Amsterdam Gay Pride in trouble? The end or the start of a (r)evolution

Is the 2017 edition of the Amsterdam Gay Pride the last ever edition of this big annual LGBTQI event? This might be the case, because of rising organizational cost and lack of sufficient funding. The president of the organizing committee, Lucien Spee, raised the alarm about the future of the Amsterdam Gay Pride in a column he wrote for he Dutch website Gaynews.nl. Strangely enough this alarmist column hasn’t raised a big debate yet within the Amsterdam LGBTQI community.

Raising the alarm for Pride by its president

Mr. Spee sets out in his column that in June of every year it is an exciting time for the organizers of Amsterdam Gay Pride. After the cold, dark winter they take stock of which LGBTQI business or organisation has survived and is willing to organise a party during the Pride. It is also the time that the applications for permits to organise the Pride and it’s many sub-events have to be finalized. In previous years it might have been a tight run to get everything ready, but this year the situation is more serious.

In Amsterdam there is a debate going on about the impact of tourism and festivals on life in the city. Especially people living in the old city centre complain about the noise, the dirt on the street, the number of people on the street and the impact of new developments like AirBnB on the neighborhood. The city council has reacted with an increase in regulations around festivals as noted by Lucien Spee. That means that the Amsterdam Pride has to spend more money on security, cleaning up public spaces and crowd control.

A specific issue is also, that specific activists living in the city centre tend to object against any application for a festival permit. Mr. Spee calls these people NIMBY’s, short for Not In My Back Yard people. These people haven’t been able to stop the Pride yet, but under their influence the rules fort he Pride organization have become stricter.

At the same time there is less (financial) support to carry the increased costs. There are less LGBTQI (friendly) business who can or will contribute to the Pride. The stories that companies are lining up to sponsor the Pride are according to Spee fairy tales according to Lucien Spee. And as an open (street) festival, the Amsterdam Gay Pride can not and will not ask for entrance fees for visitors to the various parties.

On the other hand Lucien Spee stresses the importance the city and many of it’s citizens and visitors attach to the Amsterdam Gay Pride. They set it on par with the iconic national holiday King’s Day. Despite this, the increasing costs and leveling or decreasing income put the future of the Amsterdam Gay Pride in peril.

It is a Pride, but not as we knew it

This development coincides with a debate going on within the Amsterdam and Dutch LGBTQI community about the Pride. We already reported earlier about the changing character. This has raised discomfort within the Amsterdam LGBTQI community. We share some of these feelings and opinions.

Is the Amsterdam Gay Pride too big? Is it too commercial? Why is it not more political? Has it become too straight? The focus of this debate is on the famous Canal Parade, where the limited number of places causes every year disappointment. Earlier this year a heated debate took place around the Canal Parade boat of the Dutch Lawyers. Some gay businessmen have rebelled against this situation. They  organized for the first time their own Canal Parade in Utrecht on June 17th.

On the other hand people within the LGBQI community feel also angry, because they feel that the NIMBY’s living in the city centre are taking away their Gay Pride. It feels like all these protest turn Amsterdam into a boring white straight peopled suburb. The free-spirited culture of Amsterdam seems to be under threat of rich city dwellers.

We think that a grown up and professional organization like the Amsterdam Gay Pride should be possible to cope with these changing financial pressures. After more than 20 years of organizational experience we would expect a more can-do attitude and action. The column by its’ president does not show this professionalism and self confidence we expect from this club.

Pride evolving to something new?

We wonder if this is a unique Amsterdam experience. Or is it a precursor of debates which might happen in other cities as well over the next few years? In San Fransisco the free spirited LGBTQI culture is under pressure as well because of the influx of rich ICT businessmen (and a few women). In Barcelona the citizens also revolt against the pressure of mass tourism on an old city centre and its’ communities. Or is Amsterdam turning into a situation like Venice in the 18th and 19th century? Glorious and subversive, but living of it’s fame as a free haven for sex and pleasure.

We think that the LGBTQI community is on a cross roads. The Pride started as a political and social liberation movement in the ‘70s. In the ‘90s and ‘00s it turned into a celebration of the freedom for LGBTQI people. Just at this time the Amsterdam Gay Pride was founded. The Amsterdam Gay Pride started as a present from the LGBTQI business tot the city. But the Amsterdam Gay Pride seems to have become too much a general event an lost its’ LGBTQI character. In reaction to that local alternatives have sprung up in The Netherlands, like prides in Alkmaar and Utrecht. They are new addition to the older Dutch tradition of the Roze Zaterdag (Pink Saturday).

With the growth of extremism and conservatism in Western society it might be time to go back to political roots of the Pride. That can be a smaller and more outspoken event. Maybe we should start organizing more creative or disruptive events. What about a Transgender Flash Mob? Or a Lesbian sit in? In other words: less consumerism and more activism. What do you think?