March 8, 2006
Dutch official moves to deport gay Iranians
by Larry Buhl
Dutch immigration minister Rita Verdonk plans to cancel a six-month reprieve on sending gay and lesbian Iranian asylum seekers back to their country, a move that Human Rights Watch said would subject them to torture and possible execution.
In September, Verdonk granted a reprieve for gay Iranians after reports that two gay teens were hanged in northeastern Iran. The Iranian government claimed that the teens were hanged because they were found guilty of the abduction and rape of a minor.
Verdonk explained her decision to lift the reprieve last month in a letter to the Netherlands’ main house of parliament, saying, "There is no question of executions or death sentences based solely on the fact that a defendant is gay."
However, Iran’s Islamic law imposes the death penalty for a single act of consensual sodomy. Nonpenetrable foreplay between men is punishable by 100 lashes for each partner and by death on the fourth condition. Two men not related by blood found lying naked under the same cover may receive 99 lashes. Punishment for sexual intercourse between women is less severe; 100 lashes on the first offense and death only on the third.
" Sending the (asylum seekers) back would result in certain torture, and the threat of death is very real," said Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program. Verdonk, known as the "iron lady" of Dutch politics for her eagerness to send back immigrants for minor reasons such a petty thievery, is riding a growing wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe. However, her threat to return gays and Christians to Iran has caused an uproar and sparked the opposition to call for a full debate in parliament. If parliament upholds Verdonk’s ruling, the case will be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, Long said.
Long sent an open letter Tuesday to Verdonk in which he recounted several cases of the Iranian government torturing men suspected of homosexual conduct. The testimonies of many LGBT Iranians, he said, "largely confirm the picture of a society where the social stigma, and attendant violence, attached to homosexual conduct is high — and where police and authorities repeatedly target and persecute suspected homosexuals in the name of social cleansing."
The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits the Netherlands from deporting a person who may be at risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition to homosexuals, Verdonk plans to send back Christian Iranian asylum seekers. In her letter she suggested they could avoid persecution in Iran by remaining under cover. "Only when Christians and converted Muslims (in Iran) present themselves with their faith too actively can they come to the negative attention of the authorities," she said.
Human Rights Watch believes that she means gays who go into the closet would be safe as well. " The closet is not an answer to persecution," Long told the PlanetOut Network. "It is persecution, whether you’re gay or whether you’re hiding your religious beliefs. It is outrageous for an open society like the Netherlands to tell others to go into the closet." Long pointed out that the closet would be unlikely to protect gays anyway, since Iran is a surveillance society. Police routinely entrap gays over the Internet and extensively patrol cruising areas.
Verdonk, who is known as the "iron lady" of Dutch politics for her eagerness to send back immigrants for minor reasons such a petty thievery, is riding a growing wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe. However, her threat to return gays and Christians to Iran has caused an uproar and sparked the opposition to call for a full debate in parliament. If parliament upholds Verdonk’s ruling, the case will be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, Long said.
March 21, 2006
Muslims, gays play soccer to fight prejudice
‘We want to show we can live with each other,’ Dutch gay activist says.
Players of a Muslim team fight for the ball with players from a gay side during a soccer match in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, March 21, 2006.
The soccer tournament was organised as part of a conference on fighting discrimination against immigrants who come out as gay — particularly, against gay Muslims by other Muslims.
by Michael Kooren
A Muslim team played a soccer match against a gay side on Tuesday in a Dutch event intended to counter growing homophobia often blamed on immigrants. "There is tension between the gay and Muslim communities and a lot of this tension comes from ignorance," Frank van Dalen, chairman of an umbrella organization of Dutch gay groups, said on the touchline. "We want to show we can live with each other."
The soccer tournament was organized as part of a conference on fighting discrimination against immigrants who come out as gay "” particularly, against gay Muslims by other Muslims. As well as gays playing against Muslims, a team of women played Latinos, with some players swapping sides to illustrate competing identities. Long renowned for its tolerance and liberal attitudes on issues such as gay marriage and cannabis use, social tensions have risen in The Netherlands since the 2002 murder of openly gay anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn. High-profile attacks on homosexuals in Amsterdam last year stoked a debate about homophobia blamed on the country"s growing immigrant community "” particularly Muslims, who make up 6 percent of the Dutch population of around 16 million.
A survey published last week showed that about 40 percent of the gays polled believed that violence and aggression against them was on the rise, while about the same number said they were the victim of homophobic abuse last year, most of it verbal. "Discrimination, intolerance and aggression … are increasing, particularly in schools.
These are developments that are really worrying us," Gilbert Isabella, a Labor politician from the central city of Utrecht, told the conference. Isabella, who said his own sexuality was still a taboo subject when he visited his family on the Caribbean island of Curacao, said a survey had shown that many youngsters did not want to have a gay friend, with Muslim youths most homophobic.
Imad el Kaka, a Rotterdam city council official, said discrimination against Muslim gays was particularly intense. "Family structure is so incredibly important for those with a Muslim background. They want to switch off their homosexual feelings so as to not undermine the family structure. It is seen as a betrayal of their background," he said.
"Many people believe it is a sickness, a Western sickness that can be cured by turning away from Western society." The Latinos beat the women"s team 8-0, the Muslims beat the gay team 4-0 and the Muslims went on to win the final against the Latinos 4-1. "Unfortunately the women lost and the gays lost but it"s not about winning and losing. It"s about having fun together," Van Dalen said.
03 April 2006
Five years of gay marriage
by Sebastiaan Gottlieb
It’s exactly five years this month since the first gay and lesbian weddings were allowed in the Netherlands. At the time, this was the only country in the world where it was possible for gay couples to marry. On the day itself, 1 April 2001, the international media flocked to the event and just after midnight, surrounded by their friends and families, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen conducted the marriage of four couples, three gay and one lesbian.
"If I had known that the marriage would attract such an enormous amount of attention, I would never have agreed to be the first to marry", says Anne Marie Thus five years later in her home in Amsterdam’s Osdorp district. "When we arrived from our hotel and found this huge number of satellite vans from the international media, I was really shocked. Fortunately, we found our families among the crowd of journalists, which gave us a sense of comfort. It was overwhelming, but also beautiful: the city hall was decorated with roses and Mayor Job Cohen gave a lovely speech."
Since the Netherlands made it legal for marriage contracts between homosexual partners, two other European countries have followed suit: Belgium and Spain. Outside of Europe, gay and lesbian couples can marry in Canada and in the US state of Massachusetts.
South Africa will probably introduce same-sex marriage this year. About 30 countries in the world recognise the so-called ‘registered partnership’, which is different from marriage in that it does not automatically give both partners parental rights over children.
Rush to marry
During the first year, no fewer than 2414 gay and lesbian couples married in the Netherlands. According to Marian Baker of the International Homosexual/Lesbian Information Centre and Archive (IHLIA), there was already a large group of couples that had wanted to marry before the legislation was brought in. After the law was changed, the rate of same-sex marriages stabilised to around 1200 per year.
Homosexuals marry less often than heterosexuals, according to Jan Latten of the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). This is believed to be because they have children less often than straight couples. The divorce rate, though, is the same as that of heterosexuals, but lesbians divorce more often than gay men.
Thus, one of the first lesbians to marry, has since given birth to two children from an unknown donor father. "The difference with a heterosexual marriage is that my wife does not have the same rights as the father, who can confirm the child as his at the city hall. This is the only remaining part of Dutch family law where women do not have the same rights. It took three years before my wife could adopt our child, which legally makes her the mother. Homosexuals are also not able to adopt children as a couple; only one of the two can do this individually." Anne Marie Thus has established a website called "more than wanted" in order to get this last remaining distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals removed from the law.
Still not equal
In the past five years, gay marriage has become accepted almost everywhere in the Netherlands. Problems still happen, though, when gay people who married here want to live or work abroad. Because their marriage is not often recognised in other countries, they are sometimes unable to get a residence or work permit. The emancipation of gay people is not yet complete, but recognition of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands has been a giant leap towards it.
13 April 2006
Dutch Suspend Deportation of Iranian Gays & Christians
Amsterdam – Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk has bowed to pressure from parliament and agreed not to deport Iranian gay people and Christian converts for the time being.
The Minister told MPs on Wednesday afternoon she would extend a previous moratorium on the expulsions. She took the decision when it became clear a majority of MPs doubt whether the rejected asylum seekers would be safe in Iran. The moratorium will remain in force until a new foreign ministry assessment of the situation in Iran for gays and Muslims who have converted to Christianity has been completed. This will likely take until August or September.
Verdonk announced in late February she intended to begin deportations of people from both categories of people from both categories who had been refused asylum in the Netherlands. Citing a previous assessment by Dutch officials, she maintained gay people and Christians don’t face a significant risk of persecution in Iran, as long as they are not too open about themselves.
MPs and national gay federation COC voiced serious criticism of her decision in light of the fact expulsions of gay people to Iran had been suspended last summer following reports of the executions of two gay men. People convicted of gay sex can face the death penalty under the strict Islamic laws in Iran. The Iranian authorities said the men were executed for rape of a man and robbery, and not because they were gay.
The expulsion of Muslim Iranians who have converted to Christianity was also halted recently following a request by Christian party ChristenUnie. Verdonk and Foreign Minister Ben Bot defended the February assessment as meticulous and objective on Wednesday but MPs continued to express doubts. Speaking to the media afterwards, Verdonk said it was common knowledge that the situation for gay people and converts was often not as good as it is in the Netherlands.
Very many gay people and converts from Islam could apply to live in the Netherlands if this were to be grounds to allow asylum, she said. COC chairman Frank van Dalen said he was pleased failed gay asylum seekers were not being expelled for the time being. "But what is going to happen in six months? Some of them face death sentences and are left in great uncertainty over their future," he said. Van Dalen said he wants to put Verdonk in contact with gay Iranians who are living in the Netherlands so she can hear from them what it is like in the Islamic Republic.
April 14, 2006
Iran calls upon Islamic countries to block second part of the Dutch film ‘Submission’
Iran’s Parliament Speaker Gholamali Haddadadel has called upon Islamic countries to mobilise to block the production of the second part of the Dutch film ‘Submission’. Haddadadel said the film represents "a danger for the Islamic religion and a new attack against the Muslims after the publishing of the cartoons offending the Prophet in many European newspapers," international Arab daily Sharq al-Awsat wrote today.
His appeal was made to the Islamic parliamentarians who were taking part in the meeting of parliamentary representatives of the countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Istanbul. The second part of the film ‘Submission’, a project on which the deputy at the Dutch parliament of Somalian origin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is working (she was also scriptwriter of ‘Submission’ I), is expected to tackle the theme of the condition of homosexuals in Islamic countries. Theo Van Gogh, director of ‘Submission’ which denounced the conditions of the Muslim women, was murdered in November 2004 by a young Dutchman of Moroccan origin who was later sentenced to life in prison. (ANSAmed). RED-KWK
25 April 2006
Mayor of Amsterdam demands EU mayors protect rights of gay citizens
The mayor of Amsterdam has demanded that the mayors of major cities in EU countries protect the right of their gay citizens.
Job Cohen has sent letters to the mayors of Warsaw, Prague, Lisbon, Dublin, Riga, Vilnius and a half dozen other calling for recognition of EU human rights laws and for support of same-sex marriage as well as to EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini.
The move comes after a motion by city councillors, concerned by recent attacks on homosexuals in Europe. In the letter, Mr Cohen says he is alarmed by measures in some cities to ban gay demonstrations.
When he was mayor, Polish president Lech Kaczynski tried to block a gay pride march in Warsaw in June while Portugal recently turned down a lesbian couple’s request for a marriage licence.Last July the Latvian capital city of Riga banned gay pride observances following criticism of the event by Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis. The march went ahead after a court issued an injunction.
In Prague, the Czech parliament this year overrode a presidential veto and granted limited rights to same-sex couples.
Ireland is moving toward allowing civil partnerships but the government is under intense pressure from the Catholic Church to abandon the measure. Cohen in his letter called on the mayors to "adhere to the universal declaration of human rights, and to do everything in your political power to open up marriage for same-sex couples and safeguard the right of public demonstrations in your city."
A copy of the letters was sent to the European Union’s Justice Commissioner, Franco Frattini. Cohen performed the world’s first legal same-sex marriage in 2001, after the Dutch government passed legislation allowing gays and lesbians to wed. About 6,000 gay and lesbian couples have married in the five years same-sex marriage has been legal in The Netherlands. Belgium became the second country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003. Spain and Canada followed last year. In December same-sex marriage will be legal in South Africa.
Netherlands To Allow Gay Couples To Adopt Foreign Children
The Hague – The Dutch government announced Wednesday it will bring in legislation to allow same-sex couples to adopt children abroad.
The Netherlands became the first country in the world in 2001 to legalize gay marriage. The legislation allowed same-sex couples to co-parent the biological children of either partner and to adopt children born in the country but expressly forbade foreign adoptions. The provision was put in to avoid an international storm over the marriage law.
On Wednesday Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said that the restriction treated many same-sex couples unfairly because a number of countries now permit gay couples to adopt and the Netherlands has only a small number of children available for adoption.
Donner also noted that many gay and lesbian couples already are adopting abroad, using a loophole in Dutch law which allows single people to adopt. The legislation must be approved by Parliament. No date for a vote has been set.
The Netherlands reached the five year milestone in same-sex marriage last month. Since then the quest for same-sex marriage has spread around the globe. Belgium became the second country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003. Spain and Canada followed last year. This December South Africa is expected to become the fifth country following a court ruling last year that gave the government 12 months to amend its marriage law. In the United State only Massachusetts permits gay and lesbian couples to wed.
19 October 2006
Netherlands: Asylum Rights Granted to Lesbian and Gay Iranians
New York – In a major policy shift, the Dutch government’s recognition that lesbian and gay Iranians are a "special group" facing persecution at home and deserving protection in the Netherlands sets an example for other European states of their legal responsibility not to return people to the risk of torture, ill-treatment or execution, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch, which worked closely with the Dutch lesbian and gay organization COC on the issue, applauded this change in policy by the Dutch government.
"The Dutch government has affirmed its international legal obligations in asserting that it will not send gay and lesbian Iranian asylum seekers to a country where they face the risk of torture or execution," said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "The priority now is to ensure that this policy is implemented fully and fairly, and that no one in the Netherlands is sent back to face torture."
Last year, Dutch authorities imposed a moratorium on deportations of failed LGBT asylum seekers to Iran after reports of executions there for homosexual conduct. But in February, Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk first announced her intention to lift the moratorium, stating that, "It appears that there are no cases of an execution on the basis of the sole fact that someone is homosexual. … For homosexual men and women it is not totally impossible to function in society, although they should be wary of coming out of the closet too openly."
After strong protests from Dutch civil society and international human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, however, Verdonk reinstated the ban for a further six months, pending a review of conditions in Iran.
Verdonk announced the new policy on October 18. It was accompanied by a 115-page report on the human rights situation in Iran, which extensively cited Human Rights Watch’s research on conditions for LGBT people there. According to Verdonk’s statement, "Iranian homosexual asylum seekers" would no longer have to prove that they individually faced persecution in Iran. Instead, asylum seekers "whose identity, nationality and homosexuality have been confirmed, and for whom there is no counter-indication, do not have to return to Iran." Verdonk reportedly has cited as possible "counter-indications" having a heterosexual spouse or children.
The decision also extends for six more months an existing ban on returning Iranian Christian asylum seekers, pending further research into their situation in Iran.
"The Dutch government’s decision recognizes the reality of persecution based on sexual orientation in Iran, thus taking this laborious burden of proof off the shoulders of gay or lesbian Iranian asylum seekers," said Long. "Injustices in application may persist, but the Dutch activists who pushed for this change have won a major victory for openness and fairness ? one that other European states can learn from."
Sweden, which had imposed a similar moratorium on returning LGBT asylum seekers in late 2005, recently announced that it would resume deportations.
Dutch activists continued to urge the government to ensure that the new policy embraces previously rejected lesbian and gay asylum seekers who remain in the Netherlands under the moratorium. They also voiced concern that, in evaluating asylum seekers from a culture where marriage and childbearing are highly valued, authorities should not take either as automatic indicators of heterosexuality. Further, in evaluating the status of asylum seekers’ children, Dutch authorities should not discriminate on the basis of the asylum seekers’ sexual orientation.
The Dutch decision was in compliance with international law. The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits states from deporting individuals to countries where they may be at risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or punishment. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Netherlands could not proceed with a deportation to Eritrea due to such a risk.
The United Nations Convention against Torture, to which the Netherlands and Sweden are parties, states in article 3 that, "No State shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." It also requires that "for the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations, including where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights."
February 15, 2007
Rallying To A Gay Youth’s Call
by Doug Ireland
Since Danny Hoekzema, an out gay 14-year-old in the Netherlands, began a drive on his personal Web site to have a youth boat for under-16s participate in the Canal Parade during August’s Gay Pride in Amsterdam, he has received hundreds of e-mails in support. The following are a sample:
Yes! I support the teen boat, because I agree with Danny that there is practically nothing to do for teens under 16. Unfortunately I cannot join you, but if I could I surely would. Go forward Danny!
Yes! I support the teen boat! I’m 15 and it’s no fun, because there are no meeting places for gay teens. That must change and there should be a special site for gay teens to chat and meet.
Yes! I support the teen boat! Of course! If only such an initiative had be taken when I was in my puberty. With positive role models like you, I would not have been so insecure for such a long time.
Yes! I support the teen boat! I’m not out yet and I’m really having a hard time facing up to that. But I think it’s a very good idea and I wish you lots of success.
Yes! I support the teen boat! My 12-year-old son has just enlisted because he wants to participate. A very good initiative and I support you wholeheartedly.
Of course this teen boat should join! I am so proud of you, Danny. I wished I’d had your courage when I was 14. I also knew I liked boys – I was 10 when I found out – but kept my mouth shut about it. As a result I was very lonely. I’ll be waving to you from the shore!
Yes! I support the teen boat! Danny, you are doing great and I want to join you!
Yes! I support the teen boat! This is so cool. I really want to join. No matter what, I don’t care about it any more, I will come out right now. I’m fed up not being myself.
February 19, 2007
Danny’s Boat– Under-16 Dutch Gay Youth Win Important Victory
I wrote the following article for Gay City News — New York’s largest gay weekly — and it appears in the current issue:
Netherlands gay youth under the legal age of consent of 16 won a significant victory last week when Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen finally gave his approval to a special boat for such youngsters in the annual Canal Pride gay boat parade through the city center’s famous waterway, an event that needs a city permit to take place.
The mayor, from the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, or Dutch Labor Party), had initially refused permission for the youth boat, according to the national daily newspaper De Volkskrant, expressing doubts about involving "that vulnerable group" in the annual procession. But Cohen changed his mind after meeting with Frank van Dalen, the chairman of COC The Netherlands, the world’s oldest LGBT group, founded in 1946.
The special homojongerenboot, or homo youngsters boat, in the traditionally colorful and festive Canal Pride boat parade – to be held this year on August 4 during three days of Pride celebrations and events – will be reserved for youth between the ages of 12 and 16, according to the Dutch national news agency ANP, and the youngsters will be accompanied on the boat by their parents.The initiative for the boat for underage youngsters came from 14-year-old Danny Hoekzema, a gay youth who campaigned for the idea on his personal Web site.
"My goal with this boat is to get more activities for gay and lesbian teens all over the county," he told Gay City News in an extensive interview conducted by e-mail. Danny said he has received an avalanche of hundreds of e-mails supporting him. "Dozens of teens my age send me mails saying they agree with me that there are not enough activities specifically for our age group, " he said, adding: "Some 30 of them have already enlisted to join me on the teen boat. Others write that they support my initiative, but they still don’t dare to come out. They hope things will change because of the attention and the growing understanding for gay teens now. That will help them to come out. A mother of a gay teen of 12 wrote me her son has come out because of my initiative. Both will participate on the boat in August." (To read excerpts from these e-mails to Danny, click here.)
Danny told this reporter he has the complete support of his parents for what he is doing. "I came out 21 months ago when I was 12 years old. I’m just 14 now. I told my parents by letter that I put on their pillow in the bedroom. The next morning they woke me at 8 o’clock. Then we had a really good talk about it. My mother works as a sales manager for a newspaper and my dad is a bookkeeper. They responded really well when I told them about my initiative for the teen boat at the Canal Parade. They support me and will be joining me on the boat. Isn’t that great?"
Danny noted that, "All sorts of people who want to show their support send me mails. Like older gay men who remember the times when they were my age. They also knew they were gay at my age, but they were lonely and knew nobody like themselves. And straight people are mailing me as well. They think it’s really a cool idea and want to encourage me to go forward with it. The need for activities for gay and lesbian teens is real. People are talking about it now – finally. I’m sure that makes a difference." Of the 30 other under-16 adolescents who have signed on to join the teen boat, the youngest is 12, said COC’s van Dalen, and the average age is 14. Told that so many of these youngsters want to join the Pride parade through the canals, "The mayor even said, ‘We need a bigger boatr,’" van Dalen told me in describing his successful meeting with Cohen.
But the victory for Danny and his boat came only after a media feeding frenzy over allegations of pedophilia from a controversial figure in the Amsterdam gay community, charges that brought a series of death threats to an internationally known gay academic.
The background to the firestorm over pedophilia is an ongoing fight for control of the Canal Pride event. From 1996 to 2005, Canal Pride and the other Pride celebrations were organized by Amsterdam’s Gay Business Association (BGA), headed by Siep de Haan. But there was growing dissatisfaction with de Haan’s leadership, and allegations of financial malfeasance. Last year, the Dutch magazine Gay News, which has been in existence since 1992, reported: "The Amsterdam businesses seem to have finally had their fill with Siep de Haan. They complain that they have to pay the GBA 475 euros per beer tap while the licenses are only 35 euros at City Hall. More and more people wonder what happens with all the money that’s going into the GBA. Especially since the people who organize the street parties cover all the production costs. They don’t cost the GBA a cent! Never did the GBA give a satisfying account for all the financial transactions. As Peter Kramer, the boyfriend of Siep de Haan, is the treasurer of the foundation, people are getting suspicious."
"This year, our Gay Pride will cost some 200,000 Euros [roughly $260,000], whereas de Haan, who had a lot fewer events, claimed his budget was three times higher – where did the extra money go?" van Dalen told me, adding, "A lot of bar owners paid him a lot of money, because he told them – If you want to have a street party, you have to pay me. We believe he put the money in his pocket." De Haan did not reply to an e-mail from this reporter requesting his response to the charges. These allegations caused City Hall to withdraw its permit for the Pride events from de Haan’s group last year and give it to a new sponsoring organization, Pro Gay, in which COC is a participant.
Against this background, de Haan – on learning of the plans for the under-age youngsters’ boat – several weeks ago began a campaign to undermine Pro Gay’s and COC’s sponsorship of the Pride events with charges of pedophilia, according to articles in the Dutch press and accounts given this reporter by local gay activists. And he chose to do so by singling out Gert Hekma, an internationally known gay academic who is a lecturer in Gay and Lesbian Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Since de Haan began his campaign, Hekma has become the target of multiple death threats.
Hekma, 55, the author, editor, or co-editor of 16 scholarly books on gay studies – a number of them available in English – has written extensively on pedophilia in articles for scholarly journals. The prize-winning British historian and Auden biographer Richard Davenport-Hines – reviewing "Gay Life and Culture: A World History," the monumental essay collection published last year and edited by Professor Robert Aldrich of the University of Sydney, to which Hekma was a contributor – wrote: "Gert Hekma bravely utters some unsayable truths – ‘in general young people suffer no negative consequences from intergenerational sex unless it happens inside the family or unless violence is used against them’ – and intelligently contextualizes the prevalent Western hysteria about the sexual abuse of children."
In explaining the origins of the controversy, Hekma me by telephone, "City Hall wanted to get rid of de Haan and broaden the Pride from drinking and dancing to include cultural, sporting, and academic events." Hekma’s name was one of those on the original application for the permit for Pride, and so his name appeared in early press accounts of the planned boat for under-age youth, even though he was not involved with it. De Haan then sent a number of journalists quotes from a 2004 interview Hekma had given to Martijn, a pedophile magazine.
"In that interview," Hekma told me, "which was occasioned by the publication of my book ‘Homosexuality in the Netherlands from 1730 to Modern Times,’ I was untactical, as people would later reproach me, in my expressions. I said that the heteronormative culture opposes sex for the young with so much force, while at the same time we force the young to do other things that are good for them, like going to school, learning how to eat or to swim, etc. And, as I was writing an essay on [the Marquis de] Sade at the time, I invoked Sade and said that it might be a good idea to forcibly bring children to sex. I was being ironic, and perhaps a bit outrageous. What I meant, and should have said more clearly, was that instead of using force to prevent the sexual development of youth, it would be much better to do the opposite and spur them to become self-conscious sexual citizens."
Then, Hekma said, the more sensational and conservative elements of the Dutch press, and even some radio and TV stations, "began quoting me as saying ‘we should force children to have sex’ with no context, and referring to me as a ‘defender of pedophiles.’ When I was interviewed, I explained that it is normal for an academic to touch on all topics, in particular difficult themes like pedophilia – this I have done throughout my work."
In fact, Hekma’s academic views are not dissimilar from those of Judith Levine’s controversial book "Harmful to Minors: the Perils of Protecting Children from Sex" (University of Minnesota Press), which carried a forward from former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, and in which the author wrote: "The threat of pedophilia and molestation is exaggerated by adults, who want to deny young people the opportunity for positive sexual experiences."
"America’s drive to protect kids from sex is protecting them from nothing …Instead, often it is harming them," she also wrote. As well, hitting on the theme that Davenport-Hines attributed to Hekma, Levine wrote, "The research shows us that in some minority of cases, young, even quite young, people can have a positive [sexual] experience with an adult." In discussing de Haan’s public efforts to sabotage the Pride celebration, Hekma told this reporter, "The main line in the commotion here was the idea that this boat had something to do with pedophiles, and I was supposedly the main transfer point from the boat to the pedophiles."
But, Hekma said, "I had nothing to do with the youngsters’ boat, and the youngsters’ boat had nothing to do with pedophilia. What pedophile would come to a boat that was surrounded by media and parents? And these youngsters would have absolutely no reason to be interested in such a man at that moment." COC’s van Dalen told me, "Nobody in the community wants to work anymore with Siep de Haan, who is always trying to create trouble and attract attention to himself. Siep de Haan was behind the [pedophuilia controversy], he’s doing everything he can to fight us, including organizing a media riot involving Hekma. Plus, the teen boat isn’t about having sex, it’s about identity!" The media storm over the homojongerenboot spread like wildfire on the Internet, and occasioned questions in the Dutch Parliament from the small SPG party, a right-wing Christian group.
Hekma and his university both began receiving a lot of hate mail and death threats. "I opened my computer and there was the first death threat, reading, ‘I am going to push your shit through your throat before kicking you to death,’" the academic recounted. "There were six more like that, all signed." Hekma conferred with his dean about the death threats, and the university informed the police – "who are taking them seriously," Hekma said, invoking the recent political assassinations of openly-gay right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn (RIGHT) and anti-immigrant filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. Hekma’s right to speak and write freely was supported by his university, but he was publicly disowned by COC and Pro Gay, both of which issued statements criticizing his views.
"Hekma is for lowering the age of consent, but that’s not on our agenda," van Dalen told this reporter. "And we resent the things he has said." COC’s statement criticizing Hekma argued: "Gay liberation focused on the discriminatory aspect of the age of consent, not on the principle of an age of consent as such. As soon as the age of consent for both straight and gay/lesbian sex was equalized [in 1972 in the Netherlands], the age of consent stopped being a matter of concern for the Dutch LGBT movement."
"I am a victim of the fight between de Haan, and COC and Pro Gay," Hekma responded. "They dropped me because they were afraid of being called defenders of pedophiles. I’ve been hurt by my being presented as a pedoprofessor and a pedophile, but I’ve resisted denying I’m a pedophile on principle so as not to contribute to anti-pedo hysteria. The difference betweeen me and van Dalen is that I’m an academic, open for speculation and some irony, and he as a politician has to think tactically and strategically."
Van Dalen said that "there’s no place for irony when talking about force." The age of consent in the Netherlands was raised to 16 in 2002. Until then, between the ages of 12 and 16, there was no such thing as the concept of statutory rape on the law books for that age group. As a COC brochure put it at that time, "between 12 and 16 sexual contacts are punishable only when a complaint is lodged…. [O]nly the child, his or her parents, or the Council for the Protection of Children may bring in charges." COC’s positions pre-2002 versus today suggest a shift in the group’s posture. As its pamphlet put it then in defending the existing law, "nobody is allowed to interfere" with adult-child sexual contacts "as long as the situation is mutually agreeable, but should problems arise, then the sexual relation is certainly punishable."
Now, the organization’s position reads: "COC maintains the need for an age of consent, 16 in the Netherlands. A sexual relation between an adult and a minor always warrants suspicion and the need for an investigation. That such a sexual relationship is punishable by law is justified, because it [is] a necessary warning for pedophiles not to seek such contacts with minors and therefore provides some protection for minors. But COC is in favor and supported the Dutch regulation that minors between the age of 12 and 16 are always heard by the public prosecution before a decision to prosecute the adult is taken."
During the media explosion, van Dalen said, the debate shifted from sexual behavior to any discussion at all of under-age homosexual youth. "The tone was, ‘How can a 14-year old know if they’re gay or not – they’re too young,’" he told me. When this reporter asked the young inventor of the idea of the youngsters’ boat how he’d answer such criticism, Danny replied: "Straight teens are never questioned about their sexuality. It’s the same for gay and lesbian teens. Just read their e-mails to me and the mails of older gay men who remember their situation when they were our age. Coming out young, that’s the only thing new."
Danny went on to say, "There are simply not enough activities and no specific places for youngsters of my age. Those activities have to be organized. Not by individuals, but by professional organizations. That’s why I’m so pleased that COC Netherlands is supporting me. There are plenty of professional organizations working with straight teens. Nobody ever questions the need for that or the intentions of the people and organizations that provide those activities for them. It’s just plain homophobia to question their intentions. Why should it be any different for gay and lesbian teens? That’s how I see it."
Does Danny see himself as a gay activist in future?
"This is just the start. I really want to make an impact for gay emancipation," he told me. "I would like to work for COC Netherlands. Make sure that people don’t cast gays and lesbians out. Especially teens like me, because right now we are really left behind. But many more people still live in isolation feeling lonely. There’s still a lot to be done and I want to help and do my bit to change that."
For more information, see Danny Hoekzema’s Web site, http://www.dannysparade.nl/ , COC’s Web site, http://www.coc.nl/dopage.pl?thema=any&pagina=home ;and Amsterdam Gay Pride ’07 Web site, http://www.amsterdamgaypride.nl/ . Note: Though Danny speaks some English, his answers and their translation were prepared with the assistance of COC.
Good News For Mani: Readers of this blog will recall that, last October, I made an urgent appeal for contributions to help Mani, an underground Iranian gay activist who had escaped Iran just one step ahead of the police who wanted to arrest and imprison him. I had previously interviewed Mani about his work inside Iran (see "From Inside Iran, An Underground Gay Activist Speaks," July 5, 2006). Mani had to spend so much money for a "passer" to get him across the border to Turkey that he wound up penniless and sleeping in an Istanbul bus station. Many of you responded with generosity and sent contributions to help Mani.
Well, now there’s good news. I have just heard from Arsham Parsi, the young Secretary-General of the Iranian Queer Organization (the new name of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization) that "Mani has been officially recognized as a refugee by UNHCR (the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights) a few days ago. He interviewed again at the UNHCR for his 3rd country visa and he is waiting for last step of UNHCR’s process." This means that Mani will be able to leave Turkey for a gay-friendly country soon. To all those who opened their checkbooks for Mani in his hour of need, a big Thank You!
22 February 2007
Teenage and gay
"If you’re 13 or 14 you know whether you’re straight, so why can’t you know you’re gay? At a young age you can tell your sexual identity. You don’t need to wait till you’re 18."
Dutch teenager Danny Hoekzema is 14. He’s known he’s gay since he was 12. "I had a date with a guy and we kissed and it felt good. It was very clear.The day after the date with the guy I wrote a letter to my parents and put it on their pillow. We had a long chat and it was fine. They reacted as if it was normal.” But though Danny is open about his sexuality and his parents are supportive, the issue of homosexual youngsters is still often a taboo subject ‘When word got out at secondary school I got bullied quite a lot. I tried to get the school to talk about the subject but they didn’t follow it up” ‘There are other gay kids at my school but I’m the only one that’s out the closet. The environment is really bad. You just come across problems. There’s so little for us. We’re just not accepted.”
Danny is now campaigning to raise awareness that there are many other teenagers like him, but that for those under 16, there is very little support or awareness. And, compared to heterosexual teenagers, very little opportunities to meet each other: ”We can’t go to any websites, we can’t go anywhere to meet people and I want this to change." Danny says he wants to be more understood. As such he recently fought – and finally won – a tough battle to have a boat for under-16 year-old homosexuals in this year’s Gay Pride festival in Amsterdam.
”We’re going to decorate a boat at the Gay Parade and we’re going to dress normally and let people see that we’re normal I’ve had over 350 reactions, people that feel isolated, people that want to come on the boat and people that just want to support me." But the idea for the boat also sparked much debate in the Dutch media, and had its vocal critics. Some say it would be inappropriate for youngsters to take part in such a sexually orientated festival. Others say that children of Danny’s age cannot yet know if they really are gay. There were even questions in parliament about the boat. It seems the issue of homosexuality among youngsters is still very much off limits. But need it be?
July 27, 2007
Homophobic attacks in Amsterdam: the perpetrators
by Nicolien den Boer*
Violence against homosexuals in Amsterdam seems to be on the increase. There are no hard figures but the number of reports is certainly rising. The perpetrators are mainly youths with a Moroccan background. But Arab homosexuals are also increasingly likely to be victims, says author, expert on gay issues and authority on the Amsterdam Arab gay scene, Rauf Moussad. Moussad is a regular at the Habibi Ana in Amsterdam, a popular café with many Arab homosexuals. He is hearing more and more stories of violent assaults. Serious concerns were also expressed at a recent meeting for homosexuals held in the Amsterdam venue Paradiso. "I’m also more careful than I used to be when I leave Habibi Ana at night. The situation has really become more dangerous."Media attention The matter is receiving increasing attention in the Dutch media. This week and last week articles appeared on attacks on homosexuals by groups of youths. One of the victims was seriously injured. Rauf doesn’t think the increasing media attention is fuelling fears. He thinks the attention is "appropriate" because it makes people aware of what is happening.
The homosexual interest group COC is also sounding the alarm. It says that "old-fashioned queer-bashing" is back. The Amsterdam police have also observed an increase in the number of reports of violence against homosexuals. In the first half of this year a special phone line received 17 reported cases, a higher figure than for the whole of 2006. It is possible that the number of reports has also increased as awareness of the phone line has grown, but Elly Lust of the Amsterdam police thinks there is more to it than this alone: "For a long time Amsterdam has been the ‘gay capital of the world’, but now that seems to be changing. And of course, it’s something we don’t want to happen."And although Officer Lust emphasises that although people with a purely Dutch background also harass homosexuals, most of those responsible are Moroccan. "As society has become more diverse, with different religions and cultures, the levels of tolerance towards homosexuality have also become more diverse."Anti-Islamic reaction
But Rauf Moussad then wonders why the incidence of violence against homosexuals should have increased particularly in the last few years, when Dutch society has been "diverse" for much longer. He believes it is a reaction to the anti-Islamic sentiments that have permeated the parties of the right since the rise of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And many young Moroccans feel isolated and frustrated, says Mr Moussad. "They speak Dutch and they’re getting qualifications, but they aren’t part of Dutch society. Yes, with all due respect, they get jobs at supermarket checkouts. But the media is white and all the other prestigious professions are dominated by people with an ethnic Dutch background." And Mr Moussad believes this is why they are looking to religion and attending mosques where hatred towards homosexuality is sometimes preached. The young people also develop feelings of hatred towards the society which is excluding them, and hence towards all its typical values, such as tolerance of homosexuality. The increase in attacks on Arab homosexuals is easily explained, says Mr Moussad. They represent these Western values. Furthermore, they are defenceless. They keep their sexual orientation hidden from their families, so they are unlikely to report an assault to the police.
Pink in blue
It isn’t known how many of the reports to the special Amsterdam police phone line come from Arab homosexuals. Els Lust points out there is also a high threshold for Dutch heterosexuals to approach the police. Consequently a special unit has been created, consisting entirely of homosexual police officers, known as "pink in blue". They man the special phone line and patrol events like the Gay Parade in Amsterdam, which will take place next week on Saturday 4 August.
* RNW Internet translation (mb)
July 27, 2007
Amsterdam’s gay parade on water adds "hetero boat"
Amsterdam (Reuters Life!) – Amsterdam’s gay boat parade, which each year attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators, will be joined by a boat of heterosexual people this year in a protest against rising intolerance in the Netherlands. The organiser of the "hetero boat", Coos Peterse, said on Friday it’s inclusion was a reaction to a growing number of attacks against homosexuals in the Netherlands. Dutch media reported this month that a kissing lesbian couple was attacked in Nijmegen and had to be treated in hospital. In Amsterdam, two gay men were abused and one was seriously injured.
"What always bothered me is that the public reaction wasn’t that strong. I would expect a much stronger outcry," Peterse, 25, said. "Since I wasn’t hearing it, I thought maybe it was a good idea to make a statement, to celebrate with them that you’re free in Holland to live to your own preference."
The "hetero boat", an old navy tender, will hold about 30 people, Peterse said. Amsterdam’s gay pride is celebrated on Aug. 3 to Aug. 5. Hundreds of thousands of people line the city’s canals every year to see the boat parade, whose participants either wear flamboyant outfits or not much at all. The celebration then continues at a number of street parties across the city.
August 04, 2007
Amsterdam explodes with color as city celebrates Gay Pride festival
Amsterdam, Netherlands(AP) – Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and a large contingent of heterosexuals put on their brightest plumage Saturday, and a rainbow fleet sailed through Amsterdam’s historic canals, as the city celebrated its annual Gay Pride festival. The flotilla and party afterward is one of the biggest of the year in Amsterdam, and one in which the city upholds its reputation as one of Europe’s gayest capitals. DJs pump music from ships packed with dancing partygoers, vying for who can put on the best show or provide the most outrageous theme. Visitors saw dozens of well-muscled men wearing leather thong underwear, cowboy hats, disco glitter, and little else. One of the boats featured a bevy of lesbian Elvis impersonators with pink coiffures. Another boat was led by a "Queen" transvestite in fantastic royal regalia; in another, lesbians in bikinis with fairy wings danced wildly; and in yet another, a "mixed" group of party people dressed all in white appeared the model of affected sophistication.
For the first time, a designated "hetero-boat" was among the more than 70 vessels officially participating. Hundreds more cruised the canals just for fun. News reports estimated a record-breaking 375,000 to 500,000 people lined the canals to watch the boats pass, basking in the first warm weekend since summer started. "It’s so much fun, it’s better than in Cologne, Paris or anywhere else," said Janz Froster, who traveled from Germany to attend. "I think it’s a great opportunity to promote tolerance and anti-discrimination."
The party took place in the shadow of a spate of gay-bashing attacks this year, which has surprised a city renowned for its tolerance. "Social acceptance of homosexuality is not complete," said Tijn Elferink, spokesman for the country’s national gay organization, COC. Gay people still can be beaten up, just like that, for holding hands or being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. Amsterdam police spokesman Gerard Vrooland said there had been 16 gay-bashing attacks so far this year, compared with 10 in all of last year. Vrooland attributed the increase to police efforts to encourage victims to come forward.
Some Dutch blame Muslim immigrants for intolerance. "It’s a change, and it comes from the non-natives," said Marianne Kalter, who said she comes from the eastern city of Zwolle to watch the parade every year. "It’s getting worse. I hope it will get better, and I think it will in maybe 20 years — but not in 10." Vrooland said the city has set up a 24-hour hot line for victims of gay-related hate crimes, and a network of 30 gay agents within the city’s police force helps give such complaints "the highest priority." "Any violent crime is prioritized, but we believe attacks based on race, religion, or sexual orientation are worse," Vrooland said.
Elferink of the COC disputed that the rise in attacks was due to better reporting. "People in the Netherlands think this is not a problem here anymore," he said. "There’s a danger of complacency." Elferink said the COC is in talks with the country’s Justice Ministry over a new law similar to those banning convicted hooligans from soccer stadiums. If passed, the law would allow judges to bar gay bashers from approaching areas surrounding gay bars and pickup spots.
In another first, a boat for homosexual teenagers also sailed. Mayor Job Cohen initially refused a permit, arguing that underage participants were inappropriate. In the end a compromise was struck and parents accompanied their gay teens. City officials sailed on a new boat, the "Schelto Patijn," named for the city’s previous mayor, who died last month. Patijn famously described Amsterdam as the "Gay Way to Europe."
August 04, 2007
Dutch Embassies to Research Gay Rights
Dutch embassy officials in 36 countries where the Netherlands has close aid ties have been asked to draw up an inventory of gay rights legislation. The survey has been commissioned by by aid minister Bert Koenders, the Volkskrant reports on Thursday.
The paper says that in 18 countries where the Netherlands is active, homosexuality is illegal. Gay men face punishments ranging from fines and public beatings to, in three cases, a potential death sentence. Dutch embassies in countries where homosexuality is illegal are being told to urge the authorities to scrap anti-gay legislation, the paper says.
The results of the survey will be published in a few months but will not be used as an excuse to cut development aid, a ministry spokesman told the paper.
06 August 2007
Amsterdam Pride – gay party with a political message
by Maurice Laparlière*
the organisors of this year’s Amsterdam Pride made it known in advance that the annual gay and lesbian celebrations would have a more serious and political aspect than previous editions, and the popular Canal Parade would also include a larger number of boats highlighting more ‘substantial’ issues. A long trail of gaily decorated boats passing down Amsterdam’s canals. On board: men and women, some of them dressed extravagantly, many of the men half-naked. At first sight, this year’s Gay Pride parade seemed no different to those of previous years. But due to a number of factors, including an increase in violent attacks against gay men, this year’s event was more politically charged than ever before.
Several hours before the 70 boats taking part in this year’s gay Canal Parade set off, television crews began to fight for the best spots. Fourteen-year-old Danny Hoekzema, a teenager with a dental brace and acne, was one of the stars of this year’s event. More than that, Danny was about to realise his dream, for he’s been lobbying for some three years for a boat for gay young people – under the age of 16 – to take part in this annual even. His friend Max has a simple explanation:
"The message is: there are a lot of young gays in the world and they are getting younger."
The second part of the message appears to be that these young homosexuals are bored stiff. They are too young to go to gay bars and no one is organising any other kinds of activities for this specific group of young people. Max says he has no idea where to meet other gay boys of his age, even assuming that others like him would even dare to "come out" (i.e. tell the world they are gay). He says that this is a step which is and remains a very difficult for young people.
Whilst the cameras of CNN and the BBC were filming Danny, Max and the other others, Frank van Dalen, secretary of the COC gay rights organisation, looked on in pride. The city of Amsterdam only agreed to give the youths a permit for the boat when their parents promised to take part in the parade as well. It was not only a victory, but also a brighter moment in what Frank van Dalen sees as a less than positive time: "If you look at the Dutch society, it’s known as a very tolerant society. And it is true: more than 90 percent of the people in Holland accept homosexuality. However 42 percent of the people resent it when two men are kissing. So… we tolerate you as long as you behave normal, which means ‘don’t act gay’. But the problem is, we are gay."
Hand in hand
And Frank van Dalen isn’t just talking about men or women French kissing in public, but just about walking hand-in-hand or a greeting kiss. That’s not all. Recently in Amsterdam, long considered a gay-friendly city, gays have been beaten up on a regular basis.
Van Dalen says that Dutch society is looking for a way to get all minorities to live together. Unfortunately, small groups of youths from minority groups attempt to prove their masculinity by picking on gays. Which is why this year’s Gay Parade had more boats with a political message. There was a boat with judges and mayors, Amnesty International, politicians, the municipality of Amsterdam, and even a boat full of pro-gay heterosexuals. Van Dalen says they all had the same message: "Keep your hands off our gays".
Selcuk Akinci, a gay youth of Dutch-Turkish parents, has never been attacked personally. However, he knows some older people who have been the target of verbal attacks in their Amsterdam neighbourhoods. He says the Netherlands is becoming increasingly right-wing: "For example, our conservative parties are getting bigger again. Right-wing parties are getting bigger as well. That’s the direction the society is heading. Obviously we don’t agree. I thing we have to show [that we are] proud to be different."
He also says he had problems with his ‘coming out’. He no longer has contact with his Turkish father. However, his Dutch mother was more tolerant.
As Saturday’s canal parade got truly underway, however, politics soon slipped from most people’s mind. The massive and mixed crowd along the canals gazed at the dancers on the boats, some clad in latex, some in leather, many more in futuristic costumes, and at the inevitable number of gay men who are more than happy to show the world that they’ve spent a great deal of time at the gym and on a sun bed.
* RNW translation (fs)
16 August 2007
Gay defence school
by Marcel Decraene and Floris Dogterom
A growing number of homosexual men in the Netherlands feel unsafe on the streets as a result of the increasing violence against gays. During the yearly Gay Pride weekend in Amsterdam several gay men were beaten up. In The Hague the blows struck home, too. However, a countermovement is in the making. Instead of being beaten up without doing anything about it, several gays are following a self-defence course. One of the motivated students is Theo Gommel, who comments: "When it comes to the crunch and I find myself in a situation where I have to fight, I won’t run. I will fight. Through this course I want to learn how to." Gommel has never been beaten up on account of his sexual orientation, but the fact remains that the number of reports of violent incidents against gays is on the rise. Ellie Lust, president of the gay network ‘Pink in Blue’ of the Amsterdam-Amstelland police force, handles the interpretation of the figures with care.
After all, the increasing number of reports doesn’t necessarily mean that the number of violent incidents is on the rise. Victims might report incidents sooner than before, as a result of the media attention to assaults against gays. The Amsterdam police, however, do have a clear image of the perpetrators. Ellie Lust says: "Generally speaking they are young men aged between 15 and 25 years. The majority of the perpetrators have a Moroccan background. About three quarters of them perpetrators are immigrants, the rest are Dutch." Course instructor Gilbert Themen, himself a heterosexual man of Surinamese descent and a police officer by profession, explains why he is holding the course: "What’s happening today with homosexuals is really bad. I have got the techniques to help them defend themselves."
The Amsterdam police welcome the initiative and value gay men learning how to defend themselves. At the same time, Ellie Lust of the gay network ‘Pink in Blue’ sends out a warning: "According to the law, you may defend yourself and your belongings when you are attacked, but it goes without saying that the proportionality principle remains valid. Which means that if somebody punches you in the face, you’re not supposed to beat his brains in with a baseball bat."
Frank van Dalen, chairman of the Dutch national gay organisation COC feels it’s a pity that the courses are necessary. "But they are, because there is increased violence against gay men. I think these courses can help build a renewed self-confidence. Many gay men in the scene are looking for ways to feel safer on the streets. One of the ways is to follow these self-defence courses."
18th September 2007
Dutch government to promote gay acceptance
by Tony Grew
The government of Holland has committed itself to the active promotion of acceptance of LGBT people in the light of several high-profile homophobic attacks in the country. In a memorandum on the 2008 Budget, the coalition government’s Cabinet said that respect for difference is a basic condition of Dutch society. They committed millions of euros to fight homophobia and promote acceptance.
Gay rights group COC welcomed the government’s commitment, and said that ignorance was the cause of anti-gay feeling. However, they said the budgets for individual departments remain vague and that ministers must bring forward concrete measures. Over half of Dutch gays feel less safe than they did a year ago, a survey carried out in August by current affairs programme EenVandaag revealed. 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. A substantial increase in attacks in the capital has been reported over the last few years. Of the 23,000 people questioned, including 1,980 gays and lesbians, 61 per cent still maintained the Netherlands is a gay-friendly country. The fact that 72 per cent of respondents claimed to be in favour of gay marriages seemed to bear this up.
November 7, 2007
Dutch call on aid recipients to improve gay rights
Amsterdam (Reuters) – The Netherlands, a major donor of international aid, will lobby developing countries to legalise homosexuality and fight discrimination, the government said on Wednesday. A government survey showed homosexuality is illegal in 18 out of the 36 countries the Netherlands gives regular aid to, Development Minister Bert Koenders said in a statement, with punishment ranging from prison sentences to the death penalty.
"The Netherlands will promote as much equal treatment of homosexuals as possible. We will not avoid awkward discussions about this," he said in a letter to parliament. Koenders has asked Dutch ambassadors in developing countries to push for gay rights unless local human rights organisations object on grounds it would be counter-productive. Koenders said he is aware that the subject is sensitive in many places.
The Netherlands, which gives 4 billion euros ($5.85 billion) in aid each year to countries mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, became the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children in 2001.
(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Golnar Motevalli)
8th November 2007
Dutch focus on international gay rights abuses
by Tony Grew
LGBT rights organisation COC Netherlands has welcomed research initiated by the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation into gay rights. The report, published yesterday, found that homosexuality is still a punishable crime in half of the 36 countries that have a development relationship with The Netherlands. Penalties in those countries range from imprisonment to death penalty. According to COC Netherlands this report is the first of many steps towards equal rights for homosexual people in those countries. "Homosexuality has never before played a role of importance in foreign development cooperation," said COC chairman Frank van Dalen. "We are pleased to see that the minister has taken this important human rights issue seriously."
The minister would like the Dutch embassies to make a strong case against penalties and punishment in the countries in which homosexuality is still a crime and to make it very clear that this form of discrimination is unacceptable. COC Netherlands points out that country reports on local human rights conditions prepared by embassies have not always been complete or correct on the position of homosexuals in those countries. In the case of asylum seekers from Iran, based on the inaccurate country report, these people were about to be sent back to Iran, where their lives would be in serious danger. COC is proposing four follow-up steps to fight homophobia in development countries on a long-term basis. One of these is the monitoring of punishment processes involving homosexuals.
Another is putting homosexuality on the political and diplomatic agenda. Furthermore it is important that the Dutch embassies, fulfilling a pioneering role, should form coalitions with other embassies on the subject and use their joint influence. And finally, the voices of local LGBT people should be heard and local LGBT-movements supported.
Dutch government to fight for gay rights, at home and abroad
The Hague (AFP) – The Dutch centre-left government has made the fight against homophobia a priority at home and abroad in a move applauded by gay rights activists here. "Never before has a government done so much for the emancipation of gays," said Frank van Dalen, president of the Dutch national gay rights COC, the world’s oldest such organisation set up in 1946. "Homosexuality has never before played a role of importance in foreign development cooperation," he told AFP.
To form his fourth coalition government, in power since February, Christian Democrat Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende teamed up with Labour. This new centre-left team is focussing more on social issues than its leftwing predecessors. In a letter last month to parliament about Dutch foreign aid strategy, Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders stated emphatically that "the Netherlands will promote equal rights for gays as much as possible." In 18 of the 36 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, that the Netherlands supports with development aid, homosexuality is an offence, with penalties ranging from a fine to a prison sentence. The Dutch will plead in bilateral contacts for the legalisation of homosexual contacts, said Koenders, adding: "We will not shy away from difficult discussions."
Relative to its population size, the Netherlands is one of the biggest international donors, giving 0.8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) or 4.2 billion euros (6.1 billion dollars) in 2006. A few days after Koenders’ announcement, fellow cabinet member Ronald Plasterk, minister of education, culture and science who also has emancipation issues in his portfolio, officially presented his plans to set aside 2.5 million euros between 2008-2011 to promote equal treatment for homosexuals. Noting that while gays and lesbians have the same rights as heterosexuals in the Netherlands, "socially the acceptance is not automatic among certain ethnic minorities or people who follow a more orthodox religious lifestyle." The money is intended for campaigns targetting young people, mostly Muslims in schools, sport clubs or neighbourhood associations.
"Here again the government is progressing: we have our own minister whereas in previous governments we only had a secretary of state charged with gay rights," said Van Dalen. "Also for the first time the coalition agreement had a chapter about emancipation of gays." But Van Dalen said just stating this is not enough. "The government has taken a moral position without offering a way to implement its stand. Moral leadership is not enough to change the world," he said.
There is still much work to be done to promote gay rights, according to the activist.
"The Netherlands is not some kind of gay paradise," he said. "According to surveys 48 percent of the population is shocked by two men kissing and 75 percent of people of immigrant origin believe that a teacher should hide his gay orientation," Van Dalen said.
In a letter sent to parliament last week ahead of a parliamentary debate about the 2008 education budget, the COC asked that six million euros be earmarked to fight homophobia in schools.
December 21, 2007
Gay Iranian Teen Awaits Decision of Dutch Court Over Return to UK: Mehdi fled UK in April following rejection of asylum application. Thanks his supporters: “I am sure I would have been dead by now if I you guys weren’t supporting me”
London – A young gay Iranian, who fled the United Kingdom in fear after his asylum application with the Home Office’s Border and Immigration Agency failed earlier this year, will be spending the festive season hoping that a Dutch court will allow him to stay in the Netherlands. UK Gay News highlighted the plight of 19 years-old Mehdi in April following the failure of his appeal against deportation from UK back to Iran. Mehdi had arrived in the UK two years previously on a student visa and had completed his education in England. Before leaving Iran, the teen had not only come to terms with the fact he was gay, but also had a serious boyfriend.
So scared of being forcibly removed to Iran, Mehdi managed to flee the UK and surfaced in the Netherlands before crossing the border into Germany. The authorities eventually caught up with him and he returned again to the Netherlands. Mehdi had his “day in court” after the Dutch authorities wanted to return him to the UK – there was no suggestion of him being returned to Iran as the Government in the Netherlands has a moratorium on returning gays to Iran. “My main worry is that if they send me to the UK, the Home office would try to send me to Iran without any further review in my case,” he said today in an email.
The judge in the Netherlands is now considering the case. She is expected to hand down her decision early in the New Year on whether Mehdi can stay in the country or has to be returned to the UK. During the court hearing, Mehdi’s lawyer said that the Netherlands had an obligation – and the legal responsibility – to let the teenager stay in the country, due to the UK’s “historical attitude” towards Iranian gay men and women seeking asylum. His lawyer argued that Mehdi should be allowed to seek asylum in the Netherlands.
Last night, Mehdi gave an emotional “thank you” to his many supporters. “I would like to thank the many people who have followed my case and have given me huge support over the past 15 months,” he said. “I am sure I would have been dead by now if I you guys weren’t supporting me,” he added. His supporters are led by his uncle, who lives in the UK. Mehdi also said that he had received fantastic world-wide support, including from the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organisation, gay support groups in the Netherlands, MPs and other individuals in the UK
¦ Don’t Leave Iranian Gays Abandoned. – read Mehdi’s story, including how his boyfriend in Iran was executed, HERE.