San Francisco LGBTQ leaders provide Dutch queen a royal welcome

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022
Share this Post:
Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, left, shakes hands with San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Tyler TerMeer, Ph.D., as Aria Sa'id of the Transgender District looks on at a meeting with LGBTQ leaders at Twin Peaks Tavern in the Castro September 6. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko
Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, left, shakes hands with San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Tyler TerMeer, Ph.D., as Aria Sa'id of the Transgender District looks on at a meeting with LGBTQ leaders at Twin Peaks Tavern in the Castro September 6. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko

LGBTQ officials provided a royal welcome to Queen Máxima of the Netherlands and other Dutch officials Tuesday as they toured San Francisco's Castro district. The royal delegation took in a brief glimpse of the city's LGBTQ museum and engaged in a friendly conversation with half a dozen local LGBTQ leaders.

King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who married Máxima in 2002, was to have joined his wife and the other Dutch dignitaries on their visit to the Bay Area. But he had to cancel at the last minute after becoming ill with pneumonia and his doctors advising him against traveling overseas.

"He would love to have been here," said Máxima during brief remarks she gave to the press alongside San Francisco Mayor London Breed at the end of her roughly hourlong visit to the Castro.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, left, welcomes Queen Máxima of the Netherlands to the Castro September 6, where they were joined by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. Photo: San Francisco Chronicle/pool  

Her being able to see the neighborhood was "an honor," said the queen, who thanked Breed "so much for giving us not only myself but also our minister and our people with us the opportunity to seeing Castro. You know the Netherlands and San Francisco share so many things in common, but this support to LGB community, it is something we feel so strongly about."

Máxima noted she was there "not only to learn about your history but also to learn from each other where are we good at, where are we actually not great because we still have to live by example. We have to make our world equal for everybody so everybody feels at home wherever they live."

Being welcoming is something, she added, "we take very seriously in the Netherlands and we are extremely happy to see how it's been developed here in San Francisco with your leadership but also with the leadership of this amazing community."

The royals had specifically wanted to meet with American LGBTQ leaders and visit the Castro district due to their own advocacy on LGBTQ rights. The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001, and Máxima became the first member of a European royal family to attend an LGBTQ rights conference in 2008.

It was what prompted husbands Kris Anders, 41, and Roger Schachtel, 72, to get up early Tuesday in order to welcome the queen to the neighborhood. They joined several dozen well-wishers outside of the GLBT Historical Society Museum who had gathered to greet the Dutch royal.

"The whole history of that royal family and gay people is admirable and deserves recognition," said Schachtel, adorned in orange, the official color of the Netherlands, whose parents in the 1960s happened to sail on a Holland America ship from Europe to the U.S. along with then—reigning monarchs Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard.

As for why Anders instigated the couple's being there, he told the Bay Area Reporter in addition to the Netherlands' early embrace of marriage equality, "one thing we gay people like to do is see queens. This is a really cool thing to see, you know."

Standing next to them with a Dutch flag and orange scarf was Ingrid Buscher, 57, who took the day off from her nursing job in order to see the queen. Born in Weert in the southeast of the Netherlands, Buscher said it was very difficult to glimpse the Dutch royals in her home country because thousands of people would gather for their visits.

"I never got to see them, so this is unheard of," said Buscher, who ended up standing next to the queen as she walked down the sidewalk.

With her son having recently come out as gay, Buscher told the B.A.R. it was another reason for her wanting to witness Queen Máxima visit the gayborhood.

"The Dutch people are always very accepting and tolerant of immigrants and gay people. We are just very tolerant," said Buscher, who first came to the Bay Area in 1991 and has dual American and Dutch citizenship. "It is a safe community for many, many people to live in. It is why it is so full."

At the museum the queen was shown the special glass vitrine that contains the suit worn by the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk the morning of his assassination on November 27, 1978. Museum staff also pointed out a section of the current exhibit devoted to the AIDS epidemic, which ravaged residents of the city's LGBTQ neighborhood in the 1980s and prompted the creation of an LGBTQ archival group to collect their ephemera and other historical items.

Shown a photograph of AIDS activists blocking traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge on January 31, 1989, taken by B.A.R. photographer Rick Gerharter, the queen responded, "I remember that."

Not on display to the public but stored in its archives are eight blocks of the Dutch version of the AIDS quilt, two of which honor gay couples who had lived in San Francisco. The founder of the Dutch AIDS Memorial Quilt, Dutchman Gart Zeebregts, had worked in the 1980s as the international outreach coordinator for the NAMES Project in San Francisco, the organization that launched and oversaw the American AIDS quilt.

Showing off one of the first rainbow flags made by the late Gilbert Baker now on display at the museum, interim co-executive director Andrew Shaffer noted how it used to include a pink stripe that had to be chopped off because the fabric was difficult to buy. Máxima, adorned in a hot pink dress, joked, "I am so glad to be adding myself to it."

"It is amazing how it has become a symbol," she said of the flag. "We have hung it often, so very nice to see."

Meeting at tavern
From the museum the 51-year-old Dutch royal walked over to the Castro Theatre and the historic Twin Peaks Tavern, the first gay bar in the U.S. to install clear-glass windows providing full views of its patrons. Escorting her on the brief walk, which took her across Castro Street and its rainbow crosswalks, was gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the neighborhood at City Hall.

"People are very excited. We don't get royalty here everyday," said Mandelman. "We have had hundreds of folks ask, 'Can you get us in to meet her?'"

Well-wishers greet Queen Máxima of the Netherlands who visited the Castro September 6. Photo: San Francisco Chronicle/pool  

Meeting Máxima midblock in the rainbow crosswalk were three drag queens. Husbands of five years Maurits Dekkers and Hans Culp, who are both Dutch but now live in San Francisco, with their drag mother, The One and Only Rexy, handed the queen a bouquet of flowers and exchanged greetings in both English and Dutch.

"We need more attention for diversity," said Dekkers about the royal visit's inclusion on its itinerary a focus on LGBTQ issues.

The experience "was amazing," said Rexy, adding that the queen's visit showcases how "people from around the world can learn from us and we can learn from people from around the world."

Greeting the queen to their bar were Twin Peaks Tavern co-owners George Roehm and Jeff Green, who had fielded Dutch press inquiries in the days leading up to the visit. They expect the publicity will result in more people from the Netherlands walking through the doors.

"It was very exciting. We were honored to have her here," said Green. "She is an ally to the LGBT+ community around the world. We really appreciate that, and she is very elegant."

Queen Máxima of the Netherlands tours the Castro district guided by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman during her September 6 visit to the LGBTQ neighborhood. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Mandelman joined in the conversation with Máxima at the famous watering hole with San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Tyler TerMeer, Ph.D.; San Francisco LGBT Community Center Executive Director Rebecca Rolf; National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon; and Aria Sa'id, president and chief strategist of the Transgender District in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood.

"She is so incredibly kind, generous, and sincerely cares about equality," Rupert-Gordon told the B.A.R. after meeting the queen.

Noting that "so many times the LGBTQ community is left out," Rupert-Gordon said having the queen want to visit and speak with local LGBTQ leaders "is so incredibly powerful for people here and the neighborhood."

The local LGBTQ leaders' discussion with Máxima focused on both HIV services, primarily in terms of access to health care, and transgender issues, from the issues trans people face to the services the city is providing. Both Sa'id and Breed highlighted the city's effort to end trans homelessness by 2027.

Sa'id told the B.A.R. she very much appreciated the queen's "understanding of trans issues" and wanting to learn about ways to address them.

"I think the realities that exist in San Francisco also exist in other modern-thinking countries in the world," she said.

TerMeer, a 39-year-old gay man who is of Dutch ancestry, discussed the current state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

"It was a really amazing moment for LGBT leaders here in the Bay Area to meet with Her Majesty, who is very supportive of LGBTQ rights in her home country," he said.

Thomas Horn, a gay man who chairs the San Francisco Host Committee, the nonprofit arm of the mayor's protocol office, also helped escort the queen through the Castro and took part in the conversation at the Twin Peaks. He said her visit brings public attention to LGBTQ issues across the globe.

"It certainly sends the message in the Netherlands they care," said Horn, a former publisher of the B.A.R. who serves as honorary consul of Monaco in San Francisco. "It furthers our goal of acceptance, assimilation, equality, diversity, and inclusion. She was very invested; it wasn't only a perfunctory tour of the Castro. She asked smart questions."

Speaking to the B.A.R. ahead of the delegation's visit September 6-9, gay deputy consul general for the Netherlands Consulate in San Francisco Vincent Storimans noted its agenda included stops at the campuses of Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UCSF, and tech giant Google. After leaving the Castro the queen attended a seminar at Salesforce Tower about the challenges urban areas are facing.

A cocktail reception for the queen is to be held tonight at San Francisco City Hall with 700 expected guests. Early Tuesday morning Máxima presided over a ceremonial flag raising ceremony at the building with Breed.

"Having the queen at the forefront of this fight is absolutely extraordinary," said Breed to reporters, of Máxima bringing global attention to LGBTQ issues.

According to the mayor's office it was the first royal visit to the city since 2005, when England's Prince Charles, newly married to Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, toured the Bay Area. They toured the Ferry Building and attended the now-closed camp revue "Beach Blanket Babylon" before heading north to meet with Marin County farmers due to the British royals' personal interest in organic farming.

Governor Gavin Newsom, who had greeted the British royals as the then-mayor of San Francisco, is scheduled to meet Máxima and other Dutch officials. While in San Francisco, Máxima was also expected to take in several activities on the to-do list of any tourist: riding one of the city's famed cable cars and visiting the Golden Gate Bridge.

In conjunction with the royal delegation, a trade mission of more than 100 Dutch companies from the fields of life sciences and health, urban mobility, and cycling is on a parallel visit to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The queen, who is being trailed by more than a dozen Dutch journalists, is set to visit Texas after leaving the Golden State. Her American tour is meant to highlight the impact of climate change on both the Netherlands and the U.S.; potential solutions to the energy crisis brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions imposed; and transatlantic cooperation.

"The Netherlands and California have been working together for many years in areas such as technology, climate change, and innovation. And cities in the Netherlands and California are at the forefront of the transition to create healthier urban living," stated Dutch Ambassador André Haspels, adding that the visit by "Her Majesty Queen Máxima highlights this cooperation and charts the way for future opportunities in technology, higher education, and health care."

Noting she had "heard a lot of Spanish spoken here," Máxima, who was born Máxima Zorreguieta in Argentina, ended her media briefing in the Castro with a short message in her native tongue.

She concluded, "Gracias a todos and long live Castro."

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.