The History of Pride Amsterdam

The History of Pride Amsterdam

While Amsterdam Pride might look and feel a little different this year, the implications of coronavirus do not in any way diminish the impact and importance of Pride in the Dutch capital. Normally marked by a week’s worth of music, dancing, talks, and (of course) the remarkable canal parade, Pride paints Amsterdam rainbow, with everyone going out to celebrate the power of love, and work to make the changes that still need to happen here in the Netherlands and internationally. 

Pride Amsterdam is one of the highlights of the yearly event calendar, but where did it all begin? As the event is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2021, let’s take a walk through history, and see how the pride celebrations we know and love today started.

Pride around the world

Pride parades in most cities are used to mark the Stonewall riots of the 1960s. On June 28, 1969, members of the LGBTQ+ community rioted in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York. On the one year anniversary in 1970, and every year since then, the Stonewall riots have been commemorated in New York and several other cities with Pride marches. These marches paved the way for parades fighting for gay liberation and freedom across the US, and the rest of the world.

Pink Saturday 

However, in the Netherlands, it is a little different. Here, the Stonewall riots are commemorated by what is known as Pink Saturday.

There were gay rights demonstrations in 1969 and 1970 in the Netherlands, but at the time, the Dutch gay rights organisation COC didn’t want to organise an official Gay Pride like may cities in the US had. The COC saw gay people as normal beings, and so didn’t see the need for demonstrations. 

The organisation changed its pride policy in the late 1970s though, and hosted their first Gay Liberation and Solidarity Day, or Gay Pride Day, in Amsterdam on June 25, 1977. After two years, the event was rebranded as Pink Saturday. 

Held on the last Saturday of the month of June, Pink Saturday travels around the country and is hosted by a different Dutch city every year. This year, the event is set to be held in Leeuwarden. 

Pride Amsterdam

As time passed, members of the LGBTQ+ community felt that Amsterdam’s status as a trailblazing gay city was starting so slip, so they wanted to do something about it. That’s when a group of people from the bar Havana on the Reguliersdwarsstraat came up with the idea for a new event: Pride Amsterdam!

The first edition of Pride Amsterdam as we know it was held on the first weekend of August in 1996. Pride Amsterdam differed from Pink Saturday and most other Pride events around the world, as its focus was purely to celebrate freedom and diversity in Amsterdam, and didn’t serve as a political demonstration for equal rights. 

So since 1996, there have been two pride events in the Netherlands every year. While Pride Amsterdam may not serve the same purpose of commemorating the Stonewell riots as other Pride events do, the sheer scale of the celebrations (and the fact that the event is always hosted in the Dutch capital) has resulted in Pride Amsterdam becoming the main Dutch Gay Pride.

During Pride week in the first week of August, parties pop up all across the city, with the Reguliersdwarsstraat right at the centre of it all. Pride Amsterdam also recently introduced a Pride Walk to demonstrate against anti-gay violence both locally and internationally. 

In 2016, for the 20th anniversary of the first Pride Amsterdam, the event was bigger than ever, spanning across the first two weeks of August. 2016 also saw Amsterdam host Euro-Pride, a pan-European event dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights and culture.

Canal parade

Amsterdam Pride is the only capital city in the world that features a pride parade on water! Instead of the usual march with floats and groups of people walking through the streets of a city, Amsterdam’s parade travels a route through the city’s famous historic centre along its canals

The canal parade has been a key part of Pride since the first one in 1996. Back then, there were a number of boats participating, including ones manned and decorated by popular gay entertainment venues on the Reguliersdwarsstraat. 

Now, though, the parade is much bigger, lasting approximately four hours and setting off from the Oosterdok, travelling via the Nieuwe Herengracht, Amstel, Prinsengracht, and around to the Westerdok. Each year, the parade features around 80 boats with onboard DJs and funky dance routines, representing everything from small LGBTQ+ foundations to multinational organisations and Dutch political parties. Since 2006, the parade has also had a yearly theme, with 2019’s being “Remember the past, create the future."

The parade isn’t quite as scandalous as it used to be, and there isn’t as much nudity now as one might have seen on some of the boats 15 or 20 years ago. But the parade never fails to impress, and annually draws more than 400.000 visitors into the heart of the city to take part and enjoy the fun.

Video by Pride Amsterdam.

LGBTQ+ rights in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is very proud of its LGBTQ+ history, and that history stretches quite far back. Way back in 1811, homosexuality was decriminalised in Amsterdam under Napoleonic law. Then, around 100 years later, one of the world’s first openly gay bars, The Empire, opened in the Dutch capital. Discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community has also been illegal since 1983.

The Homomonument in Amsterdam, unveiled in 1987, was the first monument in the world to pay tribute to the many gay and lesbian people who lost their lives during the Second World War, and it commemorates all who are oppressed or prosecuted because of their sexuality. 

And, in a huge historical step towards global equality, the Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage. On April 1, 2001, the first four same-sex couples were married in Amsterdam by the city mayor at the time, Job Cohen. The legalisation of same-sex marriage was accompanied by a new law that also allowed same-sex couples to adopt children

The future of Pride Amsterdam

Coronavirus means that many of the traditional parties and events planned are not able to take place in 2021. But organisers have made sure that there are still a number of ways to celebrate Pride Amsterdam, with exhibitions, walking tours, and daily television broadcasts, just to name a few.

And in 2022, Pride Amsterdam will (hopefully) be back. Bigger and better than ever before - can't wait to see what's in store!

What's your favourite bit of Pride Amsterdam? And what will you miss the most this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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