AMSTERDAM (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of gay rights supporters thronged Amsterdam’s canals for the city’s annual boat float parade, a party marking the high point of Gay Pride week.
The event features gay, lesbian and transgender people, many of them scantily-clad, dancing to music on elaborate boat-floats with onlookers cheering them on.
This year, Dutch homosexuals of Turkish ancestry had their own float, a first. One massive muscle-bound man on the boat swung a big black sign reading “Turkish, Dutch, Netherlander and Proud.”
The ancient Westerkerk — the church with bells that once comforted Anne Frank while she was in hiding from the Nazis — has been draped in the rainbow flag that has become a symbol of tolerance and the gay rights movement.
“The first boats have entered the Prinses’ canal” Amsterdam police said on their official Twitter feed.
Actual homosexual police in uniform joined countless imitators — many with cliche fake mustaches, handcuffs and leather hats — with their own boat.
There were several “Lez-boats,” including one sponsored by Playboy. A royal-themed boat sailed along to the sounds of — what else — Swedish pop group ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”
Fittingly, the local water utility’s boat entered the canal route during the only cloudburst during a mostly sunny day. Men and women on the boat took full advantage, dancing joyfully in the downpour.
The boat parade is primarily an exuberant party, one of the biggest festivals of the year in Amsterdam, but the week’s program also retains serious elements.
Dutch people overwhelmingly support equal rights for gays, and the country became the world’s first to fully sanction gay marriages in April 2001.
But one area of discontent is tied to immigrant populations, who often come from parts of the world less open to homosexuality.
When immigrant youths commit violence against homosexuals, it often becomes a media sensation in the local press, exacerbating tensions between native Dutch and immigrant communities.
As part of the country’s decade-long crackdown on immigration, prospective immigrants are now forced to watch films showing them everyday images of Dutch life — including not only windmills, bikes and tulips, but also women bathing topless on beaches and men kissing in public.
On Thursday, gay groups held a “tears of pride” march through a mostly-immigrant neighborhood in the West of the city known as “De Baarsjes” before draping the flag over the Westerkerk.
No float Saturday made reference to the Chick-fil-A controversy ongoing in the United States, which has scarcely registered in the Dutch press.
The fast-food chain president’s opposition to gay marriage has set off two markedly different reactions in the U.S.: supporters flocking to the restaurants to show their support and gay rights activists kissing at Chick-fil-A stores across the country.
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