This is a story about my personal experience. I would like to make a navelgazing-disclaimer, because i know my story can never represent a whole group and i am claiming a space that is meant for more than just me. But i do think there’s a value in sharing personal stories as a start for conversations about shared experiences, values and meaning. I also think the latter is the core of a movement.
I was born and raised in Rotterdam, and i never learned to be proud. (because that’s not a very ‘Rotterdam’ thing to learn..) Until that one moment, at least. That moment, when i marched at ‘de Lijnbaan’ with my community--i learned how it feels to be fucking proud!
It was September 2015, not more than a month after my partner-in-crime and I told the organization of Rotterdam Pride that we thought the core of a Pride should be a march, a demonstration. The director of Pride said to us: Ok, maybe you’re right, go for it!
And so we did. We created a Facebook event and invited everyone we knew. I didn’t really expect a lot of people to show up, and i was bloody nervous about the safety of us all, but those realisations came up too late.
So at the friday afternoon of Pride Walk 2015, i cycled to the city council with my orange megaphone and a pink wig, expecting a little cute gathering. 300 people came.
This is what it looked like:
We claimed the streets alright! With not much more than our bodies, a brass band and a whole lot of Hang-Out spirit.
-We didn’t get any funds. We didn’t spend any money. -
After this, all cliches happened. Because the march was such a success, Rotterdam Pride took over and made it into something i think goes against everything it should be. They told me about KPN as a sponsor. I told them a big multinational could never be a sponsor of a political march. (if you don’t know why, read along or read more) I also told them we didn’t need a lot of money. I told them about funds I researched and we could get. But they went along with KPN and made the march into an event, with a stage and a VIP-tent. I did what i could by speeching about the importance of visibility of diversity not only for the masses, but even more for the young LGBT+kids out there who think they’re alone. I tried to get everyone into the VIP tent, and me and my friends dragged the pink elderly to the front of the march. The Hang-Out kids danced their asses off, like they always do. I was very proud again, but something was missing. We lost something. We didn’t get it our way, but we were forced into a structure of others, and our message got lost in skipping the political, critical stuff and heading directly to the ‘fun’ part of pride.
Now it’s time to claim the missing part back
In Rotterdam we are still figuring out if we can even be proud at all. Is Rotterdam Pride-worthy? And what should that pride look like?
Rotterdam has no policy when it comes to refugees, Rotterdam thinks all people in welfare are scum who don’t want to work, Rotterdam takes non-violent demonstrators to prison, Rotterdam does racial profiling, Rotterdam blames Islam for all crimes, Rotterdam is governed by fascists claiming they are the norm, Rotterdam bans people from their houses to welcome the richer ...i could go on for ages.
But, also: Rotterdam is the most cultural diverse city in the Netherlands, Rotterdam has all those people living together pretty peacefully every day, Rotterdam is honest, Rotterdam has a real skyline, Rotterdam is the beautiful underdog, Rotterdam has a superlovely LGBT+community (with the best queerparty, of course :)), Rotterdam is unpredictable, Rotterdam loves itself without arrogance, ….etc.
I love my city. I believe that this city made me who i am today and all the events i organize are made because of this city. I feel The Hang-Out 010 is one of the best examples of the thing i love so much here: it wasn’t an initiative constructed from abstract ideas and plans. It happened as we went along. We just started, and we invited everyone who was willing to support in any way. The first editions of the Rotterdam Pride happened the same way. It was amateuristic, it was messy, you had to pay attention to find it, and by the time you found it, it was already almost over--but we got people together and we made a difference, especially for each other. That’s my Rotterdam.
--Niet lullen, maar poetsen. We don’t need a lot of money for that.--
KPN- voel je vrij (feel free) --- The slogan of Pride Walk’s sponsor is so ironic, Alanis wouldn’t know how to deal with it. Are they aware of this? Do they know how right-wing Rotterdam politicians are spreading hate speech since decades already? Do they know they are advocating a freedom based on wealth and privilege? Are they aware of the fact that a lot of transgender people don’t feel free, no matter how many MB’s they get? Don’t they see how excluding and disrespectful such a slogan is? Do they really think money can buy freedom? Are they really that stupid??
I am afraid not. I am afraid they are just very smart in PR-strategies. The stupid ones are Rotterdam Pride, thinking this is the way to organize a Pride. Thinking a pride should be about ‘building bridges’ and ‘minding the gap’ between the community and corporations, between straight people in power and oppressed LGBT+people.
No, Rotterdam Pride. A pride is about safer spaces, about community, about sharing experiences, about finding each other within the safety of a pride-environment. That safety can not be held if you invite the oppressor! There is still so much violence and (micro)aggression towards minorities. Let’s hear them out first, before we ask them to be friendly with the aggressors.
Rotterdam Pride, this is your wake up call -- not sponsored by KPN.
The people from We Reclaim Our Pride, a Dutch queer collective which focuses on giving Prides back to the community, have formed a group in Rotterdam to take back the Pride Walk and turn it back into the political march/demonstration it is supposed to be. We will be joining the walk armed with banners, flyers and statements raising questions about the content, purpose and value of Pride.
I hope this will be the start of good talks and critical reflection, a re-defining of what Rotterdam Pride, and especially a Pride Walk, is. And more important: i hope we get to show the kids of Rotterdam that there’s a community waiting for them that looks hopeful, warm and relatable, but is also ready to stand up and fight for each other in solidarity. A community always ready to dance, but not before we stand united against pinkwashing, racism, discrimination, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, hatespeech, fascism, and all the other things nowadays so common in our shared experiences.
We need you! Want to join? Let us know: https://www.facebook.com/wereclaimourpride/
Manon la Decadence studied Humanistics but is better know as a genderclown, hosting safer spaces in Rotterdam with their GenderBendingQueerParty and Get a Room! at WORM, and talks and support groups at The Hang-Out 010 and Adem Inn.