Report: EuroPride 2016 in Amsterdam
From 23 July until 7 August, the City of Amsterdam celebrated Europride. The chosen theme was “Join our Freedom”, a theme that could easily resonate with those of a Christian background. Europride has seen quite a large number of religious activities, not only from a Christian point of view (see flyer). The European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups was partly responsible for the Rainbow Celebration with which Europride opened on Saturday 23 July.
Europride Flag Action
Preparations for Europride had already begun in the Summer of 2015 by setting up a special flag action inviting churches in and around Amsterdam to unfurl rainbow flags during Europride and to collect money for three giant rainbow flags (25 × 4 m²). One of these flags was to play a special role during Europride, a second flag would be handed over to local groups organizing rainbow celebrations on Pink Saturday (the Dutch version of Christopher Street Day), and the third flag was meant to travel throughout Europe, being used at Rainbow Celebrations during Europride/WorldPride. Crowdfunding started on Sunday, 3 April 2016 in a protestant community in the west of Amsterdam that carries the name “Rainbow community”. On the same day, the organizers of the Flag Action Berendien Bos and Wielie Elhorst (and others) were invited to talk about LGBT emancipation and social acceptance in the Dutch churches on national television (Dutch). The flag action lasted two months during which 6,000 euros were raised, with about 150 people and a few trusts donating their contributions. More than half of all twenty churches belonging to the Protestant Church Amsterdam decided to unfurl the rainbow flag and also churches of a few other (more progressive) denominations participated. One of the more conservative churches of the Protestant Church Amsterdam did not use a rainbow flag, but made a special rainbow banner making clear that all are welcome in their church. A Roman Catholic parish in Amsterdam undertook some action, which also needs to be mentioned here. This church also made a rainbow banner, featuring Pope Francis accepting a book on the square in front of Saint Peter in Rome with sermons given by Father Jan van Kilsdonk especially for people dying of AIDS in the eighties and nineties of the last century. The Flag Action was very succesful. The aim was to have as many rainbow flags as possible from Amsterdam churches in order to demonstrate to the participants of Europride that the churches also welcome them to celebrate Europride, in spite of some differences of opinion. The Italian choir taking part in the LGBT Choir Festival AmaSing in the Royal Concert Hall on Friday, 5 August made special mention of the hope they had experienced seeing rainbow flags even on churches. And messages about the flag action went as far as Australia.
Europride opened on Saturday, 23 July with a Rainbow Celebration, co-organized by the European Forum, LKP—the umbrella organization of the Dutch Christian LGBT movement—, and the Protestant Church of Amsterdam. The Celebration took place in the Open Air Theatre of the Vondelpark of Amsterdam, the centre of all activities on that Pink Saturday. In June 2017, Rev. Wielie Elhorst was ordained as an LGBT minister for the Church of Amsterdam and he hosted the Rainbow Celebration. The Celebration was centred on the theme “Freedom and fear” from the perspective of the story of Jericho (Joshua 6:1–25). What walls are we upholding concealing our fear and how can we break them down from the outside in and from the inside out? How can we be free from fear and reach our Promised Land? The theme was conceptualized through music, drama, and in interaction with the 250 people in the audience. The centerpiece of the celebration was an interview with Krzsystof Charamsa, the priest working for the Congregation of Faith in the Vatican, who was suspended when he came out as a gay man in a relationship during the Family Synod of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome in October 2015. He shared his personal story of liberation with the audience in an interview by Rev. Ferdinand Borger, the producer of the Celebration. During the singing of the closing song, one of the three giant flags acquired from the Europride Flag Action was unfurled over the heads of the audience, an emotional and touching moment for many present. Among those present were Rev. Karin van de Broeke, president of the Protestant Church in The Netherlands, and Jan-Bert Vroege, a city council member of D66 (LibDems).
The rainbow flag that had been unfurled over the heads of the audience at the Rainbow Celebration had a final role to play during the Pride Walk in the early evening of Saturday, 23 July. The Pride Walk attracted about 13,000 people walking from the Vondelpark to Damplein, the square in the center of Amsterdam. The Pride Walk especially wanted to draw attention to all those countries around the world that still uphold laws criminalising sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTIs of faith marched with their rainbow flag headed by the group organizing the World Religion Boat in the Canal Parade on Saturday, 6 August and by Krzsystof Charamsa, Wielie Elhorst (European Forum), Berendien Bos (Europride Flag Action), Heleen de Boer, and Kees Goedegebuur (LKP).
Europride 2016 was of great importance to the visibilty of LGBTI people of faith and to their commitment to work for full and equal participation both in church and in society. The appreciation of their presence was quite clear, especially when the World Religion Boat (organized by Rev. Barbara Rogoski of the MCC Internationale Roze Kerk) won first prize in the category of boats best representing the theme of Europride: “Join our Freedom”. LGBTI people of faith are very good in understanding what freedom means as their “captivity” has known different faces and a lot of fear and anxiety had to be conquered in their personal lives. They therefore are among the best advocates of freedom that both the LGBTI movement and religions and communities of faith can have.