Cheerful tunes carry from the canal onto the quay where Leiden's first Canal Pride Parade is in full swing. The proud crew of the decked-out boats lovingly embrace each other and exuberantly dressed drag queens whip up the spectators along the canal side. More than 25 thousand visitors have gathered in the heart of Leiden on this sunny Saturday to celebrate love and tolerance together.
‘It's the first time I see Pride being celebrated in Leiden and I love it,’ says Brazilian international relations student Thalya Franquini. ‘The vibe is amazing!’
Further down by the Catharina bridge, international student Max is looking on somewhat perplexed. ‘I was just over there carrying my home-made banner with the slogan “FUCK THE CIS-TEM”,’ he says. ‘Police officers kept addressing me on this because, according to them, this makes me a protester. My ID was confiscated and my name recorded.’
Since then, he is only allowed to look on from within a yellow-bordered area and is surrounded by police. Max does not understand: ‘So many people bring banners to Pride.’
Literally pushed into a corner, he stands among some 40 activists who did deliberately come here to protest. This is because there is division within the Leiden LGBTI community regarding Pride (see box).
Members of the so-called Queer Pride March Leiden are opposed to “pinkwashing” and police presence. According to them, Pride has turned into ‘a PR event for corporations instead of a protest for self-expression and solidarity’, they informed in advance in an online statement.
Student Coco (‘not my real name, because we still receive a lot of hate and would therefore like to remain anonymous’) explains: ‘We want to voice opposition to rainbow capitalism and show that Pride is about more than just partying.’
In order to communicate that message, the group wanted to put up a banner with the slogans “Kleurrijk, niet stinkend rijk” (Rich in colour, not filthy rich) and “Rainbow capitalism doesn’t float my boat’. However, they did not get the chance to do so. ‘While unfurling the banner, we were surrounded by police almost immediately’, Coco sighs. ‘They started tugging on the banner, and on us, right away.’
The police then proceeded to try and move the group off the bridge. When this did not happen fast enough, the officers drew their batons and used them to push and hit people, says Coco. ‘We couldn’t get off the bridge any faster because of the crowd around us. In addition to getting scared stiff, many of us suffered bruises, scratches and wounds.’
Then the situation escalated.
Suddenly, a transgender activist was singled out from the group by the police, forcefully pushed to the ground and arrested. ‘This guy just got the shit beaten out of him,’ comments a bystander who filmed the incident and would later post it online. According to Coco, the arrested activist did nothing wrong. A police spokesperson later revealed that the activist was arrested for ‘insulting an officer’.
Footage taken by protesters also shows an officer losing control. ‘He just jumped out of the police line and started beating away at one of us’, says Coco. ‘I can’t get that image out of my head. His own colleagues had to pull him back.’
‘ENJOY THE PARTY’
Once all activists are driven into their designated section, it is still impossible for them to make speeches and chant slogans. ‘Our megaphone was taken away’, says protester Ben Terwel.
When a bystander shouts at the protesters to stop because he ‘just wants to enjoy the party’ and one of the protesters responds, that person is also dragged out of the group, thrown to the ground and held in a choke-hold.
‘'What has happened today perfectly illustrates why we want to protest against police presence at Pride’, Terwel concludes, after the activist has been taken away with his clothes torn and hands cuffed.
‘NO MAJOR INCIDENTS’
According to the police spokesperson, the reason for the arrest was ‘assault on an officer’ and other than that, the event proceeded ‘without major incidents’. The mayor’s spokesperson concurs. ‘Leiden facilitates freedom of speech and demonstration. The measures taken for Leiden Pride were aimed at ensuring safety for visitors and protesters.’
The question the protesters are asking is: what is unsafe about unfurling a banner?
‘Under whose command and under what legislation were we knocked off the bridge?’ wonders Coco. ‘No emergency order was issued for Catharina bridge.’
Earlier that day, however, an emergency order had been in place on Nieuwstraat, where FvD MP Gideon van Meijeren protested against drag queen Dina Diamond holding a reading hour for children at the BplusC public library.
The same group of LGBTI protesters had been present there to express support for the event. Van Meijeren and his supporters were allowed to stand within view and earshot of visitors on Burchtplein, while the counter-demonstrators were made to stand behind Hooglandse Kerk.
Early in the evening, when the very last boat has passed under the bridge, the protesters are still not allowed to leave. ‘Before they let us go, we have to promise that we will not protest again today and we have to put away our flags and banners’, says Coco. ‘We’re also asked to identify individuals who we think might still protest.’
The protesters eventually agree to the first demand, but not to the second.
‘This colourful day that should have been for us too has turned into a black day’, mourns Coco, when she is finally allowed to leave after standing in the yellow square for two hours. ‘The way so many of our rights were violated is a slap in the face to the LGBTI community.’
This is not the first time that there has been disagreement between various LGBTI organisations about Canal Pride Leiden.
Lorenzo van Beek, chairman of the Canal Pride Leiden Foundation, has no problem with Queer Pride March Leiden activists complaining about “pinkwashing” and police presence at the event. ‘I understand what they’re doing.’
Debbie Helaha, chair of COC Leiden, concurs. ‘I don’t want to dismiss concerns about the commercialisation of Pride. Every movement has a counter-movement; that’s how change is brought about.’
However, Van Beek and Helaha do regret that the activists did not seek dialogue beforehand. ‘Surely we’re better off walking hand in hand’, Van Beek thinks. ‘In the end, we’re all fighting for the same rights.’
In 2021, Queer Pride March Leiden independently organised the first Pride March, which attracted around five hundred people. After that march, then still known as Queer Revolution Leiden, the municipality and other organisations wanted to brainstorm together about a larger Canal Pride involving the whole city.
The activists, however, felt there was no point in such a conversation. ‘Canal Pride may appear to be an inclusive event, but if you look closer, we’re not allowed to do anything except consume, dance, and laugh,’ says one of the founders of Queer Revolution Leiden, who wishes to remain anonymous. ‘Anything to do with self-empowerment is off limits.’
This also led to disagreement within the movement. After accusations of discrimination, a rift formed and part of the group decided to continue under the new name Queer Pride March Leiden.