Get Real. Abroad: Rotterdam Pride

Image credits: Mr Theklan

Image credits: Mr Theklan

CW:transmisogynistic slurs, reclaimed lesbophobic slurs, q-slur

Rotterdam: the second- largest city and economic capital of the Netherlands, home to Europe’s second-largest port, European Capital of Culture in 2001, birthplace of Desiderius Erasmus, home of the third rainbow zebra crossing in the Netherlands, and most importantly, the scene of my first Pride from 24th-27th September 2015. With nearly a hundred Pride events in Europe each year in well-known queer hubs like Berlin, Barcelona and Copenhagen, Rotterdam probably isn’t the first place people think of if they fancy doing Pride abroad, but maybe it should be. 

The main celebrations began on the Friday, the opening feature being the Pride Walk from the town hall. It  was organised by The HangOut 010, an LGBT+ youth group in Rotterdam who  ran various open events throughout the weekend. Particularly special was that the members of this group are currently welcoming refugees from Russia, Lebanon and Ukraine, giving them places to stay, and had invited them to take part in the weekend’s events, including leading the march.  In the same vein, all of the rainbow flags (provided by a sponsor) have subsequently been sent to LGBT organisations in Russia, Ukraine and Romania, along with other donations.

Although we missed the march (poor timekeeping), we joined the aftermath at the end point, a stage right in the centre of town which would become a party central for the rest of the weekend. After an inauguration by the mayor (Burgemeester) of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Star Sisters took to the stage. This three-woman group is headed up by Patricia Paay, who is very much a “BN’er”- a Bekende Nederlander. Literally translated as a “well-known Dutch person”, it means she is famous in the Netherlands but nobody from the outside can understand why. Seemingly one had to have grown up in the Netherlands to really get it, but she sang camp classics and our dancing/shameless Public Displays of Affection got us on TV so we can’t complain!

Next stop was Wunderbar, one of Rotterdam’s coolest queer venues. In our perpetual disorganisation, we turned up too late to catch the showing of Swedish film She Male Snails (original title Pojktanten), the poetic self-portrait of transgender author and artist Eli Levin, told through bath-time leg-shaving conversations with a friend. The bar itself was still very swish though, and the tables had steering wheels and were attached to runners so you could kind of drive yourself up to next door’s table for a bit of gezelligheid, or pretend to be on dodgems and crash into the building-site-style fence separating the bar from the next door club, WORM. Said club provided a fabulous night until 5am, with an upstairs techno floor, a downstairs pop and hip-hop floor, and… and… a smoking room that had karaoke in it! We managed to belt out a good five songs despite periodically having to leave because breathing in a non-ventilated smoking room is nigh-on impossible. It was chilled yet hyped, and had no hints of the “is this an LGBT+ club or a gay male sex club?” vibe, just genuine fun of the LGBT+ variety.

The Saturday daytime offered all manner of fun, from the very Dutch bike tours exploring the Pink History of Rotterdam, or Love and Homosexuality in the Animal Kingdom, to Dutch BiCon (Bisexuality Convention; the UK one was in Nottingham this year), to pride yoga, pride bootcamp, and a whole square of stalls and stands with information and products. The evening’s options, included a women-only evening of food, music, poetry and literary readings hosted by the COC. COC Nederland is a fascinating organisation, supposedly the oldest official LGBT organisation in the world, founded in 1946, and still going by its one-time cover-up name “Cultuur en Ontspanningscentrum” (Centre for Culture and Leisure), which hid its real identity as an activist group for gay and lesbian social emancipation and a provider of culture and recreation for gay and lesbian people. Now it has expanded to welcome bisexual and transgender people, and works both domestically and internationally holding political lobbies, giving lessons at high schools, training support group leaders and providing venues where LGBT people can meet. The COC is also responsible for producing the gender-neutral toilet door stickers which are holographic and can be seen as a typical “male” or “female” symbol, or both, or something in between, or nothing, depending on the angle. Anyway, this is where we ended up as the token pair of (relatively) baby dykes staring wide-eyed at our foremothers. By that time the poetry and food was gone and the disco was in full swing, playing on the wedding-reception/40th birthday feel which was a recipe for an absolutely amazing time. It felt like everyone in the room knew each other by the end of the night, not least because they were a chatty bunch. But we also whizzed to Rotown (a well-known yet not particularly impressive venue) for a gig by SOAK., a 19-year-old Northern Irish singer-songwriter who plays multiple instruments, stopping off as part of her European tour. Hearing her for the first time indoors (usually I have caught her at festivals)  and getting to meet her afterwards left me positively giddy, and since she has been out since her early teens it felt all the more special that she was included in the Pride listings.

The night took one of those random turns when a friendly guy walked up to us to explain that he had arrived to a club with a female friend from Syria, but the particular event was too man-heavy, and we looked like we might know somewhere better. Next thing we knew, we were heading off with our new friend to Loud, a sweaty, heaving, haven of queer women. The crowd was young, generally, and looks were strong: much carefully-styled hair featuring a creative array of undercuts . The music could have been better but the crowd made up for it, and it was the first LGBT+ event I have ever been to which wasn’t dominated by white cis gay men; in fact, there may have been none there. The toilets were also excellent, separated not by gender but by “people who stand up to wee” and “people who sit down to wee”, and nobody batted an eyelid at who went in where.

Sadly Sunday was a day of sleeping and flying back to England, which meant missing out on more offerings including a showing of FIRE, a Bollywood film centred around a lesbian love story, arranged by a number of organisations including Femmes for Freedom, a group run by Muslim women who campaign against forced marriage. Also on the agenda was a trans café, a Church-lead event about being gay and Christian, and a roller derby contest featuring the Vagine Team, a group of queer roller derby folk.

So all in all, a jam-packed weekend of Dutch Delight. There were very few tourists, and so much variety in what was going and who was about, that the whole thing felt like a massive community effort capturing the essence of this under-appreciated city. You do have to be organised to make the most of scheduled events and maybe not go as hard as we did at night if you want to profit from the daytime, but Rotterdam is a wonderful city for celebrating Pride, and I’d recommend avoiding the tourists and forgetting Amsterdam in favour of something where you feel more like you are taking part than just attending.

Jas Rainbow (co-editor of Get Real.)

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