It is Wednesday afternoon. Taking shelter from the rain occasionally, I am cycling to the city district Amsterdam East with Ambassador Raymond and his friend, both in leather. When we arrive, we are welcomed by a colourful and vibrant scene.
In between the showers, the Trans Pride Walk arrives with a drum band in front. Drag Queen and performing artist Dolly Bellefleur opens the event and interviews alderman Rutger Groot Wassink (GroenLinks) who highlights the Stonewall Riots. “People rebelled then and there to claim their freedom. People have to do that themselves and here, you do just that." This was followed by a big round of applause.
On stage, we see performances by ethnic and transgender artists, senior ladies dancing to hip-hop, refugees such as Wasim Arslan, and young people from the neighbourhood. Around me I see the entire LGBTI community present, mixed with all the ethnic colours Amsterdam East has to offer.
On the dance floor, different people are dancing with each other and in pairs. Children, women with head scarves, fathers and LGBT people, I watch it all open-mouthed, overwhelmed by joy. I see Marten Bos, an old acquaintance of mine.
He tells me that most volunteers are heterosexual Moroccan youth. A little later, he introduces me to Redouane Amine. He is one of the Pride East Ambassadors, as is Mrs. Jaika Koot. "Amsterdam East is buzzing, look around you, the whole world is coming together here," he says with a proud grin on his face. We agree to meet after the pride.
“Alle Kleuren Oost” wants to include and welcome everyone. The party is by the neighbourhood, for the neighbourhood and throughout the neighbourhood. We embrace the neighbourhood’s diversity. All nationalities, all colours in unison."
We are at StreetsmArt, a youth organization in the Indische buurt district. Workshops are given and local residents meet. Marten tells me he has been active in the Moroccan community for 33 years. He came out of the closet at a young age.
"To us, you are simply Marten", was their answer. The rest is not important, be who you are. " His openness was embraced. "That made me love the Moroccan community," he adds. "Coming out of the closet is a Western concept, you are just who you are," Rachid adds and smiles, as do the others.
Diversity, being yourself?
Redouane takes the floor. “Because I look like this, others find it strange that I have a positive attitude towards LGBTIs. Everyone can be who they want to be. That the freedom of being is the ultimate thing. If you cannot be who you want to be within the spectrum of life, do you actually live?” Redouane looks at me questioningly and continues. “Being yourself, not being influenced by life, is shaping your life how you want it to be. Diversity is inextricably linked to how we live here. That has to do with intersectionality, or crossroads thinking, with differences and similarities, and embracing them."
Have you always felt that way about homosexuality?
No, homosexuality was ‘not done’. You grow up, you live in a certain environment and you unconsciously accept certain characteristics and ideas of your environment. In puberty you are shaping your own identity, finding yourself and the street is your school of hard knocks. The turnaround came when I was asked for an empowerment weekend, aimed at bi-cultural young people, heterosexuals and LGBT people.
I was in doubt, because I wasn't sure how my surroundings would react. Yet in me there was a curiosity about people trying to understand other people at a deeper level. It really was one of the most beautiful weekends of my life.
People with different identities who are enriching each other with feeling and knowledge, with "being". It has changed my way of thinking. I have learned to not do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you, to be discriminated against on the basis of a small characteristic.
Whether it's being Moroccan or gay, I'm not going to do that. The effect is that I enjoy everything around me much more, and that I can now fight discrimination. That is what I try to do with my ambassadorship at "Alle Kleuren Oost", to make beautiful things happen. The people who embrace it are won over, and with those who are not, you can still say there's work to be done."
And you tackle this through workshops?
With diversity workshops we are busy expanding the "Alle Kleuren Oost Project" to other parts of Amsterdam. However, each city district has a different dynamic. We are currently working with the municipality on this.
In sociology, intersectionality, also called crossroad thinking, is focussed on individuals in a society experiencing discrimination and oppression on the basis of a multitude of factors. Pride “Alle Kleuren Oost” shows me that there is a hot spot of all colours in Amsterdam East, where together, people of different races, genders, sexuality and class bring the diversity of the neighbourhood closer together. In unison, they are “Alle Kleuren Oost”, and they celebrate together.
To me they are an example for the entire city and the rest of the Netherlands. Pride Oost has opened my eyes.