AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands — Uniformed Members of the Dutch defense forces participated in Amsterdam’s annual Gay Pride flotilla parade Saturday, on the city’s historic Prinsengracht canal, for the first time since openly gay service in the Dutch forces was legalized in 1974.
The colorful balloon-festooned barge flying the flags from the several branches of the Dutch military and sponsored by the Dutch Defense Ministry, sailed by the hundreds of thousands of spectators that lined the canal.
Along with the men and women saluting the enthusiastic crowds, was American Gay Activist Dan Choi, a former U.S. Army officer discharged under the U.S. Defense Departments now repealed “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” policy, and an officer from the British Royal Navy, Lieutenant Commander Mandy McBain, who faced dismissal 10 years ago when she was reported and investigated for being a lesbian before open service was legalized in the British defense forces.
McBain now heads the Royal Navy’s LGBTQ forum.
The Associated Press reported:
The parade, watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the Prinsengracht canal, capped a weeklong festival of around 300 parties and events. It included the popular “Drag Queen Olympics” with contests like the stiletto race and the long-distance handbag toss.
U.S. and British activists sailed with Dutch generals and other senior officers — some gay and others showing solidarity — among some 80 military and ministry civilian personnel.
Unlike the U.S. military, gays have openly served in Dutch units since 1974, and for 25 years have had a department within the ministry that minds their interests, the Foundation for Homosexuals in the Armed Forces.
Still, gay servicemen say having their own presentation in the famed floating parade marked “a huge step forward” in a country already noted for sexual equality.
The foundation had been denied permission for several years to join the event, although in the last two years soldiers were allowed to participate in military dress on other boats.
“The political leaders thought it was not appropriate to wear a uniform at this kind of parade,” said army Maj. Peter Kees Hamstra, a foundation spokesman. “This shows everyone that the climate is changing,” he said.
Hamstra said 6 to 8 percent of the Dutch military are gay or lesbian — about the same as in the general population.