Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Dutch military leads the way in gay pride

Embracing a policy of “Do Tell,” the Dutch military joined Amsterdam’s annual Gay Pride parade for the first time this year, with uniformed men and women saluting the crowds from a boat chugging through a historic city canal.

A balloon-festooned barge bearing the standards of the service branches and sponsored by the Defence Ministry sailed among about 80 other floats, with music blaring from most of them and dancers dressed in flamboyant costumes — or very little at all.

The parade, watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the Prinsengracht canal, capped a weeklong festival of around 300 parties and events. It included the popular “Drag Queen Olympics” with contests like the stiletto race and the long-distance handbag toss.

US and British activists sailed with Dutch generals and other senior officers — some gay and others showing solidarity — among some 80 military and ministry civilian personnel.

Unlike the US military, gays have openly served in Dutch units since 1974, and for 25 years have had a department within the ministry that minds their interests, the Foundation for Homosexuals in the Armed Forces.

“Huge step forward’
Still, gay servicemen say having their own presentation in the famed floating parade marked “a huge step forward” in a country already noted for sexual equality.

The foundation had been denied permission for several years to join the event, although in the last two years soldiers were allowed to participate in military dress on other boats. “The political leaders thought it was not appropriate to wear a uniform at this kind of parade,” said army Major Peter Kees Hamstra, a foundation spokesperson.

“This shows everyone that the climate is changing,” he said.

Hamstra said 6% to 8% of the Dutch military are gay or lesbian — about the same as in the general population.

“It’s so amazing to be here. This country got it right,” said former US Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, who was discharged last year after violating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Choi applied to re-enlist after President Barack Obama signed a law last month repealing the ban.

“I intend to go back to the army, in whatever capacity they most need,” he said. But he’d like to be in the army reserve so that he can continue developing his new role as a gay-rights activist.

A West Point graduate and fluent in Arabic, Choi served in Iraq as a translator before acknowledging in a television interview that he is gay.

Britain
Also invited was British naval officer Lieutenant Commander Mandy McBain, a human resources specialist who as a closeted junior officer had to process the papers of soldiers being dismissed because of their sexual orientation. Britain lifted the ban on gays in the military in 2000.

Despite its reputation for sexual liberation, harassment of gays inside and outside the military exists, and may have increased in recent years with more clashes reported.

“There are some macho units” in the Dutch military, said Hamstra. Women also are excluded from some units.

But Choi said, “The Dutch have been leaders, and Americans look up to that,” while the US military remains saddled with discriminatory policies.

Even after the recent legislation, “people will still be treated unfairly in the military. They just cannot get fired for being gay,” he said.

He faulted Obama for deleting nondiscrimination language to win passage of the bill.

“He’s not seeing gay people as legitimate and a recognized minority,” Choi said. Gay soldiers have no family benefits for partners, nor can they use normal channels to complain of harassment, he said. — AP

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Life Esidimeni inquest postponed until August 30

The lawyer for the bereaved families argued that Dr Makgabo Manamela’s requests for postponements have a negative impact on the families of the deceased who seek closure

RECAP: Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

More top stories

In South Africa, only 5% of chief executives are women

Only 5% of chief executives are women and the gender pay gap is most pronounced in the top JSE-listed companies, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers...

How to apply for the Covid-19 R350 grant

Asylum seekers with valid permits and caregivers will now also be allowed to apply for the reinstituted social relief of distress grant

Long arm of the riots still affecting health sector

The tumult in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has forced people to go without chronic medication and check-ups, caused shortages at the blood bank and disruptions in the vaccine roll out

Deadly result as state forces seize ‘loot’ in Durban

In Madlala, the police and army broke into homes in an operation to retrieve stolen goods. After they left, a woman lay dead in a pool of her blood behind a shack
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×