The rainbow flags are out in Amsterdam today. No, we’re not celebrating Gay Pride early this year. It’s part of a citywide action to “welcome” Russian President Putin. The official reason for his visit is to celebrate 2013 Year of Friendship, marking 400 years of ties between the Netherlands and Russia. But as Putin dines with Queen Beatrix at the Maritime Museum on Monday April 8th, thousands of protestors are expected to gather outside to express strong disapproval of Russia’s proposed anti-gay legislation.
Back in January, the Russian State Duma voted 388-1 in support of a bill that will make “promotion of homosexuality” – particularly by providing information to minors – a punishable offence. More recently there are reports of plans to ban adoption of Russian children by foreign gay couples. The anti-propaganda law is already in force in St. Petersburg and has had a profound effect on the LGBT community there.
My friend Hennie meets many Russians while working at Pink Point, Amsterdam’s Gay & Lesbian Information & Souvenirs kiosk on the Westermarkt:
“A Russian lesbian couple told me they were harassed by a group of young hooligans on the street in St. Petersburg. They tried to report it to police, but it was the two women who were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.”
Pink Point began as a converted ice-cream truck during the 1998 Amsterdam Gay Games. Now a permanent fixture, it’s located just a few meters from the Homomonument. Free leaflets are available explaining the history of the pink granite triangle designed to honor men and women persecuted in the past and struggling against discrimination today. Hennie handed me a leaflet translated into Russian. “We hope one of these will find its way into Putin’s hands,” he said with a glint in his eye.
Hennie and I both know it’s about as likely as Queen Beatrix giving President Putin a gift such as Pink Point’s version of his country’s national symbol: a rainbow bear. “We used to sell a lot of these to Russian tourists,” he told me. “They used to buy all kinds of LGBT souvenirs. Not any more. Now they’re afraid of taking anything like that through customs.” He doesn’t think tomorrow’s demonstration will have much impact on what’s happening in Russia, but does see it as an important show of support for the Russian LBGT community.
This support has been growing daily in the Dutch LGBT community, especially after a recent widely reported attack on Russian LGBT activist Artem Kalinin, which was caught on video. According to the Dutch LGBT organization COC, at last count more than 3300 people had signed up to attend via their website, Facebook event pages and other social media.
Some are taking a more creative and amusing approach to the serious issues involved. On a website and Facebook page called Putin a Rainbow, photos of the Russian president (many of them well-known) have been re-imagined, manipulated and photo-shopped in full rainbow regalia. There’s Rainbow-belt Karate Putin, Winnie the Pootin, and Rainbow Warrior Putin. But the first I saw (and still a favorite) is My Little Putin, using the famous shot of the shirtless leader on horseback.
It made me think of reworking the lyrics to Yankee Doodle: “Russky Poodle came to town / A-riding on a pony / Stuck a rainbow in his hat…” Then I was stuck. Was there a Dutch equivalent to “macaroni” that rhymed with pony? So I decided to look up the original usage of the word. Apparently, in mid-18th century English “very macaroni” referred to anything fashionable, and later became a derogatory term for a foppish, effeminate man, the kind who wore powdered wigs. So, somewhat anachronistically, was the song Yankee Doodle originally a case of the British verbally queer-bashing the American revolutionaries? Maybe not, but that’s how my twisted mind works sometimes.
At any rate, I plan to deck myself out in high-fashion rainbow dignitary attire tomorrow – I’ve been itching to wear again that tuxedo I bought for Mardi Gras last year! And I’ve got a knitted wool rainbow scarf – not exactly macaroni but perfect because it’s still feels like Russian winter here.