Even before the city fills up with festively dressed people, Jill Mathon (36) claims a place on the bridge between the Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht on Saturday morning – to claim space “for everyone”. Mathon, dressed in a black leotard, took several protest signs with him.

    Pride is not a marketing campaign

    ‘Next year donate this boat to the community’

    ‘This boat smells like pinkwashing’

    Mathon believes that Pride has become “too much about heterosexuals and commerce” in recent years. She sits there from 10:30 am to 6:00 pm and sees very few black people and transgender people on the passing boats during all those hours, she says: “Who is actually being celebrated? I mainly see white men.”

    On Saturday, the Canal Parade will take place for the 25th time, the festive conclusion of nine days of Pride. In principle, Pride focuses on the emancipation struggle of the LGBTQIA+ community. Queers (people who don’t feel at home within traditional social norms about sexual orientation and gender) are still persecuted for their orientation – homosexuality is punishable by death in 73 countries.

    Gay Monument

    Halfway through the morning, the canal belt fills with visitors. The boat parade will be on display there for six hours. Tens of thousands of people flock along the side for the best view of the spectacular parties on the 82 boats. The city is covered with rainbow flags, which symbolize the LGBTQIA+ community. Almost all visitors draw a comparison with King’s Day.

    Some have mixed feelings about this. For example, Crystal Queer (“ageless”) believes that refugee queers and transgender people are still too much excluded from the event. In her own words, the professional drag queen with the red wig is mainly committed to “against discrimination within her own community, because it is false”. She is also annoyed by pinkwashing, presenting a queer-friendly image for commercial purposes without contributing significantly to the emancipation struggle by companies like “Uber that still refuses drags in its taxis”.

    A packed boat parade.
    Photo Remko de Waal/ANP

    Olmo van den Akker (32) does not understand such “criticism at all.” He and his best friend are waiting along the side for the boat parade to start. Van den Akker agrees that there is “a bit of pinkwashing”, but states that commercialization is “necessary”. After all, it costs money to organize Pride Week, each boat yields 35,000 euros.

    Van den Akker does not understand the accusation that too many heterosexuals attend the event. “Isn’t it nice that gays and straights celebrate together today?” He says that he once fell in love with his best friend, who is straight, but that he has grown out of it. Their fifteen-year friendship was too important to let go. The Homomonument will soon be their final destination.

    You mainly see billboards, it has become a second King’s Day

    Albert Focke (60), formerly a regular guest at the boat parade

    On the side is a man with a blissful smile on his face, enjoying the joy around him. Charles Cuhsus (58) strolls alone along the canals: “Nice people-watching.” What does the partying crowd do to him? Cuhsus is moved by the question.

    After a long period abroad, he has returned to Amsterdam, his city, for 4.5 years. A stroke has brought him back to his home country: “The care is better here”. The consequence is that he has not seen his South American fiancée for almost five years. The lonely Cuhsus takes a look because he “loves everyone.”

    ‘A piece of freedom’

    It is a lot quieter in the side streets of the canals. People recover from the crowds, often looking for food. Albert Focke (60), a man who says he is inextricably linked with Amsterdam, sits in front of a shop that specializes in fetish products for gay men. But he doesn’t go to the boat parade anymore.

    “You mainly see billboards, it has become a second King’s Day,” he sighs. Twenty years ago it was different, he knows. He used to be naked on a boat, but that is no longer “appreciated” – and with that “a piece of freedom” has been taken away. In that regard, the municipality of Amsterdam listens “too much to the large crowd,” says Focke, dressed in black leather. “What are we actually looking at?”

    Participants of the Canal Parade celebrate the party.
    Photo Remko de Waal/ANP

    Mathon, who is still sitting on a bridge with protest signs, thinks that the boats should only make room for queer people. “They can claim the space, the whole world is already set up for heterosexuals,” she says firmly. It annoys her that a company like ING Bank participates in a boat. “What does the bank do for the rest of the year?”

    Interest groups such as the Aidsfonds and the UN refugee organization UNHCR are also sailing along. The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) also sails on the latter. Unacceptable for some refugee queers, who have had bad experiences with the admissions policy.

    Elias Karam (35) fled Lebanon six years ago. When he was interviewed by the IND, he was told that he “didn’t look gay”. His beard would radiate “masculinity”. ,,What should I do? Wearing makeup?” As far as he is concerned, the admission policy for refugee queers is in need of drastic change.

    At the Secret Garden Foundation, Karam is committed to queers with a migration background. On Friday evening Secret Garden screened the short documentary The Crossing (2017), in which transgender refugees in particular explain their negative experiences in asylum seekers’ centres. They still feel that COA has insufficiently protected them against homophobic fellow asylum seekers. Two days before the parade, LGBT Asylum Support, who refused a place on the UNHCR boat, was offered a separate boat.

    The permit for the Pride Amsterdam Foundation will expire after this Pride. The municipality of Amsterdam has already decided that the new permit holder must cooperate more and better with marginalized groups within the community. The protesting Mathon hopes “very much” that an organization such as Black Pride NL or Trans Netwerk Nederland will receive the permit. “Pride must become a protest again, now it is a fair for heterosexuals.”