The famous Canal Parade, climax of the Amsterdam Gay Pride celebrations, always leaves me somewhat perplexed (this is my fourth, or fifth). There are some great aspects: the city is filled with elderly same sex couples that look like Polish tourists (and probably are), immensely enjoying the freedom just to walk hand in hand without being looked at. You smile at them, they smile back, clearly pleased. Very nice. Also, the parade is a city event: families, kids, everybody – including the multiracial, multicultural and multireligious Amsterdam. So, I guess, every kid in town knows what being gay means. Very good. Moreover, the Netherlands are not just Amsterdam, and there is some leftover homophobia, so to celebrate the gay pride still makes sense, even here.
But, as I said, some things bother me. First of all, the format. Usually, if you go to a Gay Pride parade, you are participating, as in expressing your pride or your solidarity, etc. You can wear your feathers and be on a moving stage, or just join the fun: we are all proud. As in all public demonstrations (of any type), there is no distinction between people manifesting and onlookers, neither statistically nor physically. But the Amsterdam Pride Parade is on boats, so the separation between people showing their pride (more about this later) and onlookers is radical. Moreover, the only boats allowed are the “official” ones, numbered and registered. So you have around 80 boats actually parading, and an ocean of people looking. Some of them wear “gay” accessories (this morning my supermarket had pink cardboard cowboy hats for sale), lots of rainbow scarves and balloons, not so different from a soccer match – another event where the separation is clear. But what kind of boats did parade?
Two types: first the gay organizations, of any flavor imaginable: refugees, doctors, firefighters (always the prettiest), flight assistants (duh), AIDS social worker, christians, hockey players, nurses, etc. The Red Cross, the Ministry of Defense, The Scouts, obviously the city of Amsterdam. You name it, they where there (here is the full list). But, like every year, many of the larger boats, some lavishly decorated, were corporate.
I’m not sure how to decode this: are these employees? If so, I hope they’re getting paid, because they are obviously showing their company’s pride (or self promotion, if you prefer), not their own. Or are they happy workers, showing their gay pride and gratitude? I’m lost here. As a customer, I’m all for gay friendly companies, unless they rub it in my face. What is the message? That, unlike others, these companies employ gay people? That they like their gay workers? That they don’t discriminate? But we know that already: they’d be very stupid to do otherwise – especially in the Netherlands. We also know, since a long time, that Pecunia non olet. I would add that parading homosexuals to demonstrate a company’s tolerance and acceptance seems very tasteless to me.
So I’m always left with this impression of having watched a performance of PR auto-fellatio, a long theatrical show of company tolerance, business brotherhood, and boundless corporate love. But I was not alone: at the very end of the pride there were a few punks holding encouraging signs.