and of Pride Amsterdam in particular. But after almost having ended up in the canal in my trendy outfit after being shoved by a throng of students, I decided not to go anymore.

My relationship with Armen, my Syrian Armenian boyfriend, changed all that. A few years ago, he decided to escape from Aleppo because within his own Orthodox Christian, Armenian culture as well as his predominantly Islamic homeland, he could not be who he wanted to be: a man attracted to other men who didn’t want to have to pretend otherwise.

During the Civil War, when IS and Al-Nusra were advancing on the city, the situation became untenable and he fled to Lebanon where he applied for asylum with the United Nations. The Netherlands granted him asylum.

Since then, Armen has contributed to a number of short promotion movies for “Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland.” In one of these films he tells of his first Pride experience in Amsterdam three years ago. The viewer can see how tears well-up in his eyes as he tells of the intense emotion he felt at that moment. “I was free, truly free,” Armen exclaims in the movie. After seeing the film, the tears also welled up in my eyes, and when we became involved in a relationship, I decided to start visiting Pride again, together with him.

Femke Halsema, photo Jeroen PloegerArmen is ever shorter than I am, so this year again we didn’t get to see much of the Pride parade. “I think I see Femke Halsema” (the new mayor of Amsterdam), I said, while pointing at the canal through a throng of shoulders. “Or maybe it’s just a drag queen in a curly wig.” It didn’t really matter to us, we were out with friends, drinking a beer, and having fun.

I looked at the boat which I suspected was carrying our Amsterdam mayor and pondered on her inauguration speech. “Whether you are a young transgender, an old Jewish man with traditional locks and hat, a veiled woman, an Islamic homosexual: in the years to come you will always find me on the side of those who peacefully claim their right to be different, to be themselves – and against those who try to hinder them.”
Governing a city such as Amsterdam is a fine balance between providing freedom on the one hand, and protecting it on the other. Protection of the freedom to be Jewish, of the freedom to wear a headscarf, of the freedom as a man to put on a dress and a curly wig, and - without fear for one’s own life - get into any taxi you feel like.

The quote from Halsema’s speech is profound and worthy of a mayor of Amsterdam. But freedom, I believe, can never be conditional. And once religious believers start calling for freedom, it always makes me a little suspicious, be it Al-Nusra’s “Freedom Struggle” in Syria, or the endless demand of the right to religious freedom by the Dutch religious political party, SGP. Because isn’t placing conditions on freedom exactly what religious groups do? Do they not attempt to limit the freedom of others at the entrance to their own places of worship?

When a person of faith starts using the word freedom, they usually mean freedom for their own group of believers. The freedom to found a church, mosque or synagogue; to provide special education, and in that freedom of religious doctrine limit the freedom of others. Abortion, gay marriage, sex education in schools, women’s rights, burqa, driving on the Sabbath, eliminating gay roles in primary school musicals: as soon as a religious person starts using the word freedom, the freedom of other groups could soon be at risk.  

When gay marriage was introduced in France, what had previously been considered almost unthinkable happened: The Front National, the Catholic Church and representatives of the muslin community wasted no time in closing ranks and standing shoulder to shoulder to demonstrate against it.      

What does freedom mean if you only demand freedom for your own group, while refusing to tolerate the freedom of others? Can you even call this freedom? Should you even be using the term freedom? Or are you in fact only referring to individuality? Of identity? Of subculture? Of hobby?

If the mayor of Amsterdam wishes to know how freedom is faring in her city, she will first have to talk with representatives of the GLBTI community. They are by far the best indicator and know that matters of sexual orientation, sexual identity and gender roles are everywhere, in all walks of life, and transcend all barriers in the community and religious movements.

This month we celebrated Pride together in Amsterdam. As far as I know I have never attended a Pride celebration that called for the closing of mosques, banning heterosexual marriage, purposely operating machinery on the Sabbath, preventing Jehovah’s Witnesses from performing in children’s musicals or bringing down the Pope.

If the freedom of the GLBTI community is threatened, it will undoubtedly defend its interests; which is a right every community has. Every identity, every subculture, every individual, every hobby club.

Yet, if I, as a member of the GLBTI community, ask for freedom, it is not at the expense of anyone else.

When my partner, as a member of the GLBTI community, celebrates Pride and asks for freedom, he does not want in any way or form to take away the freedom from others, even after everything he has been through.

Everyone is welcome to join Armen and me next year to celebrate Pride. But if you’re worried that you may be bothered by throngs of straight guys and gals you could also get in touch with “Vluchtelingenhulp Nederland,” and offer to be a buddy for a day to a homosexual who fled Syria, Iran or Egypt and celebrate Pride with them.

Then you will understand what Pride is all about.

Not for those who wish to oppress our community, who see us as a danger, but because we, in exactly the same way as the mayor stated, stand behind those who peacefully demand the right to be themselves.



published Jul 2014       


In the New Issue of Gay News, 336, August/ Pride 2019

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