What's going on in Amsterdam?
Fred and I were back in Amsterdam to catch the tail-end of We Are Amsterdam Pride, the centerpiece of which was the Canal Parade on the Saturday afternoon. It was a warm summers evening and we were home reasonably earlier so we took our bikes down to the centre to have a couple of beers at De Prik and Amstel Taveerne, where it was still busy.
There has been a lot of discussion about the current state of the self-proclaimed Gay Capital of Europe recently, centred around the increasing level of violence against gay people in Amsterdam. It appears that such incidents are not only becoming commoner but increasing levels of violence are being used. It turns out that an exceptionally large percentage of those being attacked are foreign tourists who have come to Amsterdam thinking that anything goes and that it is quite all right to walk down the street holding hands, for example. This used to be the case ten years ago, for example. What seems to be happening now is that local people realize that things have changed in Amsterdam and they have changed their behaviour, especially when they see a group of young lads, especially if they are Moroccans. The foreign tourists do not realize this and carry on as before with the result that they are the ones who are being beaten up. It is really very bad.
In the meantime the gay rights group COC is starting a number of initiatives to stimulate discussion of homosexuality amongst immigrant groups, where acceptance lags way behind that shown by ethnic Dutch. And, I am afraid to say, that it does seem to be mainly the Moroccans who are causing a lot of the problems, so much so that in many schools where there are many Moroccan children, gay teachers are becoming too afraid to be open about their sexuality, afraid of the reaction of the parents and afraid not to get enough support from the school leadership.
It seems a long time ago since we had the Gay Games in Amsterdam (it was nine years ago in 1998), where we had a wonderful Mayor, the recently deceased but highly amiable and respected Schelto Patijn. He opened the Games, even participated in the Games and kissed the people he presented medals to. For a week at least, Amsterdam was not only Gay Capital of Europe but also of the world, now it is in danger of becoming a backwater, resting on its previous reputation.
A good thing is that the government, through the Ministry of Justice is looking at ways to punish anti-gay violence, the COC saying yesterday that it should not only be the boy whose fist hit the victim but the group as a whole who participate in the violence which should be punished. It is also to be hoped that the Amsterdam City Council will also look ahrd at what they can do to turn things around. Banning street parties during Gay Pride in a couple of streets for fear of what some foreign (mainly English) football supporters might do, is not exactly the best way to start. And, in Job Cohen, we have a Mayor, who like his predecessor, Schelto Patijn, has his heart in the right place.