Isanya Köhne

June is here and that means summer is here! But not only does June kick off the beginning of the hot summer season, it’s also the yearly month of pride. That’s right, the month of June is also known as the LGBTQ+ Pride Month that commemorates various events from the past as well as promotes and celebrates self-affirmation, dignity, equality and visibility of the many LGBTQ+ people. During and around this month, various LGBTQ+ events are organised. The Netherlands, one of the first countries to show support to the LGBTQ+ community, is known to organise a few of these big events such as the Amsterdam Gay Pride in August that’s joined by many supporters yearly. The Netherlands is therefore also known to be a relatively open-minded and welcoming country to anyone that’s part of the LGBTQ+ community. But, instead of talking about the little facts that can be found online, we wanted to give this platform to those who can truly give you more insight into the concept behind pride month. Each week of this month, we will introduce you to an amazing international individual who will shed some light on what it means to be living in the Netherlands as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.

We’re kicking off this blog series with Konstantinos, who’s 22 years old and originally from Greece. He moved to the Netherlands to do his bachelor in International Business Administration about 5 years ago and has recently just graduated. Over the years he seems to have developed quite the love for this small country and it seems he won’t leave just yet. 

Konstantinos in Amsterdam during the Gay Pride

1. In your own words, how would you describe the LGBTQ+ community (in general)? What makes you feel accepted in a country, in this regard? 

“The LGBTQ+ community is usually a very close-knot one, at least in the countries I’ve lived in so far. Especially in Greece, somehow we all know each other. There were many times that I met up with a guy and then it turned out that some of my gay friends already knew him. Overall, I feel very welcome in countries where the LGBTQ+ community is open-minded, especially since cultures differ per country and affect this particular community to a great extent. Luckily, our community in the Netherlands is the most open-minded one I’ve come across so far”.  

2. Before coming to the Netherlands, did you worry that people would judge you in your Erasmus/new city regarding your sexual preference?

“No, not at all. I never worried I’d be judged in the Netherlands for my sexual preferences. After all, it was one of the reasons why I chose to do my bachelor in this country. I had read a lot on the LGBTQ+ rights here and how well they are respected in the Netherlands. I have therefore also never regretted my choice”. 

3. The Netherlands is known to be relatively open-minded, especially regarding this community, would you agree with this? Why or why not? 

“Yes. The Netherlands is indeed an open-minded country when it comes to the LGBTQ+ individuals. It’s the first country in the world that legalised same-sex marriage all the way back in 2001! Way to go, Nederland. However, recently it seems there’s been an ongoing “trend” where people think backwards. There’s been multiple attacks on homosexual couples in Amsterdam and there’s less activism in doing something about that. In a lot of countries where the LGBTQ+ people aren’t accepted, there’s a lot of activism and support between each other in the community. However, in countries such as the Netherlands, I can see that activism isn’t really present because people are simply assured that our rights will be respected. Unfortunately, in every country it is necessary to protest and secure our rights, not only for us but also for the future generations”. 

4. What was/is your general experience like here in the Netherlands? And in regards to the LGBTQ+ community, is there anything that really stood or stands out?

“My general experience in the Netherlands has been really good so far. Two years ago, when I had a boyfriend, I felt free to do as any other couple. I could kiss and hold hands in public, which made me appreciate the Netherlands even more. If I were to do that in Greece, there’s a high chance heads would turn. When it comes to the LGBTQ+ community in the Netherlands, I believe it’s much more individualistic than in comparison to Greece. Something else that really stood out is that so many here like techno and those types of parties. In Greece it’s full of pop music and drag shows, so I was quite shocked when I first came here. I can guarantee that I am the complete opposite of a techno lover and dying to be dancing to popular hits in the gay nightclubs of Amsterdam”. 

5. Can you tell us any particular story that either shocked or amazed you during your stay here in the Netherlands?

“I’m appalled at the numerous attacks on homosexual couples in Amsterdam that I keep reading about in the news. I can’t wrap my head around how two guys/girls/non-binary people in love could annoy a bunch of homophobes. What shocked me the most was when the Nashville statement – also called an anti-gay statement in the news – was about to be translated in. Luckily, my university made a statement that they don’t want to be involved with it and they immediately put the LGBT flag out. That made me very proud as a student of that university”.

6. The aftermath: how do you look back at your time here in the Netherlands? Would you say you developed in any particular way because of the country? 

“Certainly! After 5 years of living in the Netherlands, I can tell that I’ve become much more open-minded. In this country anything is allowed, as long as you enjoy yourself and cause no harm to others. An example I can give you is that before coming here, sex was kind of taboo for me. This was mainly because I grew up in a strict Christian Orthodox society where sex should never be discussed. It’s no longer taboo for me and simply something that’s normal, I also don’t understand why it should be taboo in general. I’m trying to learn by taking example of the upbringing of Dutch children, who are happy, independent, and are taught sex education from an early age on”. 

7. Which tips would you give to someone who’s contemplating doing their Erasmus/exchange/a full-time study in the Netherlands? Is there any advice they need to hear before coming here?

“The only advice I can give to newcomers in the Netherlands is to ‘live and let live’ and ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. Enjoy the freedom here and value the fact that people are always trying to be fair to you. They will never judge you just because you don’t love the same way as they do”.  

8. Pride month this year will look a little different than it usually does, is there anything, in particular, you’d hope this month will bring to the people? And in what ways do you think the Netherlands can develop more in light of the LGBTQ+ community? 

“I was really looking forward to pride month this year, but given the current circumstances I’m hoping for lots of online events. Pride month for me means partying, celebrating sexuality, and vibing with all LGBTQ+ individuals on the same level. This month will mean being proud online and who knows – a pride of 1.5m could work eventually. When it comes to ways the Netherlands could better in the eyes of the LGBTQ+ community, I believe there should be less pink-washing. A lot of big corporations have their HQs here and just because certain brands put up nice pink letters and the LGBTQ+ flag, doesn’t mean that they are LGBTQ+ friendly. I think that can be changed”. 

Thank you so much to Konstantinos for kicking off this blog series with us in such an eye opening way. The Netherlands seems to indeed provide a welcoming, open-minded space for the LGBTQ+ community. For everyone out there who was just as excited for this year’s pride month, keep an eye out online, as many companies and organisations are motivated to make sure that this month will be celebrated!