April 1, 2001
World’s first legal gay weddings held in Amsterdam
by Abigail Levene
Amsterdam (Reuters) – Two lesbian brides and six gay grooms became the world’s first homosexuals to wed legally, tying the knot on Sunday in a colourful communal ceremony. They married minutes after a Dutch law allowing same-sex matrimony came into effect. The four couples plighted their troth in the rose petal-bedecked city hall of Europe’s gay capital, Amsterdam, to the cheers and whoops of family and friends — some clad in tight black leather, others in sedate frocks and picture hats.
“You are writing history,” Mayor Job Cohen, who officiated, told the couples just after midnight ushered in the new law. “This is the first civil marriage to be celebrated between two women and two men. That is unique in the world.” The Dutch parliament passed the gay marriage law — fiercely opposed by Christian parties — late last year, along with legislation allowing homosexuals to adopt children.
The Netherlands had offered gays “registered partnership” since 1998, which allowed same-sex couples to regulate their relationship legally in a way largely like marriage. But a desire to offer the symbolism of marriage to all, whatever their sexuality, drove the move to legalise homosexual unions in a country that sets the global pace in gay rights.
Driven to the city hall in a motorcade of candy-coloured Volkswagen Beetles, the couples arrived waving and grinning, unruffled by seven soberly-dressed Christian protestors holding placards urging: “Come, let us return to the Lord.”
“We want people to choose an alternative, we want to show them this is a much better way. We believe true fulfilment lies in God, not in the satisfying of their lusts,” Frans Gunnink of Christians for Truth told Reuters.
But for Louis Rogmans, 63, about to wed his 72-year-old partner Ton Jansen, nothing could spoil the moment. “We’ve asked people not to bother buying us presents. It sounds corny but this is the biggest present we could have,” said Rogmans, who like his boyfriend of 36 years sported a tuxedo and pink bow tie.
Asked what he expected of their wedding night, Jansen said: “After so many years together it’ll just be a normal night.”
Long-stemmed roses in vases and a giant heart made of pink and red rose petals enlivened the austere conference hall normally used for meetings of the city council’s great and good. The bridal couples, all of them already legally registered partners, stood as the mayor asked each in turn: “Will you convert your partnership into a marriage and do you swear to fulfil all the duties with which the law endows marriage?” After saying “I do,” three of the couples exchanged rings.
Social worker Peter Wittebrood-Lemke and schoolteacher Frank Wittebrood chose to seal their union instead by removing gaudy rings — to reveal ring designs tattooed on their fingers. The toast was drunk in pink champagne. The wedding cake, iced in shocking pink, bore eight figurines — three male couples and one female. It was no ordinary wedding.
But lesbians Helene Faasen and Anne-Marie Thus were keen to stress that theirs was no different from any other marriage. “We’re not pioneers. We’re just grateful we’ve been able to do this. Now we just want to live a normal family life,” said Faasen, pushing back an ivory veil and clutching a posy of white roses that complemented her new wife’s peach-coloured bouquet. Faasen’s father, Peter, said she had made him proud. But he was sorry there would be no church wedding. “I’m a Catholic and with this Pope that’s never going to happen,” he said.
Amsterdam chief registrar Evert Geuzinge said he expected the Netherlands would now see around 10,000 gay weddings a year, or 10 percent of the average annual marriage total.
March 31, 2001
Dutch Law Allows Same-Sex Marriages
by Anthony Deutsh
Amsterdam, Netherlands (AP) – Four gay couples exchanged rings and vows at City Hall early Sunday, the first of hundreds planning to wed under a new Dutch law allowing same-sex marriages.
The ceremony capped a 15-year campaign to award gay couples equal rights under civil law. It began at midnight, when legislation approved last year took effect. Standing around a conference table, three male couples and one female couple held hands as Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen officiated.
“And now we have the marriage of two men and two women,” Cohen said after each agreed to accept his or her partner as a spouse. A packed meeting hall burst into applause, but the newlyweds stood awkwardly until Cohen told them they could congratulate each other. Then they kissed and embraced.
Cohen gave each partner a ring, then asked them to sign a marriage registry. The two women both wore gowns with long trains. Most of the men were in conservative dark suits, although one couple was outfitted in leather. “In the Netherlands, we have gained the insight that an institution as important as marriage should be open to everyone,” he said.
Though several other countries register same-sex couples and some call them marriages, rights groups have hailed the Dutch legislation as groundbreaking. It eliminates all references to gender in laws governing matrimony and adoption, going so far as to amend the dictionary to eliminate references to “man and woman” in the definition of marriage.
“We are so ordinary, if you saw us on the street you’d just walk right past us,” said Anne-Marie Thus, in an interview before she married her partner, Helene Faasen. “The only thing that’s going to take some getting used to is calling her ‘my spouse.”’ The two women — who like most of the couples have been together several years — have a 9-month-old son Thus bore after artificial insemination. A handful of demonstrators protested outside City Hall, calling the unions “unnatural.” “We hope these people will chose to return to the Lord,” said Cor de Vries, 30.
Gays have enjoyed general acceptance in the Netherlands for years, and public surveys show that more than 75 percent of the population supported the equal rights bill. In Amsterdam, gay pride is celebrated annually with a carnival and parade, and the city hosted a sporting event for homosexuals called the Gay Games.
The weddings consolidate the Netherlands’ position at the forefront of social liberalization. Last year it legalized brothels and decriminalized euthanasia, and marijuana and hashish are sold at regulated establishments. Although widely tolerated, gays won their first legal rights with the decline of religious political parties and the formation in 1994 of the first wholly secular governing coalition, which passed legislation allowing gays to register as partners.
Dutch religious parties remain opposed, and the Vatican has called the Dutch move a “great danger.” Before the ceremony, Cohen told reporters he believed the Dutch law would be a stimulus for other countries to reassess their views on gay marriages. Like heterosexual married couples, gay couples under the new laws are able to apply for court approval to adopt children after living together for three years. The law also eliminates legal ambiguities on inheritance, pension rights, taxes and divorce.
Foreigners hoping to get married in the Netherlands will be disappointed. Only Dutch nationals or resident foreigners living with a Dutch partner are eligible for same-sex marriages. Gay couples also will be barred from adopting children overseas because of potential objections from countries that don’t allow gays to marry.
December 12, 2001
Dutch Gay Marriage Stats Released
Amsterdam, Netherlands – Dutch civil servants wed nearly 2,000 same-sex couples in the first six months after gay marriage was legalized this year, a government agency said Wednesday.
The gay marriage law that took effect on April 1 made the Netherlands the first country to grant gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, including the right to adopt children. The Central Bureau of Statistics said 2,100 men and 1,700 women had married someone of the same sex by Sept. 30. Gay marriages comprised 3.6 percent of all new marriages.
In April, this figure was more than 6 percent as gays rushed to take advantage of the new law, but it gradually stabilized at around 3 percent. Sixteen percent of the people who married someone of the same sex had earlier been in a heterosexual marriage. Most were divorced, and a few were widows or widowers.
August 3, 2002
‘Marlene’ stars at Dutch gay fest
Amsterdam, Netherlands – Dressed in flaming colours, accompanied by fire-eaters and drag queens, Amsterdam’s gay community braved the pouring rain to stage a colourful, noisy procession which is unique in the world.
Some 75 decorated boats sailed down the central canals of the historic city – several thousand partying male and female gays on board.
One of the most unusual attractions was a float with Israeli and Palestinian gays on board. It sailed down the Prinsengracht canal, its passengers waving their national flags to the applause of several tens of thousands of people who had turned out to watch the annual pageant.
Organisers of the Gay Pride were particularly proud that international human rights watchdog Amnesty International had accepted to take part, under the slogan that gay rights were human rights as well.
But the various political points were somewhat drowned out by the sheer colour of the event. Men in tight blue swimsuits waving Australian flags at the feet of a very camp drag queen seemed to draw the loudest applause from the crowds, which had come from all over northwestern Europe and the United States.
Probably the most choreographed float was one that included a man dressed in the black bodice and fishnet stockings that were the hallmark of Marlene Dietrich. “She” was accompanied by two dozen men in top hats, tails and white gloves who synchronised hand gestures kept the crowds enthralled.
September 21, 2003
Doctrine Meets Practice Dutch take on Vatican over gay marriages
by Frida Ghitis
At the stroke of midnight, on April 1, 2001, an extraordinary ceremony unfolded at City Hall in Amsterdam. Inside the massive red brick building adjoining the city’s grand opera hall, a leading Dutch politician performed official marriage ceremonies for four gay couples. The weddings, conducted by Mayor Job Cohen, represented the first fully government-sanctioned same-sex marriages in the world. They were not registered partnerships, civil unions or any other political concoction cooked up to resemble a normal marriage. These marriages were 100 percent identical to the ones joining married heterosexual couples in the Netherlands.
The weddings did not cause much of a social or political commotion in the Netherlands. That, however, is not what happens in most countries when gay marriage comes up for debate. Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law this summer, moves to legalize gay unions on all continents have gathered steam. The Vatican has made it its mission to stop gay marriage. Activists in the Netherlands now say they will help gay groups in other countries achieve what they did. A few weeks after the Supreme Court ruling, the Vatican issued a call for Catholics around the world to stand up against the evils of ungodly and unnatural homosexual unions.
According to the Vatican’s 12-page directive, even supporting gay marriage is “gravely immoral.” Not long after that, the main gay organization in the Netherlands announced the publication of a booklet designed to help activists legalize their relationships by studying the Dutch experience. Hans van Velde, a principal author of the 60-page guide, says requests for copies have poured in from all corners of the world. Already the publishers, the weekly Gay Krant and the Dutch Association for the Integration of Homosexuality, have shipped copies to Brazil, Argentina, Suriname, Romania and many other countries.
In this battle, spearheaded by the Netherlands on one side and the Vatican on the other, the Vatican has already scored important victories. When Pope John Paul II declared it the duty of Catholics to fight gay marriage, the Congress of Colombia was already debating legislation to grant partnership rights to same-sex couples. Prominent politicians, including several former presidents, had expressed support for the bill. But Colombia is a devoutly Catholic country, and the legislation was quickly shelved after the word came out of Rome. Activists say the Vatican’s push killed the bill. In Poland, the pope’s birthplace and another very Catholic country, activists believed the time was not yet right to fight for gay marriage rights. But, after hearing that authorities refused to allow a gay man to see his dying partner in the hospital, Sen. Maria Szyszkowska introduced a civil unions bill. With the pope’s pronouncement, the bill faces an uphill battle.
The Vatican’s involvement has infuriated many activists, especially in light of the church’s recent sexual abuse scandals. In Argentina, where a version of legalized same-sex union is in place, writer Eduardo Galeano wondered how, exactly, supposedly chaste priests are suddenly experts in sex. In his native Uruguay, he reports, the archbishop proclaimed homosexuality a “contagious disease.” Galeano points to the horrors of the Inquisition, when homosexuals were burned alive and worse on instructions of the church. The Vatican, he says, should be begging for forgiveness, rather than continuing to spray its venom.
To those worried about the collapse of society should gay marriage become a reality, gays and their supporters in the Netherlands say not to worry. Since gay marriage became legal, the Netherlands remains standing. Heterosexuality, they say, does not appear to have been endangered. Dutch activists underscore that what they fought for was civil matrimony. They say the rules of religious marriage are a matter for each church to decide.
When it comes to legalizing civil marriages, they feel a responsibility to share the secrets of their success. The main gay umbrella organization, which is also the oldest gay group in Europe, helped start the International Gay and Lesbian Organization, which is promoting equality for gays. Cohen, who as justice minister became the principal sponsor of legislation in the Dutch parliament, acknowledged that initially he did not see the need for same-sex marriage. Cohen, who is openly straight, eventually came to champion the cause when he realized that the issue was, in fact, equality. The same point is made by Jose Smits, one of many openly gay members of parliament. She says the problem is really one of discrimination – which politicians of all stripes generally oppose.
The Dutch publication offers encouragement to gay groups even in the face of defeat. Arriving at gay marriage required a long and arduous 16-year trek through the jungles of public opinion, parliamentary politics, the Dutch courts and, surprisingly, a reluctant gay community. When Henk Krol, editor of the Gay Krant, first brought up the matter with gay groups, they did not support him. At one point, the president of the gay association, Anja van Kooten Niekerk, agreed with politicians who opposed gay marriage, saying it was “sad” that gays were demanding marriage rights. “It actually annoys me,” she said. Legal experts convinced skeptics when they explained that marriage is the only contract that imposes duties on third parties. When two people marry, not only do they agree to responsibilities toward each other, but they also involve other entities dealing with pension funds, investments, inheritance, hospital visitation rights, government matters and other practical issues. Krol said he opposed “gay marriage.” That’s right. He considered gay marriage discriminatory.
The idea was that marriage itself, just as it was, should be open to all consenting adult couples. To get there, organizers had to study existing laws. Then they tested their claims in court, where they lost. The Dutch high court said same-sex marriage would require new legislation. They then set out to enlist allies in parliament and design a course of legal action. They gradually persuaded municipalities to allow registries of committed gay couples, and enlisted the agreement of corporations, such as the Dutch airline KLM, to recognize the registries for the purpose of employee benefits. After 1998, gay couples were allowed to make their relationships official through a national system of registered partnerships that assigned rights and responsibilities almost identical to those of marriage.
At last, in 2001, the law was changed so gays had identical marriage rights as straight couples. Since the Netherlands pioneered equality in marriage for same-sex couples, the trend has spread. In January 2003, Belgium abolished all its laws that stood in the way of marriage between gay couples. (Belgium, too, is still standing.) In Canada, after a provincial high court said it was unconstitutional not to allow gays to marry, the country looks set to join the Netherlands and Belgium. In many European countries, the shock value of gay life seems to be fading. The European Parliament just voted to recommend that countries allow gays to marry and adopt children. The current mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, “outed” himself during the election campaign and was elected anyway.
In the United States, the Supreme Court unleashed a frenzy of activity in conservative circles to stop gay marriage. But many other countries are well on their way. Just as some local governments in the U.S. allow gay couples to register, domestic partnership legislation is in place in all Scandinavian countries, as well as in Spain, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Israel, South Africa and many other spots throughout the world. The Vatican may tell its followers that the trend is sordid, unnatural and against God’s laws. But right now, in this faceoff between Dutch activists and the Vatican, men such as van Velde say the Vatican is bound to lose. Legalized gay marriage is inevitable. “It’s something,” he said, “that you cannot stop.” .
Frida Ghitis writes about world affairs. She is the author of “The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.”
25 September 2003
Gay youth face ‘alarming’ discrimination
Guardian journalist Sophie Arie wrote:
Utrecht – A recent internet survey revealed an “alarming” 40 percent of homosexual youth experience discrimination because of their sexual preference, gay magazine Expreszo claimed on Thursday. Expreszo Editor-in-Chief Merijn Henfling said the discrimination took the form of teasing, name calling, gossip and physical violence. A large number of gays, lesbians and bisexuals also said they felt unsafe on the street due to verbal and non-verbal violence, particularly from immigrant youths, a news website nu.nl reported.
Undaunted, about three-quarters of the respondents said they were pleased with their sexual preference and would not want to be heterosexual. A total of 3,000 people participated in the survey, but the answers of just 2,320 Dutch and Flemish respondents were suitable enough to be used to give the final results. Henfling said the survey was large enough to be considered reliable. Expreszo said its Coming Out Research – which will be repeated in coming years – indicated that homosexual youth openly express their sexual tendencies at an increasingly younger age, currently mid-way through their 18th year.
It takes about four years between the time a youth realising he or she is gay to expressing it openly to the world. The magazine’s research – carried out in co-operation with youth broadcaster BNN – indicated that a total of 63 percent of homosexual youths first tell a friend about their sexual preference, while 15 percent opt to tell their mother. A total of 40 percent had no problems “coming out”, while 55 percent admitted some problems, and a further 5 percent said coming out had been a nightmare. Meanwhile, other research has indicated that homosexual teachers more often suffer from inappropriate curiosity over their private life in comparison with their heterosexual colleagues. They are often the brunt of rude jokes from other teachers and students as well, with teachers at VMBO pre-vocational secondary schools experiencing the most problems.
The research also indicated that at schools with clear rules regarding manners and a “diversity” policy, homosexual teachers encounter considerably less discrimination. Meanwhile, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported Thursday that EU ministers have endorsed a proposed set of rules ensuring that same-sex married couples from the Netherlands and Belgium are recognized across the EU, by countries whose own gay and lesbian populations are still far from receiving the same recognition. Under the new rules, which have yet to be made law by the EU parliament, gay and lesbian EU citizens and their families will be able to move freely around the EU and obtain permanent residence in any EU state once they have been resident there for at least five years.
November 2, 2003
Dutch say gay marriage is really all about equality
by Frida Ghitis, Amsterdam
The most shocking aspect of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands is that nobody seems particularly shocked about it. Thirty-one months after Dutch law opened the way for gay couples to marry, the registrar’s office at Amsterdam City Hall buzzes with couples – gay and straight – filling out the necessary forms for government-sanctioned civil matrimony. Since the city’s mayor, Job Cohen, conducted the first gay weddings at midnight on April 1, 2001, some 4,000 gay couples have asked for the government’s seal of legitimacy for their relationships. In the progressive Netherlands, however, many couples view marriage as an old-fashioned institution.
As long as their rights and responsibilities are protected, they see no need to bother with all the paperwork. Gay activists like to say there is no gay marriage in the Netherlands. Instead, they explain, there is marriage, and there is equality. Marriage is open to all consenting adults, as long as one member of a couple is a Dutch citizen. The distinction is important because, despite the Dutch people’s liberal views on homosexuality, completing the road to full equality took 16 arduous years. One could be forgiven for thinking gay marriage came easily.
After all, only tourists do double takes at the sight of two businessmen holding hands as they walk to work along one of the Amsterdam’s canals. Every major political party has openly gay members in parliament. The most prominent right-wing politician, the late Pim Fortuyn, was gay. He rose to fame partly for his attacks on Muslim immigrants, saying their rants against homosexuals constituted a threat to liberal Dutch society. And yet, activists faced an uphill struggle to reach the holy grail of gay rights. Politicians who worked on achieving the legislative victory that brought marriage to gays say part of their success resulted from framing the question as one of equality rather than one of gay rights.
Even Cohen, who as minister of justice shepherded the legislation through parliament, says he initially did not see the need to legalize unions between same-sex couples. That changed when Cohen realized this was, in fact, a fight against discrimination. That is a view that came to be shared by the Dutch population. As activist and journalist Hans Van de Velde explains, “If you want to treat all people equally, why shouldn’t you treat gay people equally?”
Activists in Holland, which was the first country to legalize marriage for gays, say they feel a responsibility to help their counterparts in other parts of the world. The country’s principal gay rights group, the Dutch Association for the Integration of Homosexuality, known by its old Dutch acronym COC, advises groups, particularly in Eastern Europe, to help them pave the way to equality. The association, along with the newspaper Gay Krant, published a manual titled, “No Gay Marriage in the Netherlands.”
The booklet describes in some detail the history of the battle for equality. It describes the frustrating efforts to convince even gay leaders, many of whom opposed the idea of obtaining legal status for the unions, until they discovered the very practical aspects. Without marriage rights, gay couples would face obstacles in pension rights, medical visitation and decision-making privileges, and a host of other important day-to-day matters. In addition, with some 20,000 children now growing up with gay parents, the practical issues began to multiply. Activists then persuaded municipalities to initiate registered partners lists. Then they persuaded corporations to accept the lists for the purpose of company benefits. Eventually, the national government instituted a countrywide partnership registry. Partnership registration, often with elaborate ceremonies, gave same-sex couples many of the same rights of heterosexuals. But the battle was not yet won.
The registered partnerships became a key step in the process. It allowed the general population to become comfortable with the idea that gay couples were not much different from heterosexual ones. After that, the Dutch were ready to change the definition of marriage, without any social upheaval. Holland is no longer the only country allowing gay marriage. Belgium has joined it, and now Canada looks set to follow. In the meantime, Europeans appear to be growing ever more comfortable with the topic. Civil unions are allowed in Denmark, France and Germany.
Different versions of “faux marriage” are in place in dozens of countries. The European Parliament recently recommended its member countries allow gay marriage. In the meantime, Paris and Berlin chose openly gay mayors, Israel sent a gay ambassador to Denmark, and the whole continent seems to be moving the way of Holland. At least that’s what gay activists and their supporters in the Netherlands believe. Their forecast for the United States, where they acknowledge a more difficult battle, is for some nationwide version of gay registered partnerships in just a few years. “If you allow that,” Van de Velde says, “straight people will see that nothing strange, nothing weird really happens.” If the Dutch are right, then Americans are set to discover that, despite all the fuss, gay marriage is really shockingly unshocking. . Frida Ghitis writes about world affairs. She is the author of “The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.”
December 31, 2003
Dutch Protestants Merge & Offer Gay Weddings
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff Amsterdam, Holland
The three largest Protestant denominations in the Netherlands have agreed to merge, putting aside their ideological differences and agreeing to perform same-sex weddings. The Dutch Reformed Church, the Calvinist Reformist Church, and the small Lutheran Church will unite to form the Protestant Church of the Netherlands, together representing about 2.2 million churchgoers – or about 14 percent of the population.
The merger has the backing of Queen Beatrix. The Dutch royal family is by tradition Dutch Reformed. The synods of the three churches approved the merger by large majorities at three separate meetings. Conservative members of the Dutch Reformed Church viewed the merger with “great apprehension,” but decided that unifying the church was more important, chairman Arie van der Plas was quoted saying by the Dutch broadcaster NOS. One of the concerns was gay marriage.
Van der Plas put aside his worries when it was agreed no individual church would be forced to conduct the marriage ceremonies. Nevertheless, some conservative congregations remain unhappy with the decision. A small ultraconservative group of churches is expected to break with the new church and be independent.
Although the new church won’t officially exist until May 1, 2004, many churches are already holding joint services. Roman Catholicism remains the country’s single largest religion, representing around 30 percent. Islam follow the Protestants as third largest, with 5 percent, and is the only religion that is still growing, because of high birth and immigration rates in the country’s Turkish and Moroccan communities.
7 January 2004
Harassment in gay cruising areas ‘increasing’
Amsterdam – National gay organisation COC Nederland has claimed that police and local government officials are increasingly mounting intensive surveillance of known homosexual meeting areas and handing out fines to men who meet there. COC warned that this approach would further deter gay men from going to the police when they are attacked in these cruising areas.
The organisation has called the police, health boards and local governments to formulate a “coherent, long-term policy” to deal with attacks on homosexuals, to promote safe sex and tackle prostitution and underage sex. Saying that “police are no longer your best friend”, COC chairman Henk Beerten implied that politicians and the police were giving the signal that gays should not frequent parks and nature areas around the country.
Victims of anti-homosexual violence are now afraid the reaction will be that being attacked was their own fault. “That is naturally not the intention, but it has that effect,” Beerten said. “We see the consequences of the current short-sighted policy, long warned about by COC, in the Zuiderpark in Rotterdam. A group of young people have gone unpunished for months despite attacking and robbing men looking to meet other gay men. Let this be a signal that a more responsible policy is needed to prevent worse happening,” he said. COC has been criticising what it deems are the “short-sighted” policies of local officials for months.
In an article in newspaper De Volkskrant in August 2003, Beertens claimed that toleration had become a thing of the past since the meteoric rise, then assassination of murder of openly-gay populist politician Pim Fortuyn in May 2002. “The trademark is decisive leadership. In practise, this is mainly directed towards self-publicity and in their eyes ‘purifying’ with overtly repressive measures,” Beertens wrote. Separately, a new study has suggested that informational brochures on HIV intended for young gay men should be simpler.
This is one of the main conclusions reached by academics from Utrecht and Maastricht universities and market research bureau Sellvation. The team surveyed 157 young gay men and found that information on HIV risks should be adapted to make it more accessible to young gay men with a low level of education. Additional attention also had to be given to situations in which men “found it difficult” to have safe sex, the report said. Interestingly, the study found that providing more information on safe sex had no effect. Instead, the brochures had to concentrate more on difficult situations.
After reading such focused information, many men in the experiment said they planned to practise safe sex. Dutch people are generally considered to be well informed about the dangers of unsafe sex. But an earlier study carried out by Utrecht University and the health board in Amsterdam found that a lot of unsafe sex still takes place, particularly young gay men with a low educational level, Novum news agency reported.
March 8, 2004
In Netherlands, slow road advised for gay marriage
by Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff
Amsterdam– In a comfortable, modern neighborhood here built for family living, the couple sat together on their beige couch, proudly showing a visitor their wedding album. Sharing snapshots and memories of that day in 2001, they simultaneously managed to keep up a magnetic fishing game with their two children, Myrthle, 2, and Nathan, 3, the kind of casual multitasking that only parents used to the chaotic rhythm of child-rearing can pull off.
They politely corrected each other about the details of how they first met on a blind date, and completed each other’s sentences as they recounted how quickly everything fell into place for them to marry and start a family. “We’re like any other family. We work. We go shopping. We take the kids to school. We feed the ducks. We’re teaching the children to say their prayers at night,” said Anne Marie Thus, 34. “We are ordinary people. You might even say we are boring.”
The pace of life, the things they want for their family certainly seem ordinary, but this couple also shares a moment in history. Anne Marie Thus and her wife, Helene Fassen, 37, were the first lesbian couple in the world to be officially married when the Netherlands became the first country in the world to permit gay marriage nearly three years ago.
The political narrative of how the Netherlands came to accept the idea of gay marriage, and make it a legal reality for Thus and Fassen and about 6,000 other gay couples since April 1, 2001, offers lessons for both sides of the emotional debate in the United States.
Thus and Fassen, along with several prominent politicians who wrote the Dutch legislation, offer words of caution to American advocates of gay marriage. They warn that America, particularly Massachusetts and California, should not move too fast. As Thus put it: “Americans need to spend more time talking about it.” These Dutch proponents of gay marriage recommend that their American counterparts take more time to help the wider population see the issue from their perspective, and then let voters have their say. Otherwise, they say, the religious right will polarize the debate and tie it up for years.
At the same time, some opponents have acknowledged that in the three years since gay marriage became a reality here, the institution of marriage has not collapsed, as many religious leaders and conservative politicians warned it would. Thus far, specialists in domestic law, legislators, and some religious commentators say there is no empirical evidence of damage to the institution. For example, divorce rates are no higher, and there is no sign that conventional couples are shunning marriage. Martin Van Mourek, a professor of family law at Nijmegen University, a Catholic institution, said a bitter aftertaste remains from the public dialogue, in which he and others who opposed gay marriage were portrayed as bigots in the media and in the parliamentary debate.
“In America, I hope that those who believe the institution of marriage is a sacrament for men and women will have more courage to speak out to defend it, and not allow the opposition to paint them as intolerant in doing so. Don’t let the debate get polarized. Be sure all of the voices are heard,” he cautioned.
Henk Krol, the editor of Gay Krant, a fortnightly newspaper for gay people, and the man who defined the debate in the Netherlands, likes to say, “We don’t have gay marriage in this country; we just have marriage.” “We don’t want to put people in a separate box,” added Krol. “We are very proud to be the first country in the world to have done this, and now I am working all over the world to help other countries.”
Krol, who has met with leaders of the gay community in Massachusetts in recent years and is heading to South America to lobby there, says he believes gay communities must find ways to put the issue on the national agenda, but must also be careful not to push too fast and alienate people. “In politics things have to happen at their own pace,” he said.
Belgium last year became the only other country that allows same-sex marriage. Several European countries, including Denmark, France, and Germany, allow gay men and lesbians to join in civil unions, which provide many of the same rights as marriage but are easier to dissolve. Like most issues in Europe, gay marriage is most often addressed nationally, rather than on a state or city level. A slow but steady approach succeeded in the Netherlands through a 15-year national dialogue that ended in achieving equal rights in personal relationships.
It began with a series of court challenges in 1985 by gay couples to “cohabitation contracts,” which offered limited rights. In 1990 the courts referred the issue to the politicians, and legislation gradually gave more rights under the cohabitation contracts. A ruling coalition of liberal parties passed a law in 1997 that created “registered partnerships” open to hetero- and homosexual couples, guaranteeing nearly all of the same rights, such as inheritance, pension and health benefits, and eventually parental rights. The law made the Netherlands the most progressive country in the world for equal rights in relationships.
Over the next three years, opinion polls began to suggest that a majority in the Netherlands saw no reason to deny gay and lesbian couples the full rights afforded by civil marriage.
In late 2000, Parliament voted, 109-to-31, to allow gay marriage as of April 1, 2001. At midnight, Thus and Fassen and three male couples all tied the knot in Amsterdam’s City Hall, the first time that homosexual couples were legally married.
Since then, about 2 percent of marriages in the Netherlands have been between same-sex couples, according to data from the government statistics bureau. In 2002, there were 1,838 same-sex marriages out of 85,808 marriages nationwide, the latest figures available. The total was about evenly divided between male and female couples. Another 740 gay couples opted for a registered partnership, still available to all as an alternative to marriage. One of the pivotal politicians who made all this happen was Job Cohen, a former deputy justice minister. Cohen said he had long believed that marriage was exclusively between a man and a woman, a sacrament grounded in 2,000 years of Judeo-Christian history.
In discussions with gay friends, “they convinced me that everyone should have the same right to take part in marriage, that they have the right to take part in something that is not just a legal contract, but something holy,” he said. “If person A loves person B, that is really all that matters.” Cohen wrote the legislation that passed. And when the law took effect, Cohen, by then mayor of Amsterdam, presided over the first gay marriage ceremony. “I was already rationally convinced, but at that moment when those couples were married, I was emotionally convinced as well,” he said.
Cohen also advises American supporters to take a slower, more deliberate strategy.
“There may be a step that needs to be taken before gay marriage, which is to create equal institutions within civil unions, as you call them. The equalization of the laws [in 1997] on our registered partnerships, as we call them, helped many people, including myself, to turn the corner and see this is an issue of equality,” he said.
For Louis Rogmans, 63, and Ton Jansen, 72, who were also married by Cohen on that first day, marriage has meant a lot but has had little impact on how they live. Some practical aspects are very important to them. For example, Jansen said his pension from his years as the chief nurse of an anesthesia department “will now go to Louis.” “What makes you think you’re going first?” asked Rogmans.
They are immensely proud of the achievements of the gay community. “Marriage seemed so far away. I honestly can say I never thought it would be possible, not in our lifetime. And then suddenly it was there,” said Jansen, who has been with Rogmans for 37 years.
Both men agreed that in America, the movement seemed to be outpacing the public.
“I think it unwise to push it too much. Americans who favor gay marriage would be smart to keep it out of the newspapers for a while. Don’t give Bush a chance to use it for his reelection,” said Jansen. “Yes, they really should slow down,” added Rogmans.
`The Netherlands has a unique place in the world, with its capital city, Amsterdam, widely viewed as perhaps the single most tolerant and open in the world. Prostitution is legal, as is marijuana, and tourists flock to brothels and hash bars. But the heartland of the Netherlands is more socially conservative and religious.
Nearly 40 percent of Dutch people say they have no religious affiliation. About one-third identify themselves as Catholic, and the rest Protestant, with the largest segment identifying with the very liberal Dutch Reformed Church, which supports same-sex marriage. “Approving gay marriage does not mean the beginning of Sodom and Gomorrah,” said Fassen, who grew up Catholic and still feels an emotional attachment to her faith even though she disagrees with the church’s stand on many issues, especially same-sex marriage. “People are afraid to give up values, and they don’t know where it is taking them. But we are a very traditional family. We are sending our children to religious schools. We are actually very conservative in almost every sense of what we want for our kids,” added Fassen.
“Maybe that is why marriage was so important to us. We wanted our relationship recognized in front of our families. It’s an emotional thing, a belief that marriage is forever. That’s why you say, ‘Til death do us part.'”
• Charles Sennott can be reached at email@example.com.
Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, 19101
May 27, 2004
Gay marriage? Been there, done that, Dutch say
by Ken Dilanian, Inquirer Staff Writer
Amsterdam– Like a lot of politicians, the mayor of Leeuwarden, a small town about 60 miles north of the Dutch capital, is married. It’s just that his spouse happens to be a man.
Same-sex marriage may be making headlines in America, but here in the land of tulips and canals – not to mention state-sanctioned marijuana cafes, brothels and euthanasia – it’s yesterday’s news. In 2000, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay nuptials. These days they have become so unremarkable that the city council of Leeuwarden felt no compunction in nominating Geert Dales, a former Amsterdam alderman who married his longtime partner in 2002, to lead their midsized borough.
“People there said, ‘A decade ago that wouldn’t have been possible,'” said Job Cohen, Amsterdam’s mayor, who wrote the legislation as a member of parliament and married the first couples at City Hall. “But now, nobody cares.” The Dutch have long lived on the cutting edge of social tolerance, allowing high-grade cannabis to be sold in “coffee shops,” lingerie-clad prostitutes to display their wares in street-side windows, and doctors to perform patient-requested mercy killings. But on the issue of same-sex marriage, the Netherlands is not far outside what’s becoming the European mainstream. Counting the Netherlands, 10 European countries now recognize gay unions. The list includes Belgium, which became the second country to legalize same-sex marriage, and seven others – France, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway – that allow registered partnerships designed to grant homosexual couples the same legal rights as married heterosexuals. Portugal has a more limited civil-unions law.
Among Western Europe’s most populous nations, only heavily Catholic Italy, where the Vatican wields significant influence over politics, has not addressed gay partnerships. The list of countries offering gay-marriage rights is expected to expand. Spain’s left-wing prime minister has pledged to grant them, and Sweden’s parliament is considering a bill to do the same. Switzerland and Britain are moving toward enacting civil-partnership proposals. Civil unions also are under consideration in Ireland and the Czech Republic. Gay marriage is legal in Canada’s three most populous provinces. In France, a battle is brewing over whether to allow full marriage as well as civil partnerships.
“It’s not a particularly fast-moving trend, but it’s definitely a trend,” said Lee Badgett, a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts who has spent the last seven months in Amsterdam studying same-sex marriage. Backers of gay unions argue that their existence in Europe has not harmed the institution of marriage as opponents feared it would, and critics have offered no data to refute that. Analysts disagree, though, about whether the European and Canadian political currents propelling acceptance of the unions will migrate to the United States, despite what happened recently in Massachusetts, which on May 17 became the first U.S. state to allow gay marriage.
Badgett doesn’t think so. “I think the patterns in Europe are just so different,” she said. “It comes down to raw political power in a lot of cases – most of the countries that did this just don’t have the organized religious right that the U.S. does.” There is also a big difference in public opinion. A Gallup Poll in early May found that 55 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage, while about 49 percent favored civil unions. President Bush and many Republicans want a constitutional ban on gay marriage, while his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, supports civil unions but not gay marriage. While Vermont, California, Hawaii and New Jersey now provide some rights to same-sex couples, 39 states have passed laws prohibiting or refusing to recognize same-sex marriage.
But in a February cover story in the National Journal, journalist Paul Starobin argued that change was in the winds, because a recent poll showed that 56 percent of Americans in the 18-to-29 age group favored gay marriage. “What is happening today in the values-fertile patch of the Earth encompassing the Netherlands may be a harbinger for what happens in the U.S. tomorrow,” he wrote.
If so, the American political debate has a long way to move. By the time the Netherlands enacted its same-sex marriage law in late 2000, it already had a civil-unions law that gave gay couples the same rights as married couples over matters such as inheritance and pensions. The marriage right was seen as a largely symbolic but important final step for some gay people, and 70 percent of the Dutch public favored it, according to polls.
Unlike in the United States, even many of the leading Dutch opponents of same-sex marriage said they had no problem with gay civil unions. In fact, they cited the Netherlands’ progressive partnership law as an argument against moving to full marriage. Same-sex marriage backers responded that even the legal guarantees of civil unions left many couples feeling as if they missed out on something by not being married. “I always hated that word, registered partnership,” said Henk Krol, editor of the biweekly magazine Gay Krant and one of the Netherlands’ leading gay-marriage advocates. Krol and his partner decided to change their civil union to a marriage after Krol was diagnosed with treatable colon cancer.
“It’s so great if you can stop talking about my friend and if you can just say my husband!” he said. “Suddenly I get all kinds of invitations – my husband and I do – that I never would have before. Married people have other social possibilities.” Dales, who took office as Leeuwarden’s mayor this month after being picked by the city council and appointed by the queen, expressed similar sentiments. “Nothing has changed legally, but somehow it feels better,” he said. And Dales’ status as the Netherlands’ first married gay mayor – there are a dozen other unmarried ones – has barely merited notice among his constituents. “Nobody talks about it. It doesn’t interest them.”
Estimates of the number of same-sex unions in this country of 16 million range from 2 percent to 5 percent of all marriages. In 2002, the government reported 1,838 same-sex marriages out of 85,808, but gay advocates insist that is an undercount. Either way, gay marriage has evolved to the point where there are now gay divorces. Not all gay couples are interested in marriage, just as many heterosexual Dutch couples view it as an antiquated bourgeois institution.
Ron and Aaad Dissel de Boo used to think that way. Having lived together for more than two decades, they were not sure how marriage could make a difference for them. They already had partnership status, and they had spent years winning small battles with the social-services system over their desire to take custody of foster children, many severely disabled.
They care for eight these days, ranging in age from 6 to 23, in a quiet suburb outside of Amsterdam. Children’s artwork adorns the walls of their tidy house. A living-room curio is filled with statues of Jesus. The couple had grown used to skepticism over their status, especially when they traveled abroad. At home, they had been heartened by community support, including from their parish priest. “Our priest was great,” Ron said. “He told us we live like apostles.”
One evening, as the two were dining along one of Amsterdam’s tree-lined canals, they saw a just-married heterosexual couple on a romantic boat ride. “We said, ‘We should get married,'” said Ron, 46. “It will be good for our mothers and for our children.” When they broke the news to their children, their 11-year-old, Paula, didn’t believe there could be a proper marriage without a white wedding dress, and she wondered which of the men would wear one. In the end, she and her 7-year-old sister, Kelly, wore dresses. More than 300 people attended the ceremony on a North Sea beach. “We don’t understand why so many people think it’s wrong,” Ron Dissel de Boo said. “I didn’t kill anyone. I love a guy, so what? I can’t understand why so many people are fighting about falling in love.”
• Contact staff writer Ken Dilanian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 27, 2004
Symposium in Amsterdam October 21st 2004: Homosexualities, HIV/AIDS and Hivos
Since the early nineties, Hivos takes a leading role against the spread of HIV/AIDS in the South. Having initially promoted projects providing first of all prevention and access to treatment, the general view took hold that HIV/AIDS is in fact a development problem. Structural poverty and social injustice are determining factors regarding cause and effect of an HIV infection and the progress of AIDS as an illness – individually as well as socially. Denial and stigmatization quickly annihilate all efforts towards development cooperation and treatment aid.
Is HIV/AIDS cause or effect?
In cooperation with Amnesty International, Hivos created as early as 1998 media interest by means of an international AIDS workshop for experts on HIV/AIDS and homosexuality during the Amsterdam Gay Games V. Other examples of innovation are an international expert meeting on “AIDS and Microfunding” in April and a first workshop on the same subject matter during the “Hivos Microfunding Festival” in June 2004.
The organization takes an unequivocal stance in confronting the AIDS problem in the South. Hivos policy guidelines especially focus on the defence of human rights and the strengthening of emancipation processes at the crossroads of HIV/AIDS, (homo-)sexuality and gender identity. Hivos explicitly strives to safeguard preventive measures and actions which protect people with HIV/AIDS against neglect and discrimination. Consequently, one of Hivos’ main concerns are MSM or “Men who have Sex with Men”.
Marginalization and the association with homosexuality have caused MSM in particular – a much larger population than gay men – to have been neglected by policy makers, government officials, NGOs, scientists and aid providers. Another obstacle for prevention is the opaqueness of homo- or bisexuality and MSM as sociocultural phenomena, which renders too restrictive Western concepts as “homosexuality” too restrictive. A need for political correctness of political and religious elites prevents adequate action aimed at this population in the South, especially by those few institutions aiming to target this epidemiologically very important community, despite a heterosexualization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
A third obstacle is the widely accepted term “Reproductive Health”, which excludes this population, but which has become instrumental in the competition for international support. MSM often practice high-risk sexuality and do not aim to procreate. MSM are estimated to be the source of at least a third of new infections in Latin America (SIDA y sexo entre hombres en América Latina, 2002). A serious lack of reliable statistics and research into MSM in the South prevents any realistic indication, but actual percentages indicate that real figures are substantially higher, while funding allocated for the benefit of this population is only a fraction of the overall budget.
Out of reach
Men who are MSM may at the same time be husbands, fathers or “bisexual” partners and friends. Most MSM feel no inclination at all to identify with any subculture. As a result, MSM will remain almost or completely out of reach to those NGOs who service men with a homosexual identity. At the same time it is the group of men and boys who define themselves as gay within the MSM population and who are a militant and highly visible minority, which bears the brunt for the much larger group of MSM in confronting stigmatization and homophobia.
Why MSM and why this Symposium?
Who exactly are these MSM and why this quaint acronym? What do terms like “male homosexuality” and “high risk sex” mean in other cultures in the South? Why do MSM often engage in risky sexual activities? How does one create continuing, pro-active and systematic expertise concerning HIV/AIDS in the South?
This Symposium is organised for 200 to 300 guests from the Netherlands and abroad. The debate focuses on:
– What did Hivos achieve in this area within a fifteen year time span?
– Which new discoveries are to be underlined?
– What might Hivos expect to achieve during the next ten or fifteen years?
Hivos offers twenty international MSM experts from the South a first opportunity to share their concerns and sometimes controversial findings with an informed audience under the general caption “Homosexualities, HIV/AIDS and Hivos; WHY?” on 21 October 2004, from 11 am – 5 pm at De Rode Hoed in the Amsterdam city centre.
This Symposium also concludes the professional career of Mr Frans Mom, Hivos Senior Policy Officer LGBT and HIV/AIDS of international repute. (Former) colleagues and friends are warmly invited to drink a Dutch “Borrel” in his company from 5 – 7 PM.
August 6, 2004
Rise In Gay Hate On Eve Of Amsterdam Pride
Amsterdam – A report on hate crimes against gays and lesbians, released on the eve of Pride celebrations in Amsterdam, shows a marked increase in homophobic crime.
The survey, by Out Now Consulting for Gay Krant, the nation’s leading LGBT publication, shows that despite cultivating an image as a gay friendly country, nearly 20 percent of gays in the Netherlands experienced some form of harassment in the last two years.
The study cites verbal abuse as the most common form of homophobia, but says that physical violence and threats of violence also are on the rise.
In addition, the report says, the incidents are more likely to occur in large cities rather than rural areas. It pinpoints Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht as major problem spots. All three cities have large gay communities. More than 75 percent of those questioned said that growing intolerance of gays should serve as a warning to the country that social progress could be rolled back.
The study did not specify the reasons for rising homophobia, but a growing Moslem community has been increasingly vocal in condemning homosexuality. LGBT civil rights groups in Holland have been critical of the government for failing to tackle religious extremists who they accuse of inciting hate.
The Netherlands has been a world leader in enacting gay rights laws. In April 2001 it became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
Saturday, more than 350,000 are expected are expected to take part in Amsterdam’s Gay Pride festival highlighted by a flotilla of floats along the city’s canals.
Amsterdam’s Goodwill Ambassador to the gay Arab world: first Arab gay bar
by Reed Ide
In any gay venue in the world, 10 P.M. is early. So I am not surprised when I walk into Habibi Ana, (Lange Leidsedwarsstraat 4-6. www.habibiana.nl) a small gay cafe in Amsterdam just a few steps from the bustling square called Leidseplein, that there are just four other patrons sitting quietly at the bar. Half an hour later, two young Arab men arrive. They order drinks. Their conversation is animated, punctuated with intimate smiles. They hold hands, but keep them always under the bar. The bartender, also an Arabic man, watches benevolently from the cash register. More men, and women, arrive as the evening lengthens, and a wonderful sense of camaraderie begins to fill the room.
It was almost a year ago, while visiting Amsterdam on business, that I was made aware of a social tempest that
would change this city forever. It had begun in April 2003, with the discovery that a book titled ‘The Way of the Muslim’ was being sold at a bookstore attached to the conservative EI Taweed mosque, reputedly the most extreme mosque in the city. In one rather succinct passage, the book instructed, “Homosexual people should be thrown head-first off high buildings and if not killed upon hitting the ground, they should be then stoned to death.”
As knowledge of the book’s existence became widespread, a flurry of outcries, demonstrations, and parliamentary speeches ensued. Over the Course of the summer, tempers cooled and life returned to near “normal” until November 2, when the murder of film maker Theo van Gogh rocked the Dutch nation again, this time with a much larger shock wave. Van Gogh’s accused murderer is an Islamic man who allegedly carried out the assassination as revenge for van Gogh’s film Submission, a short documentary on the mistreatment of women in Islamic culture.
Both these incidents have focused the discussion in the Netherlands on issues of sex and gender, and have raised questions of how strict Islamic religious views can exist easily in a nation of people as open and pluralistic as the Dutch. The conversation at the moment is quite Euro-centric, with Dutch people expressing fears that the growing number of foreigners, especially Arabic people, living among them will swamp their liberal, live and let live culture. Little attention has been paid to those Arabs, Muslim and non-Muslim, who themselves are oppressed and too often abused by the more conservative and fanatical pockets of their native culture and religion.
It was with concerns about the isolation of Arab gays in mind that Egyptian born Atef Salib opened Habibi Ana (Arabic for “my sweetheart”) in April 2001, just at the time when the first anti-immigration whispers were being heard in the Netherlands. Now in his mid-forties, Atef first visited the country on a vacation over 20 years ago. “I wanted to see another culture,” he recalls. “I found freedom here. It was a good place to live.” So he returned to Egypt, stopped his studies, packed some belongings, and moved. He first settled in Utrecht, and later moved to Eindhoven where he met a woman and married. He remained married for 14 years.
His coming out was a difficult process. “I fought within myself,” he says. “Finally I told my wife and we [mutually agreed] to a divorce.” He soon met a man, an immigrant from Lebanon, and after dating for a year they married. Still, Atef found self-acceptance a difficult challenge. “It was hard for me,” he says. “I remember thinking, if we only had an Arabic gay bar, a place we could talk among ourselves. We could see that there are others like ourselves, and from our culture.” Out of this yearning grew the idea to open Habibi Ana. That day in April was an important milestone, and not just for Atef. When the beer began flowing, Habibi Ana became the first Arab gay bar in the world. Its decor is simple and homey with settees and low tables, dim lights, and open space for dancing. “In those first days it was not easy for people to come here,” he remembers. “First they would say, ‘I am not gay.’ Then ‘I’m bi.’ And finally, ‘I am gay.’
Today more and more people come easily through the door.” Atef happily remembers the first Gay Pride the bar participated in. It was August 2001. In Amsterdam, the annual celebration includes a parade through the city’s canals. “We had our Own boat in that parade,” he says. “It told everyone, we are here! We have a boat every year now, and when we float by the crowd, everyone cheers. They love us!” Today, the bar attracts a varied clientele. “Gay Arabs come here. A lot of Dutch people come here. Arab tourists visit, and gays from all over the world walk through that door,” he says. “We are not closed about ourselves. We all live together. We should be in this place together also.”
Over the past years, he has been approached by the media, mostly radio and television. Until recently, he always turned down requests for comments or interviews. “That kind of attention would not have been good for us,” he says. “I wanted to protect the ‘safe space’ quality of Habibi Ana. Now, however, I feel it is ok to do some of it.”
Late last summer, Atef established Stichting Habibi Ana, a non-profit foundation that receives part of its funding from the Dutch government. “We do much more than sponsor dance parties,” he says. These other gatherings include poetry readings, screening movies that address issues of sexuality, support group meetings, and a variety of cultural events. At the end of the month of Ramadan, the Stichting sponsored a feast to celebrate the breaking of the fast. Over 170 people attended to enjoy a night of food and dancing. The organization also operates a hot line for Arab gays and lesbians who need to talk. “I think the Stichting Habibi Ana Foundation will grow bigger than the bar,” Atef says. Since the social discourse has increased in volume, more Dutch people appear in the bar. Some go out of a sense of curiosity. Others are there to show support. “Everyone is welcome here,” Atef reiterates.
When asked about the controversy that often arises when religion, God, and homosexuality are discussed Atef, an Arab Christian, says, “I was born gay. Others were born hetero. Whether we are Christian or Muslim, I know our God is fair. He is for everybody.”
May 4, 2005
Looking hate in the face-American editor beaten up in Amsterdam
If you would have told me when I first came out that at some point in my life I would be beaten up for being gay, I would never have imagined it like this. As a child of the South, where “fag” and “queer” were everyday insults, I would have expected a fist to the face somewhere back home for sure.
(Three days later, the wounds still feel fresh. Photo right by William Waybourn)
For years now, in big city and small, I suppose I’ve tempted fate, living my life as I have always seen everyone else live theirs. If the mood strikes me to hold my boyfriend’s hand, I do it. If a chill in the air makes me want to put my arm around his shoulders, I do that, too. If he says something romantic that deserves a peck on the lips, he can expect that’s coming, too.
As it happens, I tempted fate one too many times in arguably the “gay-friendliest” place on the planet. By almost any measure, the equality movement in the Netherlands was won years ago. There are laws protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, there are hate crime laws, and Holland is one of only a handful of countries where gay couples can legally marry.
What’s more, there are few times of the year more welcoming than Queen’s Day, not so named for the gays who flock by the thousands to Amsterdam for the holiday, but for the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix, who last Saturday celebrated a quarter century on the throne. In her annual address to the nation, she said she was disturbed by a rising tide of intolerance in this most tolerant of countries. Early Saturday morning, I got a firsthand look at what she meant.
I was walking through central Amsterdam with my boyfriend back to our hotel. People were still milling about on the sidewalks from Friday night’s revelry. We were only blocks from the most popular gay areas; and we were holding hands.
As we passed two men standing on the side of the street, one of them deliberately spat on us, mainly hitting me in the face. Without saying a word, we stood our ground. We stopped, turned around, and asked why. The man, who looked in his 20s, had Moroccan features and spoke with a heavy accent, murmured something about “fucking fags.”
Within seconds, the two somehow turned into seven — and five of them were ganging up on me, probably because at 6-foot-7 I’m a good bit bigger than my boyfriend. It seemed like every direction I turned, I got another punch to the face, and when they kicked me to the ground, time seemed to stop. My heart still races as I write about it now. It felt like the situation had spiraled completely out of my control.
Then just as quickly as it began, it was over. I was standing up on my own, and our attackers were fleeing. There had been dozens of people on the streetcorner, but none of them had acted or even yelled anything. My boyfriend had escaped his attackers and had come to my aid, and that finally convinced the others to run. I was covered in blood, mostly from my nose, but I got lucky: no broken bones, no damage to my vision, just some very nasty bruises and a lot to think about.
Should we have been walking hand-in-hand late at night, especially on a party weekend? Should we have shrugged and kept going after the inital spit? On the ambulance ride to the hospital, I beat myself up on both those points much worse than my attackers had. I could see in my boyfriend’s face the fear that I might be seriously hurt. He had no visible injuries, but the whole nightmare for him had been worse. He saw me surrounded by five men, being beaten and kicked and covered in blood. I decided the next evening, as we walked together down that same street, that I was not going to second-guess our
decisions anymore. Standing up for yourself can have consequences, but not standing up for yourself can, too. I filed formal charges with the police, who had come to the scene quickly, though I have little hope our attackers will ever be identified. At the station the next day, the police were very sympathetic, and readily agreed that we had been victims of a bias crime.
Of course we all know that we cannot legislate away the hate some people feel about us for openly and honestly living our lives. For as long as I live, I will never forget the looks on the faces of our attackers. What I saw was more disgust than hate, but it was there, and it was chilling.
I hope our gay friends in Holland realize that it’s a bit too soon to declare victory and go home, now that they’ve won their legal battles. Winning the hearts and minds of the people will be a much more challenging task.
Posted by Chris Crain, Executive Editor| May. 3 at 11:08 PM | email@example.com
June 9, 2005
Amsterdam Moves To Combat Growing Anti-Gay Violence
by Malcolm Thornberry
Amsterdam has announced a major initiative to crackdown on growing incidents of violence against gays in a city generally regarded as the most gay-friendly in the world.
Many of the attacks have been blamed on gangs of young Moslem men and in a number of cases the attacks have been on gay foreign tourists. The most recent was an assault on Chris Crain, the editor of the Washington Blade. He was badly beaten while on holiday in the city by three men described as Moroccans.
The sheer viciousness of the attack sent a chill through Amsterdam’s gay community.
Amsterdam City Council, police, and the LGBT rights group COC have agreed to put a greater emphasis on making the streets safe. Following a meeting between COC, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen, Social Affairs Alderman Ahmed Aboutaleb, and deputy police chief Bert Wijbenga, police agreed to create a uniform list of homophobic attacks.
Wijbenga admitted at the meeting that in the past police sometimes did not pay enough attention to gay bashings. Under the agreement worked out this week, once a complaint has been filed with police the COC will join police officers in investigating, a spokesperson for Cohen said.
COC will become more visible at multicultural events in the city and will become more active in assisting immigrant gays. It also will step up its schools program by giving out more information on homophobia.
June 25, 2005
Dutch cabinet passes gay adoption bill for foreign-born children
The Dutch cabinet has passed a bill allowing gay couples to adopt foreign children in the Netherlands, creating greater equality with heterosexuals. The change in law also scraps a three-year probation period for gay step-parents to adopt, making it possible for a lesbian to adopt immediately if her partner gives birth.
The adoption of Dutch children by gay couples had been possible since same-sex marriage was legalised in the Netherlands in September 2000 – the first country to do so – but cross-border adoption had been excluded. Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner reluctantly agreed to change legislation in March, arguing that no country will allow a gay Dutch couple to adopt a child anyhow.
Supporters say the move will remove hurdles for children adopted by gays in general and resolve serious inheritance and legal parenthood issues. The text of the bill was sent to the government’s leading advisory body for review and was not made public.
July 31, 2005
Holland Freezes Gay Extraditions To Iran
by Malcolm Thornberry, European Bureau Chief, Amsterdam
The Netherlands has become the second country to halt extraditions of gays to Iran in the wake of reports two gay teens were hanged after being found found “guilty of homosexuality”.
The government announced that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would begin an investigation of the treatment of gays and lesbians in the Islamic state. Until that is complete, the government said, it would not expel gay asylum seekers from Iran.
The Netherlands had been under intense pressure from the LGBT rights group COC and from the opposition in Parliament.
The news comes as welcome relief for one asylum seeker whose application was rejected and had been scheduled to be returned to Iran next week.
The man, who has not been identified, escape Iran in the late nineties, COC said in a statement. He apparently fled the country after he was ordered to appear in court to explain his presence at what prosecutors called a homosexual party. The man’s partner was not so lucky, COC said. He was hanged a decade ago. The specific charge was smuggling, but gay rights activists say he was targeted because of his sexuality.
International rights groups say that Iran frequently uses “excuse” charges to put gays on trial for their lives.
Earlier this month, Mahmoud Asgari, 16, and Ayaz Marhoni, 18, were publicly executed in the northern city of Mashhad. Supporters of the government say the pair had threatened and abused a 13 year old but rights groups dispute the allegation.
Last week Sweden put a moratorium on the extradition of gays to Iran until the situation involving the teens is clarified.
” We are against the death penalty and we particularly react when it comes to the execution of minors, pregnant women and the mentally disabled,” said Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Per Saland.
LGBT civil rights groups in the US, Britain and Russia have also called for a halt to gay expulsions to Iran.
December 16, 2005
Dutch gays still face culture clash
Muslim immigrants blamed for apparent rise in anti-gay attitudes
Amsterdam, Netherlands — The Netherlands has earned a reputation as arguably the most gay-friendly nation on earth. It was the first country to recognize civil marriage for gay couples. Every major political party, including the conservatives, boasts openly gay members in Parliament. The country’s most popular stand-up comedian, Paul de Leeuw, is successful largely because of his sexual orientation. But many here fear that the progressive attitude toward gays is changing.
A study by Out Now Consulting for Gay Krant, the nation’s leading gay publication, shows that nearly 20 percent of gay Dutch experienced some form of harassment in the past few years. One in three said they would not dare to walk hand-in-hand in public. The image of the Netherlands as a safe and stable haven has clearly suffered following two high-profile killings.
Pim Fortuyn, an outspoken gay politician, and Theo van Gogh, a controversial filmmaker, were killed in the past few years. Many had expected Fortuyn to become the nation’s first openly gay prime minister. Van Gogh was killed by radical Muslim extremist Muhammed Bouyeri, who cut Van Gogh’s throat and impaled a note on his chest threatening others for insulting Islam.
The apparent rise of homophobia in recent years has been blamed on immigrant groups, mostly Moroccans. The Netherlands has a population of 16 million, including an estimated 1 million Muslims. “ Many Muslim immigrants do not respect our values and our tolerance of homosexuality,” said Geert Wilders, a conervative member of Parliament who fears for the future. “Our country was freed by American soldiers who gave their life for our freedom. And now look what our country has become. Gays are often bashed.” Muslim organizations based in the Netherlands contacted for this story did not respond to inquiries. Job Cohen, Amsterdam’s mayor, married the first gay couple in 2000, in a move widely hailed by gay rights activists. “ Homosexuals must not be insulted. … I am against discrimination, period,” he said.
Tensions rise after Queen’s Day attack
Fears about the changing climate in the Netherlands made news again earlier this year, when Chris Crain, executive editor of the Blade, and his boyfriend were assaulted on April 30 in Amsterdam while holding hands walking to their hotel on Queen’s Day, a major Dutch holiday.
The assault became a major news story in the Netherlands and more incidents of anti-gay bias were reported. One week after the assault, nearly 2,000 gays and lesbians rallied on Amsterdam’s Leidseplein for a “kiss-in.” No arrests have been made in the attack and, anecdotally at least, locals report an increase in tension and anti-gay attitudes. Two weeks ago, this reporter was walking home after having a drink in the popular “pink” district Reguliersdwarsstraat when bystanders shouted “sleazy homo.”
Gay Krant still reports regularly about gay bashings. One month ago, a 24-year-old gay Irish man was stabbed to death on a cold September morning after he left a gay discotheque in Amsterdam. “ Every cop got a training in how to deal with discrimination and how to recognize signals, said Amsterdam Chief Police Commissioner Bernard Welten. “We are very alert, for sure after what happened with Chris Crain. But in my opinion we don’t have a structural problem.” Many local observers claim integration of immigrants is the real problem, but gay rights activists caution against scapegoating Muslim youth. “ It is true that many attackers are Moroccans but you cannot blame all of them,” said Frank van Dalen, chair of the national gay association COC.
Cohen said he frequently visits imams in Amsterdam mosques to ensure the lines of communication are open. “ The threat of extremists is really great, we are aware of that,” Cohen said. “However, integration is a difficult process.” Some gay residents of Amsterdam fear returning to the closet and many wonder if Amsterdam’s much-touted tolerance for cultural differences has gone too far. “ We have to fight against discrimination and intolerance — heavy penalties and sending criminal immigrants back to their native country is necessary,” said Wilders