Who hasn’t heard/knows about one of the biggest Dutch street festivals, known as “Amsterdam Canal Pride”, or simply “Gay Pride”. This is the positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to promote their self-affirmation, dignity, equality rights, increase their visibility as a social group, build community, and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance. Pride, as opposed to shame and social stigma, is the predominant outlook that bolsters most LGBT rights movements throughout the world.
Back in 1998, at the third celebration of the “Gay Pride”, the Canal Pride was combined with the Gay Games. The pride was not near as well known or big as it is these days, back then it still had some sort of a cult status. My neighbor which happens to be one of my best friends, was always very aware of human rights and social development issues so when she heard about this upcoming event she convinced me this was something we had to see for ourselves so we decided to go and check it out.
Back then, the event still had to take form, and it was still very different from what it has become today. At the “Dam-square” in the center of Amsterdam a big stage was built where various festivities would take place. We found a spot near this stage and we would wait for the musical event to begin. Weather-wise it was a quite chilly and a bit rainy with occasional sunshine. Because I got goose bumps, my friend rubbed me on the arm to make me feel more comfortable. This action was misread by some bystanders, and one of the spectators (which were predominantly gay men) approached us. As we kind of stood out in the crowd, he came to us and asked “Hi, are you ladies from Holland?”. “Yes, we are” we both said. He: “But, you don’t look like regular Dutchwomen. We laughed and said “We have Turkish roots”. His eyes started twinkling more even. My friend said in Turkish to me “çaktırma, he thinks we are lesbian.” So, we decided to play along and see where this would lead. He was very interested in our story, and besides the fact that we were both straight, we told him the truth. We have known each-other since high school and we met through mutual friends. After a while we discovered we were living only a few doors down from one another and we had known each-other for 4 or 5 years now.
He thought our story was amazing and had to laugh about it. Before he came up with more questions my friend rapidly asked “How about you, what brings you here?” He told us he was from France and heard about this festival and traveled alone to meet more gay people. He then told us a story of himself having been on a journey to Morocco. He said that over-there has had an affair with a local taxi driver.
Despite the taboo on gay sexuality he told us it was easy to practice homosexuality in Morocco. Because in Morocco it’s custom for men to be holding hands in public, according to him all men do so. During his stay the taxi-driver would take him to the park where they could walk freely holding hands and nobody would think anything off it. But then he told us the taxi-driver’s wife and children walked behind them…. This part of story gave me an ambiguous feeling. So far I was understanding and and happy they found a way to be themselves. But when I heard about the taxi-driver’s family part I could only imagine how this would would feel if she ever found out her husband cheating on her in front of her and their children…… And her offering her hospitality to the tourist as she is supposed to do so…. Finding out would without a doubt scar her for life, and I don’t even wanna think what this would do to their children. That thought infuriated me and I felt so sorry for the wife and the children, as a woman I felt repulsed and I couldn’t listen to this friendly Frenchman any more. Out of politeness I faked a smile and said goodbye while nodding my friend we had to move along.
His story has been bothering me ever since. Why is it so hard for society to accept people as they are and show some tolerance. Due to social pressure people feel forced to pretend to be someone they are not, forced to live a double life like the taxi driver in the story. Forced to go abroad to experience holding the hand of the one you love without fear of being discovered. And I realize that to see similar circumstances we don’t have to search that far. I know for a fact that these things happen all over the world, even in “liberal” countries like Holland.. As long as this intolerance and social repression exists, families will suffer and a number of children will be deprived of the love and honesty they need and deserve and some of them will even grow up in a broken home.. I can only hope the future generations will be wiser and they will learn to accept the love between people regardless their race, religion or sexual orientation..but till then:
Happy Gay Pride,