The festival that celebrates diversity
The Pink Spring (Roze Lente), a lesbian and gay cultural festival that settled in the city of Utrecht for six weeks in 1997, has been an emancipatory motor for the gay and lesbian movement in Utrecht. The MidZomerGracht Festival, then the closing event of the Pink Spring, then grew into an annual festival that celebrated diversity. It stopped in 2023 and was succeeded by the Utrecht Queer Culture Festival.
The municipality of Utrecht was the initiator of the Pink Spring. The Utrecht LGBTI+-world was fragmented in the late 1990s. There was little or no cooperation or mutual cohesion. The Pink Spring has ensured that the groups got to know each other and started working together. The municipality of Utrecht wanted to set an example for organisations, institutions and facilities and show that you can enter the public space in a positive way with the theme of homosexuality.
A project team – policy officer Jan Vesters with volunteers from the city – coordinated the Pink Spring. The first volunteers were Anja van Belkum, Henny Bos, Kaï de Wijs, Marion Etman and Paul ter Veld.
The first Pink Spring lasted six weeks, from May 13 to June 22, 1997, and consisted of countless activities, such as a pink art route, the literary program ‘Uit de Boekenkast’ by the Savannah Bay bookstore, a queer film festival, (multicultural) theatre productions, a volleyball tournament, photo exhibitions, parties, discussion meetings and the gay information guide De Roze Kant. The song “Hey, you already know!” was performed at the opening of the festival by a choir and the barrel organ De Utrechtenaar on the steps of the town hall.
In the context of the Pink Spring, the publication of ‘Utrecht Pink Routes, two pink city walks’ was published that take you past famous and infamous places in Utrecht, such as “De Utrechtse Krul”. Until 1985, these ‘curls‘ were used as public urinals and as a meeting place for gay men. The temporary Utrechtse Krul became a column with information about gay and lesbian life then and now in Utrecht.
The TalkExpoShow with an exhibition about international lesbian and gay solidarity with HoLés from the sister cities of Utrecht; Brno (Czech Republic) and León (Nicaragua) formed a special part.
The second Pink Spring was opened on June 20, 1998 with the Midzomergracht Spectacle. This was followed from 21 to 26 June by 5 Pink Spring Days and concluded on 27 June 1998 with The Pink Saturday.
The content of the Midzomergracht Festival then consisted of activities that were initiated by the Pink Spring in the first year, such as the literary program ‘Uit de Boekenkast‘, a pink film festival, the pink city walk, the outdoor volleyball tournament and Panndora (formerly the Mega PANN party).
The Pink Spring was the driving force behind the annual Midzomergracht Festival, which grew into a 10-day period in which plenty of attention was paid to LGBTI+. Whether the objective of the Pink Spring has been achieved is difficult to measure. In 1998, the reputation of the Pink Spring was therefore measured in a survey. Jan Vesters remembered that 65% of the Utrecht population had become familiar with one or more of Pink Spring activities.
Guests from Brno and León were present in Utrecht for a week. In addition to emotional support, active work was done on the interpretation of the theme of homosexuality within the Utrecht-León city partnership and within the International Cooperation Department of the municipality of Utrecht. The then mayor of León, Rigoberto Sampson Granera (1997 – 2000), was in the city at the invitation of the municipality of Utrecht. After consultation with him, he also participated in the TalkExpoShow. On the spot, the faces of the gays and lesbians in the photo exhibition were taped over their eyes with bars, because homosexuality was a criminal offense in Nicaragua at the time. The collaboration led to a Cultural Festival in León in 2004 and 2005, based on the concept of the Midzomergracht Festival.
Tie van der Horst made a film report ‘Twee over Roze‘ of the entire festival and the preparation. This report is intercut with the portrait of two homosexuals from Utrecht. This documentary had its premiere a week after the festival. Photographer Dorien Koppenberg provided the visual report of the entire festival with hundreds of photos.
The Pink Spring PR campaign had to reach as many people as possible in the city. The posters, designed by the Design Police, hung in bus shelters and cultural frames in the city. The footage was exhibited in Los Angeles during a Dutch Design exhibition.
In 1997, the Midzomergracht festival started as a two-day event to introduce Utrecht to the many sides of the gay culture. The event also caught on outside the city of Utrecht. Thousands of people from all over the country came to the Oudegracht, where the spectacle took place on and around the medieval wharves. Reason enough to give Midzomergracht a national set-up in the following years. Utrecht thus placed itself firmly on the Dutch ‘queer map’.
From 1999, Midzomergracht became a cultural festival that lasted a week. That year, the festival kicked off with a Mega Pann party and an international volleyball tournament. It ended with a classical open-air concert and the traditional Midzomergracht Spectacle. In between there was a literary evening, a film festival, a MasterClass and a conference, an open podium, a historic queer city walk and various sports competitions. In the years that followed, the festival’s program continued to expand.
On May 5, 2002, De Overkant Foundation, the volunteer organization behind the Midzomergracht festival, received the Tolerance Award from the city of Utrecht – a recognition for increasing tolerance towards homosexual men and women. The Tolerance Award was presented by the then mayor of Utrecht, Mrs. A.H. Brouwer Korf.
In 2005 De Overkant Foundation drew up a vision document: ‘Diversity as a motive’. A highlight of the week, the free open-air spectacle party, took place around a bridge over the Oudegracht. In 2008, a trip was made to the attractive square at the Jacobikerk, but after that the tradition of partying together on the canal was restored.
Celebrate who you are
From 2013, the Midzomergracht festival was no longer a ‘gay cultural festival’. Utrecht and the wider area were more colourful and diverse than what you might think based on the term ‘gay’. The festival therefore celebrated with motto’s, such as All generations celebrate diversity together and #celebrate who you are.
Walk of love
In 2016, the jubilee Midzomergracht festival and COC Midden-Nederland joined forces for the first Utrecht Walk of Love. Together we celebrated not only the 20th edition of the festival, but also sexual diversity and gender diversity, by walking through the city with the largest rainbow flag in the Netherlands.
The Midzomergracht Festival announced its closure in July 2023. The brandnew Utrecht Queer Culture Festival, started by Jakko Geluk, Petra Luiken and Simon Timmerman, took over this year, but no longer around midsummer night, but around Coming Out Day, 11 October.
Henny Bos and Marion Etman
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