'Football for All': Dutch Stand Up for Gay Players' Rights

PHOTO: amsterdam gay pride, dutch

Next month, the Dutch national football team's coach plans to take a stand for the rights of gay players at the Amsterdam Gay Pride parade. Activitists in Germany, where no professional players are out, hope their football officials will follow his lead.

The boat winning the loudest cheers from the crowd of more than 300,000 onlookers during the parade through Amsterdam's canals bore the markings of the Dutch defense ministry. Young men in uniform stood on deck: gay soldiers who, with the blessing of the Dutch military leadership, were participating in Amsterdam's Gay Pride parade for the first time. That was in the summer of 2009.

This year's main attraction during the boat parade through Amsterdam's canals, one of Europe's most important gay and lesbian events, will be an orange launch emblazoned with the letters KNVB, the abbreviation for Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbal Bond, or Royal Dutch Football Association. The most prominent person on board will be Louis van Gaal, the coach of the Dutch national team.

The decision of Van Gaal, the former coach of FC Bayern Munich, to take part in the colorful gay and lesbian parade in early August sends a clear signal. Even in the Netherlands, known for its tolerance and open-mindedness, homophobic slogans and songs in football stadiums are common, and no gay professional footballer has dared to come out.

'A Milestone'

Instead, even the crudest prejudices persist. Last summer, Frank de Boer, the coach of the champion team Ajax Amsterdam, irritated his fellow citizens with a remark about the supposed lack of athleticism of gay men.

For Irene Hemelaar, the organizer of the Amsterdam Gay Pride event, De Boer's remark was "not homophobic, but simpleminded." De Boer, who publicly apologized for his remark, rejected Hemelaar's spontaneous invitation to attend last year's Amsterdam Gay Pride event.

That's one of the reasons the 44-year-old activist sees Louis van Gaal's acceptance as a "milestone for the international gay and lesbian movement." The canals, she predicts, "will rock."

Gay organizations in Germany want to take advantage of all the hype surrounding the Dutch parade to get the German Football Association (DFB) more strongly involved, once again, in their fight against marginalization and discrimination.

Recent Trends

The commitment that began with former association president Theo Zwanziger has noticeably decreased since he resigned last year, says Torsten Siebert, director of "Soccer Sound," a Berlin project against homophobia in football. Zwanziger made the softening of homophobic attitudes a key social issue for the association.

When he was president, there were action evenings, a round-table discussion was held before an international match in Hamburg, and the DFB cultural foundation sponsored a theater production against discrimination. Zwanziger spoke two years ago at Berlin's Christopher Street Day, a day of celebration and protest for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people.

Since the beginning of last year, when there was a panel discussion on sexual identity at the Hennef Sports Academy near Bonn, "almost nothing has been heard from" the DFB anymore, says Siebert.

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