AMSTERDAM (AP) — Rainbow flags are flying from scores of Amsterdam buildings as tens of thousands of festival-goers, many dressed in pink or wearing studded leather, party it up at one of the city’s biggest events: the annual Gay Pride celebration.
The Saturday festivities center on a colorful boat flotilla sailing through the city’s ancient canals, each with its own theme, pumping out dance music.
Notable floats this year included a boat organized by the Netherlands’ soccer association. Former soccer greats, including striker Patrick Kluivert and defender Ronald de Boer, rode along, together with national team coach Louis van Gaal.
“We want to send a signal to accept homosexuality in the (soccer) world,” Van Gaal said shortly before setting sail.
Tolerance for homosexuality is a point of pride in the Netherlands, which became the first to legalize gay marriage back in 2001
Yet the soccer world is widely regarded as unreceptive to gay athletes. One of the few openly gay former players, Wensley Garden of Helmond Sport, was also on the soccer boat.
Johan Haagsma, attending the festivities from the side of a canal, said gays in sports should speak up more often.
“They need more people coming out of the closet in the football industry,” he said “Gay people are everywhere so over there they are also there, they need to come out.”
A number of vessels carried banners or signs slamming Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, due in part to a law passed by Russia in June that bans gay “propaganda.”
One boat featured dancing gay men in Russian army uniforms.
“Putin, Stop Repression, Choose Freedom,” a banner read.
The Netherlands’ Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem and other members of his political party were on a boat wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Gay Rights for Russia.”
Dijsselbloem told local newspaper Het Parool that gay rights in Russia are “headed in the wrong direction.”
Associated Press videojournalist Bishr Eltouni contributed to this story.