I was lucky enough to be at the first StreetHeart Festival in 2017 and I knew I’d be back. I’d been to the big Amsterdam Pride events before – Milkshake, Canal Parade, FunHouse – but StreetHeart felt different and fresh.
The event happened again for the next two years and then like everything else on the planet, it disappeared into the big black hole of 2020. Amsterdam had it rougher than a lot of Europe too with one of the most prolonged lock downs on the continent, plus strict curfews and enforced closing times.
Fast-forward to September 2022 and it feels like the pandemic is well and truly behind the city; and StreetHeart, like seemingly everything else, has returned in brilliant technicolour.
The free event is organised by Club Church, Amsterdam’s most famous gay cruise club. The club is a mecca for all types of kinks and gender expressions, and patronage by young non-binary people has swelled since the last time I was here. Typically, you might see drag queens on stage, trans people and circuit boys dancing side by side on the dancefloor and people fucking upstairs on the mezzanine. Everyone minds their own business – unless they want to watch! It is Amsterdam, after all.
The mother of this incredible operation is Jennifer Hopelezz, a bearded drag queen from Australia who is also one of the Netherland’s leading positive-sex ambassadors. Her drag family the House of Hopelezz and the club’s employees function like a family; busy bees keeping every aspect of the club and festival running while maintaining a safe environment where gender expression and discrete pleasures can take place side-by-side.
The dress code for the festival is simply to wear pink, white or blue; the colours of the Transgender Pride flag. While the rain threatened festivities for a few moments there, things were back to the summery Dutch skies of Van Gogh paintings soon after, which made the festival colours appear even more soft and inviting.
The street was buzzing by mid-afternoon with various onlookers, performance artists and queers both young and old out for a dance. The atmosphere amped up and was electric by the evening.
The club’s creative director, Taka Taka, choreographed a steady stream of shows throughout the day. The evening’s highlights included a most glamorous competition, a pulsating runway show by the festival’s performers, and a fashion parade lead by the exquisite Aryelle Freeman Hopelezz, a Jamaican-Dutch trans woman.
There was more Australian involvement with a pumping DJ set by Natarcia; Lady Bag’s incredible rendition of Kylie’s Spinnin’ Around, which literally involves her spinning around with dozens of bags attached and the return of Jennifer Hopelezz’s long-lost sister, Vicki Leaks, who moved back to Sydney in 2016. And of course yours truly, who ensured that Miss Leaks was well-hydrated throughout the day.
Before we knew it, it was already 9pm and the party moved inside Club Church where the Berlin-style techno pounded into the night ahead. So it is in Amsterdam, where the beat goes on and on.