Lawyers in a fight over Canal Parade boat Report from the frontline of LGBTQI liberation

Recently the list of participating boats of the Canal Parade of 2017 was announced. As every year there are winners and losers. There are after all more applicants for the number of available places in the Parade. It has led to a debate about the character of the Canal Parade. Should it be predominantly be a LGBTQ parade or an  inclusive one, with many straight allies on the boats as well?

No less than the lawyers took to the forefront of this debate. Two letters were published in the local newspaper and a twitter feud with the gloves off followed. Our report of a fierce fight in the media.

The first blow

It started with an op-ed (in Dutch) by two gay lawyers (Mark-Jan Bouwmans and Sidney Smeets) in the local newspaper Het Parool. In it they stated that the boat of legal professionals (lawyers, judges and the likes all on the boat titled Legally Gay) were only participating for a second time in the Canal Parade to have a front row seat at the best party of the year. It was a boat full of straight people have a free drink and trip. While most of these people hadn’t shown any activity during the rest of the year standing up for LGBTQ people.

Bouwmans and Smeets  wrote it felt like they were barging in on our party and taking it over, without any regards for why there is a Pride and why it is important for the LGBTQ community. And this was for these two lawyers symptomatic for the Amsterdam Pride in general and the Canal Parade in particular. This event seems to have become a ghost of what formerly was an important public statement of diversity, liberation and rights for minorities.

The counter punch

Within 2 days a counter op-ed was published in the same newspaper (in Dutch), written by one of the organizer of the Legally Gay boat Veerle Hammerstein. She basically says that Bouwmans and Smeets are whining. Why should you have to be gay, lesbian or transgender to get on one of the boats and put LGBTQI rights in the spotlight? She praises the Amsterdam Pride organization for not checking the number of LGBTQI boat and having an open attitude towards who participates during the Canal Parade.

Ms Hammerstein draws the parallel with the yearly Liberation Day celebrations in The Netherlands. On the 5th of May each year the end of the Second World War is celebrated in The Netherlands with big open air parties around the country. Hammerstein points out that luckily the majority of people celebrating liberty and freedom on that day have never experienced occupation and oppression. Isn’t that also the case for the Canal Parade? Isn’t it great that also people who have never experienced anti-LGBTQI bullying are standing up for LGBTQI rights?

All out war on Twitter

After these first two blows, it was all out war on Twitter. Several younger and something older LGBTQI activist went all out on Ms. Hammerstein. Why was she explaining as a straight woman to LGBTQI people what pride and diversity is all about. This Twitter feud was almost completely in Dutch. So we give a short recap here with some examples of the most poignant reactions.

@iblameTomas wrote a longer and thoughtful reaction were he reminded that it is LGBTQI people who are on the receiving end of bigotry and violence. So when there is one group who have the right to stand up and celebrate their love and identity on a Pride it is this group. He compared the reaction of Ms. Hammerstein to the #alllivesmatter reaction towards the #blacklivesmatter movement.

@pieter020 commented that the article of Ms. Hammerstein sounded like LGBTQI people were like accessories for cisgender during Amsterdam Pride and keep their mouths shut.

At one point someone accused the straight lawyers of straightsplaining, a new expression meaning something like mansplaining. In the end mister Smeets closed of his contribution in het debate by saying, that if cisgender people think they can support  LGBTQI rights by once a year having a party on a boat there was nothing for him anymore to say.

Our take on the debate

We followed this debat with interest. In our WhatsApp group we reflected on what was happening. We saw parallels with gay bars and nightclubs, which became so popular in the past that straight people took them over. The gay men and lesbian women felt also then that straight people took away the safe place from them. In some cases those bars and clubs tried to carry out a LGBTQI only door policy. De Trut in Amsterdam is one example of one of those places.

Also in our cases the affiliation and sympathy for the Amsterdam Pride has waned over the years. The boats have become less explicitly gay or lesbian and statements of a sexual of political nature have been sanitized. Some within our group avoid the Canal Parade for that reason.

It is good that Smeets and Bouwmans started this debate and that others on twitter made their unease, frustration and anger heard. It may be the start of a next stage in Pride celebrations: more a clearly LGBTQI event, while still being open and inclusive.