Pride Special w/ Utrecht Canal Pride & Is Burning

Where we are now: a talk about LGBTQ acceptance.

Fifty years ago, after been bullied by the Metropolitan Police for years, a group of queer people stood up against the police when they were thrown out off The Stonewall Inn gay bar. This rebellion made a big mark in history and resulted in a big change for the equal rights of the LGBTQ community. A year after this event, the first Pride Parade was held in New York City and seven years later, the first demonstration in The Netherlands took place. In Utrecht the third Canal Pride will take place on the 1st of June, with an after-party hosted by Is Burning in (club) WAS. The people behind the Utrecht Canal Pride and Is Burning try to do something for the LGBTQ community in their own way and with the Parade coming up this weekend we felt that this was a good moment to sit down with both organizations.

We had a chat with Robbert Kalff (Utrecht Canal Pride) and Carlos Valdes (Is Burning) to discuss their concepts and where society is at now when it comes to equal treatment. What are the gains in the last 50 years, where does this country still need to step up and how do Canal Pride Utrecht and Is Burning contribute to the acceptance of the LGBTQ community?

Robbert, this is the third edition of the Utrecht Canal Pride. Could you explain to us a bit more what it stands for in your opinion?

RK: I believe that acceptance starts with visibility. The more you are confronted with people that differ from you, the easier it gets to accept them. I think we contribute to that visibility.

Is there a difference between the Canal Pride in Utrecht and the Canal Pride Amsterdam?

RK: Yeah, there is a big difference. Amsterdam has a history of twenty years when it comes to Canal Prides and they really have evolved during all those years. We take Amsterdam as an example and for that reason, we know exactly what it is that we want (or don’t) for the Canal Pride in Utrecht. Also, the character of the parade here in Utrecht is different.

On some points I didn’t agree with the Canal Pride Amsterdam, so I thought; well, I have a bar and I live at the canals, how great would it be if there was a parade here in Utecht?!’. And if we do it, we shouldn’t throw a parade that’s exactly the same as the one in Amsterdam. Besides, if you ask me, there is no stage more beautiful than the canals of Utrecht.

You say the character is different. Could you explain?

RK: Well, first of all, we’re a lot smaller haha. Second of all, we are way less of an advertisement parade, and I don’t mean that disrespectfully. That aspect has grown over the years. And it makes sense because they need sponsors and the biggest sponsors want to join the parade. We made sure we handled this in a different way. We can do this because we had the luxury to start from scratch. We don’t want the brands to be visible. We care about diversity and want to show that with our parade, not brand names.

Besides that, at one point, you had like eighty noisy barges with dancing people. We like the variety of different boats. A small one with three people between two big ones with eighty. I understand that a gay club wants to display their good taste in music and raving people, but a bookstore might want to tell another story, they probably don’t even need music. The pride is not solely about entertainment.

Pride stands for celebrating who you are and who you want to be. Can the LGBTQ community be who they want to be?

RK: For me personally, yes, I can be myself. But I have to say that I don’t have a partner at the moment, so it doesn’t happen very often I’m to holding hands outside. And if I do, I don’t really think about it. But I’m not sure if I would do that late at night in the Steenstraat for example. This because that’s different than holding hands in the city on a Saturday afternoon - when it’s crowded. So I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I do wonder about that.

And I think these days you have so many ways to express yourself within the gay scene and outside the scene as well. A lot has changed. The last couple of years many festivals that celebrate and promote freedom and happiness have come into existence and other festivals pay more attention to this aspect. That’s also part of the road towards more acceptance. Lowlands has a big gay club on their venue, for example. That was something that couldn’t exist ten years ago. This doesn’t mean that the problems the LGBTQ community faces are in the past, as they’re not, but we are creating a climate where all those things are less of a problem than before. And I think the Pride is contributing to this. If you are making the scene as much visible as possible, people will get used to it and won’t be offended so quickly.

CV: Luckily, these days it’s not okay anymore to say you are anti-gay. I always feel very safe. But on the other hand, I don’t tell everyone I’m gay. I don’t go to places where I know I won’t feel safe or welcome. I’d like to inform myself beforehand if I go to a different country, for example. Because not all countries are very welcoming to the LGBTQ community. I do know enough DJ’s that go to Moskou of all places, while I thought that it was a place where you shouldn’t go as gay. But it turns out, Moskou has a really great gay scene, pretty big as well.

And I think that lately, we’re reconsidering what ‘normal’ means. We are breaking boundaries - not only in the LGBTQ community. It’s not just about your gender or your sexual orientation. We are also asking questions like ‘do I want to get married?’ ‘Can I raise children with my best friend?’ Questions we would not have asked ourselves before.

What big steps can we make in the acceptance of the community?

RK: There are still people, especially men, who are afraid to make eye contact when they are walking past a gay club. I think that’s ridiculous. Do you really think we will grab you, drag you over the counter and pull your pants down? What kind of bullshit is that? Those people are living in their heteronormative bubble. We have to make sure those people are confronted with the rest of the world to pop that bubble. It sounds like a small thing, but I think that’s the biggest step possible.

CV: I think we should educate youngsters more when it comes to the LGBTQ scene. Especially the ones that haven’t been in touch with the community that often. The countryside, for example. We don’t need huge campaigns or whatever, but maybe just a weekend trip to Amsterdam….or to Berlin. A school trip to the Berghain haha.

Currently, Pride is in a phase where the gay activism doesn’t target the politics but is more aimed at a different target group, like companies and sports associations. Can you elaborate on this?

RK: That also has to do with ‘the norm’ nowadays. There are still gay-unfriendly choirs at soccer matches. They won’t stop the match for such things. Which is kind of weird when you think about all the matches that were stopped because of racist choirs. I don’t see any difference since it’s both discrimination. So that brings us to our job, we need to discuss those things with the soccer bond and try to achieve that, someday, it will be ridiculous to not stop a soccer match over this.

Next to that, the word ‘gay’ is still used as a curse word by kids at schools for example. Being homosexual makes you weaker, bad and inferior to heterosexual people. ‘Don’t act that gay’ is a sentence you hear very often and that’s very insulting. People sometimes say we are overreacting, but that’s a load of crap. We need to educate people about this.

Has the role of the Canal Pride changed since its origin?

RK: It has. I saw a documentary about one of the first Pink Saturdays ever thrown in 1982 in Amersfoort. That escalated after a hooligan was throwing rocks at people. But today, this same man takes his family out to watch the parade together. This warms my heart and the Pride is important exactly for this kind of examples. It doesn’t matter if he completely accepts us or if he’s just checking out the parade. Because the bottom line is that he’ll never throw rocks at us again. And the next step is to make him realize that using the word ‘gay’ as a curse word is unacceptable.

On the 1st of June, one of the biggest official after parties will be Is Burning at WAS. What are the similarities and the differences between what Is Burning and Canal Pride Utrecht are doing for the LGBTQ community?

CV: We both, of course, have the best intentions for the LGBTQ community. I think the biggest difference is that the Canal Pride reaches a huge audience. The fact that it is free and in the center of the city plays a role. People love going to the event with their family or they accidentally walk by. The chances of people getting in touch with the Pride is bigger than people getting in touch with Is Burning. Is Burning is for a smaller audience. Visitors know why they have bought their ticket in advance and where they’re going.

Besides that, the Pride has a more political character. What we try to do with this party, is create a place where the LGBTQ community feels safe and included. We want to be ‘as normal’ as possible. It should be about having fun at a place where you can be who you are. That’s how we make a difference.

RK: the Canal Pride Utrecht is a really big podium. Everyone who walks by can see it, Jan, Piet, Achmen, Mo. I Burning is about partying in a safe environment where you can create your own conditions. The conditions of the Pride are created by the values of the city. Is the city ready for a Canal Pride, and are her inhabitants? Canal Pride is about being in the spotlight, while Is Burning isn’t about that at all. You don’t have to be a role model at an after party, you can just be you.

Carlos, Is Burning celebrates its fifth anniversary this year and this is the second time Is Burning is in Utrecht and WAS. Could you explain to us what Is Burning is about?

CV: Easy said it’s an LGBTQ party. Next to that, we book the music we love and that could be anything. Disco, House, Electro, Techno, you name it. We don’t have a fixed location where we throw our party, we like to show to the world that it’s possible to throw a nice party anywhere as long as it meets our policy, values, and demands. Since a while, we’ve decided to not announce the lineup in advance. And it’s a great compliment to see that our visitors trust us enough to still visit the party.

Can you tell us about the origin of Is Burning?

CV: Sandrien, one of the residents at Trouw, asked me if I would like to organize a gay party with her. I was totally in because I love to go out ‘gay’, but I couldn’t always identify with the music that was played. So I really think there was a need for this party. We chose the name Is Burning as a tribute to the documentary Paris Is Burning, which has always been a great inspiration to me.

How do you distinguish yourself from other gay parties?

CV: Nowadays there are more gay parties than back when we started. But we do try to distinguish ourselves with the artists that we book. For example by booking artists that haven’t played in the Netherlands before or by not booking artists who are playing everywhere. Of course there will always be some overlap, but that’s okay.

How can a club create a save environment where everyone can be themselves?

CV: A lot of things. Before the party, we discuss our policy and the way we want to treat our guests with the venue. If the security and the door host do their job well, they’ll have looked everyone straight in the eye before they enter the venue. Because of this you’ll know for sure that you’ll have a great audience at your event. Also, I believe in natural selection. If you don’t want to be at a gay party then you’ll probably won’t go there. And for example, if someone is there to start a fight, our door host will have spotted that and will deny you access. If you just behave, you are always welcome!

Next to that, we try to give the visitor some responsibility as well. Because in the end, they are the ones that can make or break a good party. So speak up if something is going on. Also if it’s a bigger edition we sometimes provide information and educate our visitors about drugs and/or sex.

What can we expect on the 1st of June?

CV: I hope the same vibe as last year. We’ve invited some very awesome artists, two of them have never played at Is Burning before. So prepare yourselves for an uplifting vibe and good music, soundwise things will get a bit harder at the end of the night - I think that pretty much covers it.


We’d like to wish everyone a happy Pride this weekend and hope to see all of you on the dancefloor for our afterparty together with our friends from Is Burning!

Presale tickets are available here
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29.05.2019 - Words by Merel de Heus