A conservative suburb in Amsterdam has recently been in the news for homophobic incidents, including the erection of warning signs in a local park popular for gay “cruising” indicating spots where gay public sex is known to take place.

However, Slotervaart’s Muslim mayor is determined to curb homophobia in an effort to make the suburb’s attitude similar to the “anything goes” policy in the capital.

“It is necessary to confront this issue, to say that homosexuals are normal people like all of us and that we require them to be respected,” Mayor Ahmed Marcouch told AFP.

Slotervaart’s population consists mainly of immigrants, people who are traditionally seen as being conservative and anti-gay.

“For cultural or religious reasons, some people reject homosexuals and compare them to animals,” he said.

Marcouch has adopted an action plan for the next three years that will allow the opening of a gay cultural centre, which will help teach the community to be more tolerant of homosexuality and to raise awareness for gay rights.

He has also invited Amsterdam’s annual Gay Pride parade to pass through his constituency when it takes place this August.

Muslim and Catholic leaders and many locals have voiced their negative opinions on the matter. “If a homo bar opens here, it will soon burn down,” said a Slotervaart teen.

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