The history of the Pride Amsterdam Canal Parade
28 July 2021
In August 2021 the Dutch capital will celebrate Pride Amsterdam for the 25th time. Since the very beginning of Pride Amsterdam in 1996, the festival has included a Canal Parade through the city’s 17th century canal ring, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because we always adjust the routes of our cruises depending on the amount of traffic on the canals and the size of the boat, we can continue to offer cruises even during the Canal Parade.
Back in 1996
Amsterdam Pride, as it was known then, was never intended as a demonstration for equal rights. Instead the event was meant to promote Amsterdam as a gay nightlife city and to celebrate the freedom and diversity of the city.
The idea for a Canal Parade came from the bid book for the Gay Games of 1998 which was presented in 1992. The event became part of Amsterdam Pride, two years prior to the Gay Games, on 3 August 1996, consisted of at least 45 boats of different sizes and was attended by 20,000 spectators. From then on the event grew in size and popularity, in 1997 the number of spectators had already tripled.
Through the years
The Canal Parade has become an annual highlight of the festival which has grown into a nine-day event and is one of the best and largest celebrations of its kind worldwide. Since 2001, Pride Amsterdam has chosen different themes to for the festival to draw attention to specific aspects or celebrate special occasions.
In 2001 the theme was “Tolerance”, this year was the first time boats representing the Arab and Jewish community were part of the parade. It was also the year when the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex civil marriage and grant same-sex couples adoption rights.
While Pride Amsterdam is not a demonstration, the organisation does not shy away from drawing attention to LGBT+ acceptance throughout the world and what steps still need to be taken to improve it. In 2005, the first boat in the parade showcased a large photo of two Iranian boys who were hanged because of their sexual orientation.
In 2011 the boat parade was led for the first time by a boat with uniformed soldiers from the Dutch Ministry of Defence as well as former American Lieutenant Dan Choi and British naval officer Mandy McBain.
2015 was the 20th anniversary of the Amsterdam Gay Pride, as it was known by then, and the question: “what has been achieved in twenty years and what has changed?” was considered in many ways. That year the Canal Parade drew attention to the situation of homosexual refugees, the homeless and the overseas territories of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
In 2017, the festival changed its name to Pride Amsterdam in order to better serve all those who identify as LGBTQIA+, to strengthen the content and to be inclusive for everyone. Many participants used seized upon the year’s theme “This is my Pride” to discuss serious, hard-hitting topics during the famous boat parade, which included an Iranian boat and a Suicide Prevention Boat.
2019’s Pride Amsterdam theme was “Remember the past, create the future” in memory of the Stonewall riots that broke out in New York 50 years prior, an iconic moment that should never be forgotten. That year members of Pride Amsterdam even participated in the parade in New York during World Pride. 2019 was also the year Pride Amsterdam was added to the Inventory of Intangible Heritage in the Netherlands.
Today and the future
The global events of 2020 and 2021 have caused the 25th anniversary of Pride Amsterdam to be even more unlike any before than what the organisation had hoped for. Though there is no Canal Parade this year, it is certain the event will be back.
You can find out exactly which events will be part of Pride Amsterdam this year on the organisations website. We can’t wait for the canals to be filled again with 80 boats celebrating the freedom to truly be yourself and to love who you want.