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Being yourself in the summer sun: Leiden University shines at Canal Pride Leiden

Rainbow flags, funky sounds and drag queen Petty Libel: the very first Canal Pride Leiden has become reality. Leiden University joined the parade with a packed and buzzing boat. ‘The Leideners were really supportive and gave us a great response.’

The day begins in the Lipsius building at two thirty in the afternoon, where two rooms have been reserved for the 58 people who are joining the university boat. T-shirts in rainbow colours bearing the words ‘My University, My Pride’ are ready and waiting, as are university hats and earplugs. Looi van Kessel, chair of the LGBT+ Network, is busy doing his make-up. He will appear as drag queen Petty Libel on the boat.

‘It’s incredibly important for us as a university to show that we are a place where everyone can be themselves and where there is room for all orientations and gender identities’, says Van Kessel, donning his bright-red university hat. ‘I’m really pleased that the D&I Expertise Office wanted to organise this with us at such short notice: we sorted out the boat, the decorations and the people in just three months.’ Stephan van Es (Facility Manager at the University Services Department) also helped. ‘I’m here because it’s important to be visible’, he says. ‘It feels great that we as a university can show today that everyone is welcome and can be themselves here.’

‘It’s incredibly important for us as a university to show that we are a place where everyone can be themselves’

Diverse group

At about a quarter to three, the group, decked out in glitter and rainbow flags, leaves for the starting point on Apothekersdijk. It’s a diverse group. Not just in orientations, gender identities and nationalities, but also in their relationship to Leiden University. There are students, lecturers, policy officers, deans and reception staff, all from various institutes and faculties. Alongside the Leiden University boat, are boats from the LUMC and various student associations.

One of those present is David, who is doing a Master’s in Middle-Eastern Studies. He has joined in to be himself and celebrate freedom. ‘I’m from a refugee background and Leiden University has been a huge help to me. I’ve always felt safe and welcome. I hope that all universities pay attention to diversity because we really need it.’

A PhD candidate from the Faculty of Science is also present. They use both the names Julia and Julius and have joined the boat because they think there is too little representation at the faculty and the university as a whole. ‘My colleagues weren’t aware of this pride. Lots of people thought it had already been and gone.’ They think it’s fabulous that the university is joining in. ‘I’m really pleased that the university is here, and that we’ve got the biggest boat.’

Big turnout

As the university boat sets off, it is busy along the Leiden canals. Young and old are cheering the boats on, more often than not holding a rainbow flag. Various bridges and houses are also decorated in rainbow colours. It is clearly a party in town, and there’s only room for positivity.

Paul Wouters, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and a board member of the LGBT+ Network, is overjoyed with the turnout. ‘The Leideners have been really supportive and given us a great response. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. And danced my socks off too!’

Wouters emphasises that it is important that the university joins the parade and stands up for equal rights. ‘LGBT+ rights are far from secure in the world.  So it’s good that we as a university have someone like Professor Jojanneke van der Toorn, who is committed to an inclusive workplace. It’s essential that everyone continues to campaign.’

The next edition of Leiden Canal Pride will be on 7 September 2024.

Text: Sabine Waasdorp
Photos: Monique Shaw & Patrice Borger

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