Amsterdam Gay Pride is in full swing and once again I am elsewhere. I haven’t minded missing the celebration the last couple of years. But this year I wish I were there. My former employer is sponsoring one of the eighty boats in the Canal Parade in honor of some very special guests – eight young LGBT activists from parts of the world where being gay can be a matter of life or death.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) has always been openly supportive of the international LGBT community. In the late 80s, producer Pete Myers began covering stories about gay social issues on his weekly show Rembrandt Express, long before other mainstream media. When I took over producing an arts and culture program in the early 90s, he encouraged me to talk with as many LGBT artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers as possible. Three programs I produced between 1998 and 2004 that were honored with NLGJA Excellence in Journalism Awards are part of his legacy.
Although shortwave broadcasts were discontinued not long after I retired in 2010, RNW still initiates special human rights projects such as the #standbyme campaign, which brought the young LGBT activists to Amsterdam for Gay Pride. “Talking openly about their sexual orientation can be extremely risky,” said RNW director Robert Zaal. “Gay Pride here in the Netherlands is a safe place for them to share their stories, increase their knowledge and network.” The eight activists are from China, Egypt, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Uganda and Venezuela. Their experiences provide a cross-section of the situation for LGBT young people worldwide.
When 22-year-old Ramy came out publically last year via Twitter, he was the first Egyptian to do so. He received serious threats via social media, was denounced by his family, and beaten up by a group from his local community. Geng Li is an ex-cop who founded one of China’s first gay websites. A young woman from Morocco will speak in disguise and under an assumed name. Otherwise she fears for her safety when she returns home.
For these young men and women Gay Pride is about much more than parties and parades, although that will be part of their experience. Coming from countries where being openly gay can have such dire consequences, I can only imagine their reaction to the support of the thousands of spectators who will line the canals to cheer them on. And without even being in Amsterdam, anyone can support them by joining RNW’s #standbyme campaign on Twitter or at standbyme.rnw.org.