Described last year by news organisation CNN as one of ‘the best picks around the world for celebrating Pride’, Amsterdam Gay Pride is one of those events that seems to embody the spirit and character of its iconic location. Still the only Gay Pride parade on Earth to take place on the water, this event is, for many Amsterdammers – and increasingly for visitors in the know – the highlight of the summer’s cultural agenda in a city that knows how to party and has much to celebrate. For revellers of all stripes, the parade and the host of other Amsterdam Gay Pride events represent the perfect opportunity to explore and delight in a city that’s treasured internationally for its unique spirit of tolerance and diversity.
Amsterdam Gay Pride 2013: A Bigger Splash!
One of the very biggest public events in the Netherlands, the 18th edition of Amsterdam Gay Pride has a special significance – happening, as it does, in an auspicious landmark year for the city. 2013 is the year that the city of Amsterdam celebrates the 400th anniversary of its magnificent canal network, with a host of exhibitions and ceremonies commemorating the importance of these waterways for Amsterdam’s place in the world. Of course, Amsterdam Gay Pride culminates in the celebratory Canal Pride parade, whereby organisations and partygoers take to the stately Prinsengracht canal for one jubilant afternoon. What better way to enjoy the waters that have connected Amsterdam with the world?
This year’s theme: Reflect
The starring role of the shimmering canal network in Amsterdam’s history was the ideal starting point for this year’s Amsterdam Gay Pride theme: ‘Reflect’. Culminating in the party weekend of 2-4 August, this year’s Amsterdam Gay Pride will be bigger than ever. But the event and its significance have grown in more ways than just in terms of its scale.
Irene Hemelaar, executive director of ProGay, the association that organises Amsterdam Gay Pride, notes that ‘this year’s Amsterdam Gay Pride is something of a meditation, albeit it a jubilant one: 2013 is a big year for Amsterdam; it is the year that we celebrate 400 years of the canals that have brought the city such prosperity, and opened it up to the world as a place for people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and walks of life to come together. We will take the opportunity to look back on how far the LGBT community has come during this remarkable period. And we will shine like never before!’
A history to cherish
It goes without saying that Amsterdam has a rich gay tradition. The first gay bar opened here in 1927 (Café ‘t Mandje, still open today at Zeedijk 63) and the planet’s first gay marriages happened in Amsterdam’s City Hall in 2001. The COC Netherlands has been advocating the rights of lesbian women, gay men, bisexuals and transgenders since 1946, and is one of the few LGBT organizations that enjoys special consultative status within the United Nations.
A future to secure
Things keep moving, and welcome additions to gay life in Amsterdam include new bars, such as the lesbian-run Café Bordó in the Nieuwe Nieuwstraat. On a wider level, Dutch Minister for gender and LGBT emancipation, Jet Bussemaker, points to the Netherlands’ hosting of a major international conference on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in May: ‘The Netherlands has a progressive character, but even today, lesbian women, gay men, bisexuals and transgenders are experiencing discrimination, violence and unequal rights,’ she says. Although Bussemaker points out that ‘individuals, businesses and institutions have a responsibility to help improve the situation,’ she believes that Government also has a part to play, and is looking forward to participating in the Amsterdam Gay Pride 2013 festivities: ‘This year there will again be an official cabinet boat in the Canal Parade. It has a very special theme, but that’s all I’m allowed to say for now!’
FAST FIGURES: AMSTERDAM GAY PRIDE IN NUMBERS
350,000 visitors to the Canal Pride parade annually – 45,000 visitors during 4 days of street parties – 98 outdoor bars – 200,000 beers – 4 football pitches of dance floor – 10 outdoor stages – 3,000,000 beats – 120 different events in 9 days.
A RAINBOW OF A PROGRAMME
Amsterdam Gay Pride has much more to offer than just the Canal Pride parade:
– Street Parties
The evening of Friday 2 August is when Amsterdam’s LGBTs and friends hit the atmospheric cobbled streets for open-air celebrations and wild dancing. Choose your scene, from the hip, young vibe of the Reguliersdwarsstraat to the Dutch carnival atmosphere near the Amstel river.
– Grey Pride
A series of events, from debates to cabaret, geared towards a mature crowd. http://www.roze50plus.nl
– Drag Queen Olympics
Friday August 2: Featuring gruelling disciplines like the Handbag Toss and the High Heel Sprint, this bedazzling sporting contest on the Homomonument is something of an Amsterdam Gay Pride institution.
For full, updated event listings visit http://www.weareproud.nl
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AMSTERDAM: GAYCATION DESTINATION
Amsterdam is the perfect place for a gay-flavoured long or short break, with a host of friendly and characterful gay neighbourhoods to explore…
Gaybourhood #1: Homomonument
Karin Daan’s three-sectioned pink triangle – symbolising past, present and future – was a world first. It’s also a place to celebrate and be proud: for Amsterdam Gay Pride, it gets annexed as an open-air disco, and the site of the world-famous Drag Queen Olympics. The Pink Point hut offers year-round information and souvenirs, and the nearby Anne Frank House offers another opportunity to reflect on the meaning of freedom.
Gaybourhood #2: Warmoesstraat/Zeedijk
The long and narrow Warmoesstraat is the oldest street in town, and it’s home to leather bars, sex shops and Getto, a friendly café where the burgers are named after drag queens. Among the Asian eateries of nearby Zeedijk, you’ll find Café ‘t Mandje, Amsterdam’s – perhaps the world’s – oldest gay and lesbian bar. Nearby, The Queen’s Head pub is known for its colourful and cosy bingo nights.
Gaybourhood #3: Reguliersdwarsstraat
Practically every bar and shop on the strip between the Koningsplein and the Vijzelstraat is broadly painted with the pink brush, including awesome new Club NYX. Named after the Greek goddess of the night, this cool kids’ mecca makes liberal use of graffiti, glitter and concrete. Just down the road, spacious bar Dvwars is a grown-up drinking den for Amsterdam’s new army of cocktail-loving sophisticates.
Gaybourhood #4: Kerkstraat
Home to gay hotels such as the ever-popular ‘Hotel Amistad’, and the outrageous Club Church, where local drag legend Jennifer Hopelezz holds court with her merry band of ne’er-do-wells.
Gaybourhood #5: Amstel
The scene neighbouring the Amstel river to the east of the centre is light-hearted, friendly and camp, with tiny brown cafes in the traditional Amsterdam mould, but there’s the odd slick newcomer, like Club AIR. In business for over 30 years, Vive la Vie on the Amstelstraat is one of the city’s most vibrant lesbian venues.
Where does Amsterdam stand in terms of Gay rights worldwide? Eberhard van der Laan , the city’s mayor since 2010, gives a personal perspective.
1. What does Amsterdam Gay Pride mean to you?
Amsterdam Gay Pride is one of the headline events for our city. It is the celebration of tolerance and it demonstrates what kind of town Amsterdam truly is: diverse, colourful, open and hospitable to all. I’ve experienced that first hand from my own participation in the Canal Pride parade. It’s so heartening to see that the crowd on the banks of the canals has come from all walks of life.
2. Why is Amsterdam Gay Pride so important for the city?
Amsterdam Gay Pride shows that we are open to the world and happy to welcome everyone. Whether heterosexual, bisexual, transgender or homosexual, everyone can be themselves here.
3. What is the defining aspect of Amsterdam Gay Pride for you?
The highlight of Amsterdam Gay Pride is undeniably the Canal Pride parade. A colourful spectacle making full use of the canals that celebrate their 400th anniversary this year, this alone makes Amsterdam Gay Pride a unique proposition. That said, I think the diversity of the participants grows more heartening with each passing year. I’m thinking about the people aboard the Turkish boat, the boat representing our Ministry of Defence, boats representing international companies that have a presence here in Amsterdam… It’s this particular breadth of diversity that makes Amsterdam Gay Pride unique.
It’s the diversity that makes the Amsterdam Gay Pride unique.
4. The theme of this year’s Amsterdam Gay Pride is ‘Reflect’. How does that correspond to the broader 2013 celebrations across the city?
The 400th anniversary of Amsterdam’s canal network, along with the anniversaries of several of our cultural icons, has combined to make ‘Amsterdam 2013’ a year-long celebration. One of the icons is the 225-year old Felix Meritis on the Keizersgracht Canal. In many ways, this Enlightenment institution, steeped in Enlightenment values, holds the DNA of Amsterdam. Inevitably, we occasionally fall short of those values. So it’s appropriate that we reflect and take stock on how far we’ve come, but also on the work that remains. In the true spirit of reflection, we invite LGBT activists from all over the world to come to Amsterdam and exchange their knowledge with the LGBT community of the Netherlands.
5. You’ve spoken in the past of your desire for a more compassionate city. How is that coming along?
I’m talking about how we treat the poorest and weakest residents of Amsterdam; the dignity and care we afford such people is the litmus test of civilization. The same applies for members of the LGBT community.