Dutch military joins Gay Pride parade for 1st time



Dutch military joins Gay Pride parade for 1st time Amsterdam: Embracing a policy of "Do Tell," the Dutch military joined Amsterdam's annual Gay Pride parade for the first time this year, with uniformed men and women saluting the crowds from a boat chugging through a historic city canal.

A balloon-festooned barge bearing the standards of the service branches and sponsored by the Defence Ministry sailed among about 80 other floats, with music blaring from most of them and dancers dressed in flamboyant costumes or very little at all.

The parade, watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the Prinsengracht canal, capped a weeklong festival of around 300 parties and events.

It included the popular "Drag Queen Olympics" with contests like the stiletto race and the long-distance handbag toss. US and British activists sailed with Dutch generals and other senior officers some gay and others showing solidarity among some 80 military and ministry civilian personnel.

Unlike the US military, gays have openly served in Dutch units since 1974, and for 25 years have had a department within the ministry that minds their interests, the Foundation for Homosexuals in the Armed Forces.

Still, gay servicemen say having their own presentation in the famed floating parade marked "a huge step forward" in a country already noted for sexual equality.

The foundation had been denied permission for several years to join the event, although in the last two years soldiers were allowed to participate in military dress on other boats.

"The political leaders thought it was not appropriate to wear a uniform at this kind of parade," said army Major Peter Kees Hamstra, a foundation spokesman.

"This shows everyone that the climate is changing," he said.

Hamstra said 6 to 8 percent of the Dutch military are gay or lesbian about the same as in the general population.

"It's so amazing to be here. This country got it right," said former US Army Lt Dan Choi, who was discharged last year after violating the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Choi applied to re-enlist after President Barack Obama signed a law last month repealing the ban.

"I intend to go back to the Army, in whatever capacity they most need," he told a news agency.

But he'd like to be in the Army Reserve so that he can continue developing his new role as a gay-rights activist.

PTI