I stepped off the curb onto the old cobble streets, which were now stained with glitter and vibrant colourful strings. The narrow streets were vibrating with the noise of thousands of people who had gathered in Europe’s gay capital to dance, to vogue, and to celebrate Pride. 

Pride is More Than a Month: Advocacy All Year Round

In true Dutch fashion, rain-soaked onlookers peered over the old walls of Amsterdam’s canals, cheering as the colourful boats paraded down the water. As each boat more decorated than the last glided by, it transformed the quiet, orderly city into a fantastic, picturesque Queer Utopia—a place where people are free to be themselves and love whomever they want.

Nonetheless, this scene, like many other moments of joy and liberation, only lasts a day before everyone is jolted back to reality. For those across the Atlantic, the reality of being openly gay in 2023 stands in harrowing juxtaposition to the lively celebrations in Amsterdam.

In Brooklyn, New York, O’Shae Sibley stopped at a gas station with friends on their way home from a trip to the Jersey Shore when he filled up his car with gasoline and played Beyoncé’s album “Renaissance.” Sibley, a well-known dancer and choreographer, and his friends were dancing and voguing – a type of dance popularised by queer Black and Latinx people – when a group of men approached them. 

Pride - Sibley

Witnesses say the group shouted homophobic slurs and anti-Black slurs at them. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the men told Sibley, 28, and his friends to stop dancing, saying that they did not want to see gay men dancing in their neighbourhood. One of the group’s members, now revealed to be a 17-year-old, stabbed Sibley violently and fatally in an attack that is now being charged as a hate crime.

Only hours after his murder, Otis Pena, one of Sibley’s friends who witnessed the attack, wrote on Facebook, “They murdered him because he’s gay, because he stood up for his friends.” Sibley’s passing was met with widespread shock and grief from members of the community in New York and Los Angeles, with hundreds paying their respects at his funeral in his hometown of Philadelphia. At gas stations all over the country, including the one where Sibley was killed, people have gathered to vogue as an act of resistance. 

His death marked the latest in a series of acts of violence and harassment against LGBTQ+ people. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), alongside GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation, released a report in June highlighting “at least 356” anti-LGBTQ+ “incidents motivated by hate” against gay and transgender people in the US between June 2022 and April 2023.

Back in Amsterdam, I watched as the wild and beautifully decorated boats made their way down the canal. I had just finished reading the news about the murder of Sibley in the US and I was bluntly reminded of the contrasts that define the world we live in. 

Looking around, I wondered, “Can this, can Pride, still be considered a protest?” 

The scene at the canal, a picture of freedom and self-expression, was strikingly reminiscent of the events that surrounded Sibley’s murder; he was merely dancing and expressing himself with his friends. The universality of this scene and the fact that it could have unfolded anywhere serve as a sobering reminder that Pride is still very much a protest.

The sight of young children with their families waving Pride flags among the crowd painted a hopeful vision of a future characterised by acceptance and compassion. In all candour, however, the undercurrents of this wonderful celebration were tinted with a shadow of ignorance and disconnect. Unfortunately, the true message of Pride was sometimes buried by the Netherlands’ problematic party-centric culture. The presence of oblivious party-goers to the history of Pride and the contemporary struggles of the LGBTQ+ community was disheartening, to say the least. 

Too many people have disconnected from the community, only coming to party at Pride events without acknowledging the very real struggles and reasons for it. While Pride embodies celebration, it is fundamentally rooted in protest. At Pride events, it is not just the responsibility of the LGBTQ+ community to remind others of this fact; allies have a responsibility to do the same. 

As we celebrate, let’s not forget the legacies of O’Shae Sibley and countless others who’ve suffered and sacrificed for their identity. In a world increasingly scarred by prejudice and hate, our collective responsibility remains to stand up and protest. Because after all, the heart of Pride is, and always will be, a call for the basic human rights to be who you are and love whomever you want freely.