A volleyball scholarship at St. Cloud State University brought Marja to America – she had been playing the sport with her twin sister, Ellie, since they were kids. While Ellie played in the Dutch premier league in the late ‘80s, Marja was a member of the university’s team, the Huskies. During her stay in Minnesota, Marja started dating a police woman in a nearby city. One afternoon, they went for a drive together. Marja, in the passenger seat, stretched out her long arms, casually draping one behind her girlfriend’s headrest.
Her girlfriend turned to her and said, “Mar, please don’t.”
Marja asked, “What?”
Her girlfriend said, “I don’t know who will see us driving through town.”
“She would always say, ‘I’m already that bitch in blue, I don’t want to be that dyke bitch in blue,’” Marja said.
That drive was already 20 years ago, just a couple of years longer ago than the event which inspired the foundation of Roze in Blauw Amsterdam, the Dutch LGBTQI police force of which Marja and her twin sister Ellie are prominent members.
The Amsterdam police corps, including Ellie Lust, had a lot of respect for the risk that the athletes took by coming to their city. They wanted to make sure that they felt safe and welcomed by the police in Amsterdam. The result: the Pink in Blue network, a task force dedicated to investigating and preventing crime against gay and lesbian people. Pink has been a color synonymous with the gay right’s movement since the Second World War: Nazis labeled lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender prisoners in the concentration camps with a pink triangle badge on their striped uniforms.
The slogan of the Gay Games that year was “Proud to be your friend”, a motto which Pink in Blue adopted as their own and still uses today. Through Pink in Blue, Marja and Ellie are public figures, and they aren’t dyke bitches in blue: they’re unabashed lesbians in blue. Marja is an investigator and Ellie is a spokesperson for the Amsterdam police, and they both protect and serve LGBT men and women through the task force.
“Around that time, Amsterdam recognized that the outside world should really be reflected in the police force,” Ellie said. “It was truly a white, straight, male police force when I started [in 1987]. Even now though, some men have the audacity to say, ‘So, when will we get a white men’s network?’ - that is bullshit.”
If Ellie calls bullshit, people listen. Nowadays, she is pretty much a national celebrity: she was a break out star in the Dutch reality show ‘Who is the Mole?”, is a regular contributor to the Dutch equivalent of “America’s Most Wanted” and has a dedicated fan base. All the same, she admitted to feeling like she really had to prove herself when she first became a cop. If she was the best at everything she did, she figured no one would mind that she was a lesbian. “I was overcompensating. You try so hard to position yourself as a good person, a good police agent and a good athlete in the hope that that makes the fact that you’re a lesbian less bad.”
When they eventually came out to their family, Ellie thought their dad was not-so-secretly happy to hear he would always be the only man in his daughter’s lives, but neither of the sisters felt that their mother really understood. “If one of her friends were to ask her about whether either of us was dating anyone, she would quickly reply, ‘Oh, no, the girls are so busy with volleyball,’” Ellie said.
As cops, they get to fight back against the conflicts and complications that LGBT people face. Anti-gay crimes began to be registered in Amsterdam in 2007, when 234 incidents were reported - 79 involved physical violence. Nowadays, there are actually more incidents being reported: in 2013, there were 620. Marja attributes that to LGBT people becoming more aware that Pink in Blue exists and recognizing that the harassment they encounter is actually criminal behavior.
“Most people who come to us wouldn’t dare to approach the police otherwise. That’s nothing against our straight colleagues, but it’s just how these particular victims feel,” Marja said. “LGBT victims can speak more easily and openly with someone who is like them. There’s just so much less to explain.”
Ellie said, “I definitely think through the work we do for Pink in Blue that we are heroes for others. People think we’re fantastic. They look up to us with tears in their eyes, saying, ‘You’re our police.’”
Marja agreed. “I think Ellie was born to become a spokesperson. She is really in her element within the police - I don’t know any better police spokesperson than her.” Marja’s own interest in becoming a cop was a little less noble, at least at first. “For me, I just thought cops were tough, walking around in that uniform. You always got to be where the action was.”
While their career choices and their looks are almost identical, now that they’re adults and no longer forced to wear matching outfits, it’s a little easier to tell who’s who. Marja’s hair is a variation of the natural red that they were born with, and her timbre is soft. Ellie’s hair is platinum blond and her tone is likewise just a little louder than that of her sister, but they have the same disciplined physical bearing and their shared resting facial expression exudes an unmistakably bad ass vibe.
Their most important similarity is an unerring vision of a more equal future for LGBT men and women. For the twins, Amsterdam is not enough, though. The Netherlands is not enough. “I am very grateful that I was born in a country like the Netherlands and still more so in a city like Amsterdam, where we have the freedoms that we do,” Marja said.
She knows, though. “We want it in every country. It would be so wonderful if, through the slogan ‘Proud to be your Friend’, all LGBT people in Europe could recognize the police who are their allies,” Ellie said. Marja tempered those ambitions with a dose of realism. “Our real goal is that, eventually, we can bring about a light bulb moment for someone.”
“One spirit at a time,” Ellie agreed.
“Yeah, change one mind at a time. Sometimes, we just can’t think or hope for anything more than that,” Marja concluded.
While veteran and civilian losses from all wars are remembered on this day, the Second World War looms largest. The location of the LGBT ceremony makes it impossible to forget the persecution by the Nazis: the three pink granite triangles forming the monument are embedded into the cobblestones between the Prinsengracht and the Keizergracht, the canals flanking the Anne Frank House. Marja and Ellie, along with their colleagues, stand at attention while drag queens and politicians walk down to the triangle beside the Keizergracht to place their flowers, doubled in the polished reflection.
The visit happened in the lead up to the passage of Russia’s now infamous anti-gay propaganda laws, and the protest in Amsterdam was the largest pro-gay demonstration Putin had been confronted with anywhere in the world to date. The final event of Putin’s visit was a state dinner held at the fortress-like Maritime Museum.
Across the harbor on the East Dock, photos of an Andy Warhol vision of the macho Russian president in campy blue eye shadow were held aloft in a sea of colorful flags and cardboard hearts with dildos glued on to them -- all in direct view of the museum, where Putin and the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte were attempting to dine in peace. “They had to move the state dinner somewhere else inside the museum because the protest was so distracting. That was awesome,” Ellie said proudly.
Their volleyball instincts kicked in when a cluster of balloons drifted up to where they were standing side by side above the crowd: they took turns spiking it back down while keeping an eye out for demonstrators trying to scale the wall for a better view of the event, cracking each other up in between with a level of inside jokes that only identical twins can achieve.