The Double Dutch Down

By Bryan Van Gorder

Originally published on Advocate.com October 13 2010 4:00 AM ET

Despite a moderate summer rain, a robust crowd of 380,000 revelers of all ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations showed up to cheer the colorful floats that made their way down the canals during Amsterdam’s annual gay pride celebration in August. The celebration is emblematic of the place that has long worn the crown as the most gay-friendly city in the world. Threatening to tarnish that lustrous reputation are a few instances of gay bashings (linked to culture clashes with Moroccan immigrants, mostly men age 16-25) that raise the question, Is Amsterdam still the gay vacationers’ haven it once was?

In a word: no. That’s not to say it isn’t still one of the most hospitable places for gay tourists—it demonstrably is. But it is hard to compare the Amsterdam of today with the city of halcyon, violence-free years past. The antigay violence appears to be due to the difficulty of integrating immigrant cultures into the mainstream—but isn’t that the difficulty of most societies with various ethnic groups attempting to live side by side?

Amsterdam is not taking this crisis lying down. Although Frank van Dalen, the head of ProGay, the organization in charge of Amsterdam Pride, admits there is still some work to be done, he credits the city with making notable improvements. The Pride parade this year included an African float, displaying solidarity with those forced to remain closeted by repressive cultures; and the city has increased the number of police officers in gay areas, strengthened punishments for gay bashings, and invested in additional tolerance education in schools.

To this traveler, Amsterdam was everything I had hoped it would be, and the trip was unmarred by reports of violence. It’s clear to visitors that Amsterdammers on the whole view gay rights and visibility (and a perennial taste for the outrageous) as important Dutch values. Being pro-gay is practically patriotic.