Senior members of the government of the Netherlands have taken part in the annual Amsterdam Pride celebrations for the first time.

Minister for Education and Culture Ronald Plasterk said that his presence would focus attention on homophobia in Holland.

In an interview with Radio Netherlands he said: “I’m joining the Gay Pride Canal Parade on behalf of the entire coalition.”

Despite his claims, only ministers from the Labour party took part, with politicians from their coalition partners, the Christian Democrats and Christian Union party, noticeable by their absence.

The Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, also took part for the first time.

The city’s Pride parade makes use of the canals, with boats rather than trucks – this year the Armed Forces, police, other political parties and straight supporters, alongside sponsor IMG, all had “floats.”

An estimated 500,000 people lined the route on Saturday to watch a record 80 boats, many of them featuring colourful displays and semi-naked men and women. It was the 13th year that the event has been staged.

Mr Plasterk was joined in the Ministry for Education and Culture boat by the deputy ministers for European affairs and for education.

“The Gay Pride is a public event where people show they are gay or lesbian and are proud of being so,” he told Radio Netherlands.

“It is important for the government to show it shares that Pride.

“We encourage people to dare to be themselves and live the way they want.

“We are keen to support them with that and the Ministry’s boat at the parade aims to make that support visible.

“Anti-gay violence, though it never disappeared, is flaring.

“In some urban neighbourhoods it’s to do with youths from an Islamic background who are encouraged by the notion that homosexuality is morally repugnant.

“This is extremely worrying. When I talk about this at schools, it is shocking to hear how some young people think and talk about this.

“So a lot remains to be done. And not only at urban schools: ‘queer-bashing’ is something all kinds of youths do after drinking all around the country.”

A substantial increase in homophobic attacks in the capital has been reported over the last few years.

A survey carried out last August by current affairs programme EenVandaag revealed that more than half of Dutch gays felt less safe than they did a year ago.

Sixty-four per cent of anti-gay incidents were verbal but 12 per cent resulted in physical abuse.

Amsterdam’s image in the Netherlands as the ‘gay capital of the world’ is also under threat as the survey revealed gays there were more fearful than in other parts of country.

Of the 23,000 people questioned, including 1,980 gays and lesbians, 61 per cent still maintained the Netherlands is a gay-friendly country.

See photos of the Pride parade here.