Amsterdam Pride 2014 — A Flamboyant First For Jewish LGBT Community

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During the last couple of months it’s been a challenge (to say the very least) to hold my head high and stand tall, and it was with a heavy heart that I found myself heading off to Amsterdam Pride, where I was hoping to turn down the volume on the Anti-Semitic rhetoric that lately reared its horrible and ugly head across the globe as a result of the Gaza conflict.

At times like this it is hard to be a Jew in the diaspora (out of Israel). So with my heart and thoughts in Israel, I arrived in Amsterdam where I joined Exodays, Amsterdam’s Jewish LGBT group, and Gideon Querido van Frank, President of Exodays, at a reception welcoming the JLGBT community to the city and the Pride celebrations.

The bustling reception was held in an art gallery that once was used to hide stowaway Jews during the Holocaust. I felt privileged to be in a place that once played a pivotal part in our survival and to be among people where I was able to celebrate my Jewish and Queer identity openly and simultaneously. I felt supported and had a strong sense of safety and belonging when Gideon reminded us of EXODAYS’ mission:

“Exodays believes that sexual diversity and Jewishness go hand in hand. Throughout history, Amsterdam has been a city where Jews took refuge, escaping oppression and experiencing freedom. For centuries Jews have contributed to the rich history of Amsterdam, often called the Jerusalem of the North Long before gay rights were considered human rights, Amsterdam was a free haven for sexual and gender minorities. LGBTQs from all over the world came to Amsterdam to experience freedom. For a long time Amsterdam has been called the Gay Capital of the World. Jews have played leading roles in this process and marked its landscape.”

On Saturday, the streets of Amsterdam started filling up with Pride supporters from early on and it was heart-warming to see how many people made an effort to dress up in splendid attire despite the fact that most of the city partied hard till the early hours. I was joined by long-time friends from London on EXODAYS’ Jewish Boat. It was a flamboyant first time that a Jewish boat floated in the Amsterdam Pride Canal Fest, with my fellow passengers including celebrity guest of honour, Israeli transgender superstar Dana International, a rabbi and revelers in biblically themed costumes.

Dana International alone made a massive impression on me and being in he company took me back to when I went with a group of Jewish LGBT friends, aged 21/22, to see her perform her original song ‘Diva La Diva’ at the G.A.Y club, in central London. She certainly added a degree of high glamour and made a powerful and much-needed statement of resilience. There is no doubt that she represents a new generation of LGBT Jews who are out and proud, ready to show the world who they are and what they want. She brought a beautiful energy and presence with her and I couldn’t help but to feel quite emotional when I witnessed the support for Jewish LGBT people and Israel alike as people waved Israeli flags and cheered us as we passed them by on the canal… especially since the Jewish boat was the only one in the parade isolated by police. Two boats with three officers each escorted our vessel, while two additional agents sailed aboard the Jewish boat itself. With increased violence aimed at Jews of late in the Netherlands and across Europe, authorities were clearly not prepared to take any chances.

Later, in an interview, EXODAYS organiser Gideon Querido van Frank (dressed as a Bronze Age soldier  laced with glitter) said: “We’d planned this just to show that we [gay Jews]exist as a community but with all that’s happened, I’m now here to stand up for our rights also as Jews to live as equals without threats by those who want to see Jews or gays silent or dead.”

On Sunday morning, I woke up with a blurry head from the night before after being up until 4am… if there is one thing the Amsterdam LGBT community definitely knows how to do, then it is to throw an excellent Pride after party. Nonetheless, I still joined my Jewish LGBT brothers and sisters at the Amsterdam Jewish Museum… an experience that always evokes difficult feelings and reflections on how my family was directly affected by the Holocaust.

This time around, being at the Jewish Museum, served as a poignant reminder that while it seems that the world has forgotten we, our community, must never forget and we must find strength and hope in the fact that we can survive almost anything.

Finally, after spending the last few days with old friends in Amsterdam and as I returned to the realities of my life in London, I reflect with gratitude on my Amsterdam Pride experience. Gideon of EXODAYS and the board and their sponsors presented us with an itinerary that brought together the most important elements of our Jewish LGBT identity: culture, history and celebration… and without knowing it they also gave me a much-needed break, offering a supportive and all-embracing environment at a time when I really needed to reconnect with Jewish and LGBT roots.

The truth is, we can’t close our eyes and pretend there are no problems in terms of equality any longer, as the Holocaust reminds us the last time the Jews and the gays were targeted, nobody said anything. However, standing tall at Pride as a Jewish LGBT person is us saying something, out loud and proud, to the rest of the world.

Exodays

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About Author

Joel is a qualified counsellor and psycho-therapeutic supervisor working with both youth and adult clients. He has worked in the LGBT community for over 14 years working in the fields of health, social care and youth work. This has included working in HIV prevention and supporting adults and young people who are living with HIV. Since 1999, Joel has delivered training and workshops in the voluntary and statutory sectors around the themes of sexuality, homophobia and sexual health.

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