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 Topic: How can we stimulate more participation in the GBLTT forum?

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Robert Mc  

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Posts: 49
Interests: Politics, gay issues, human rights, classical and ethnic music and art, alcoholism and drug addiction recovery, health and fitness, spirituality... We need support to fight homophobia by a hardcore of religious and political leaders who managed to con
Physical Location: Metro San Juan, Puerto Rico

Posted: 6 Feb 2004, 6:56 am    Post subject: How can we stimulate more participation in the GBLTT forum? Reply with quote

I would like to suggest a possible way to stimulate greater participation in the forum by its members and to encourage new membership.

The publisher of the forum should consider having panels selected based on the interest of each member's profile. For example, I am interested in alcoholism and drug addiction recovery. I am also interested in how politics can influence human rights for GBLTT people. I am specifically interested in Puerto Rico's -- where I live -- hostility towards GBLTT people. I want more stateside gay and lesbian people to support our desire for more human rights in Puerto Rico.

My suggestion is that when certain hot topics are submitted to the forum, the publisher or moderators of the forum email these hot topics to a panel of ten to twenty members based on their interests as expressed in their profiles. The profiles now serve a better or additional purpose.

The idea is to hope the panels will be "pump priming" to stimulate interest in specific topics. To get the ball rolling on an important topic of concern to GBLTT people.

Furthermore, on the forum's homepage could be a review of recent hot topics submitted to the forum. Members should be encouraged to participate.
It is time to free Puerto Rico of homophobic religious and political power brokers.
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Interests: History, the Web
Physical Location: Chicago

Posted: 14 Feb 2004, 3:20 pm    Post subject: Re: How can we stimulate more participation in the GBLTT for Reply with quote

Robert Mc wrote:
I would like to suggest a possible way to stimulate greater participation in the forum by its members and to encourage new membership.

Great suggestions. Are others interested in adding groups and moderators to the forums? Does any one else have ideas on making the discussion boards more useful and engaging?

BTW, a host of new boards will appear toward the end of this month when the Social Sciences department of the encyclopedia goes into beta, probably on Feb. 23.

Thanks again, Robert, for the suggestions.

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Interests: I like people who make sense and I like to make sense of people, in a world that sometimes makes little sense.
Physical Location: Amsterdam

Posted: 15 Jun 2004, 3:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have questions and I'm shopping around on several forums for answers, including this American one. I have these questions not because I'm new to the scene, but precisely because I've been out and proud for over 25 years, and in Amstrerdam of all places. I've also been doing charity work for over 20 years now, that has taken me to places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Bosnia.

25 years ago I was a member of the group that gave birth to the idea of the gay monument; 2 years ago I was talking to a Minister in the Albanian government about space for a budding gay movement in Europe's worst country; 3 months ago I found myself demonstrating because we've still got these people who preach murder; and I suspect that the gay pride march in Enschede, in a fortnight, may turn violent as one of the local councillors has been ranting against queens and poofs and dykes.

We've achieved a lot on the legal front. We have rights, but I've also had the experience that accessing those rights is a very difficult thing indeed. For me the 1990s and early zeroids were about experiences with attempted blackmail, murder, succesful and unsuccesful suicides, queerbashing, inlaws from hell, etc. I fought back, but it also exhausted me, and forced me to ask what we had really achieved. Identity questions really.

On the social front a hell of a lot of work needs to be done: queerbashing is on the increase, discrimination at schools is rife. Yet, the Dutch (and many Dutch gays) live in a fool's paradise. We are integrated now, and that means that you're expected to be gay the straight way. HomoSEXuality is about what happens between the sheets, and that is private, so shut up and get back into the closet. But what when it's about HOMOsexUALITY?

Quite a large segment of the Dutch gay community goes on about integration (the official buzzword of the gay movement), but it isn't about integration, or is it? We start integrated, and we come out of the closet we de-integrate. It is (a) about equal rights ==> (b) about emancipation. That's the big question that's being debated over here: what next? I've got my answer: social emancipation.

I would love to engaged in a regular exchange of ideas and experiences.

I've posted a few message, but I'm sorely disappointed at the lack of responses. Something needs to happen to liven up the forums. I understand that I speak from a different context, but I had hoped to start a few debates. It doesn't seem to be happening.
Harry Trotsky
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Posted: 15 Jun 2004, 4:15 pm    Post subject: Emancipation Reply with quote

Hi, Trotsky,

One thing you have mention in several of your posts is the problem of "integration," and that makes me wonder if Americans are working their way toward the same set of problems you are encountering now. We're working for same-sex marriage, but once that's achieved, I am sure there will be more pressure to fit into an idealized mold of happily married, minivan-driving incidentally homosexual moms and dads whose greatest concerns are scheduling our kids' play dates and delivering them to soccer practice on time.

Lots of people aspire to normalcy, and to a generic American suburban existence, so it only seems fair for us to be able to marry, but gay neoconservatives like Andrew Sullivan see gay marriage as a way to subdue the wildness and amorality they see in queer culture. Where doesl that leave gays and lesbians who prefer a life that doesn't fit the marital norm? I suppose unmarried straight people have been dealing with the same problem for a long time.

You mention emancipation as a goal for the movement. How does emancipation differ from integration? What are the goals of a movement devoted to emancipation, and how do you see the movement working toward those goals?
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Posted: 17 Jun 2004, 4:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Anony,

Just a few short, quick replies, because right now Iím writing a paper on many of the issues that you asked about, and today I was writing about ďintegrationĒ and ďemancipationĒ. Part of the reason being that I have strong opinions about such issues, not just from the gay perspective, but also from the perspective of a country that is wrestling with ethnic integration issues (and going about it the wrong way), and that of a guy who was raised English, but out of context in the Netherlands.

The other part being that ever since the introduction of gay marriage the main gay movement (COC) has been grapling with the big question: what next? So much so, that there is a serious fight going on, and the COC looks like splitting. The fight is partly about financial accountability, but also about the direction to take. Yesterday, several promiment people who had left set up a new holedifederation, and Iíve got a few ideas about what Iíd expect from them.

CNN and BBC have reported on the tolerance in the Netherlands, and this is a moral maverick country of which Iím proud. Both quoted a Dutch saying that roughly translates as ďbe normal, thatís plenty crazyĒ, to paraphrase the Dutch attitude. However, itís a phrase I hate, because within the Dutch Calvinistic context it refers to Calvin and his sythe mowing the lawn to cut short the grasses that stick out too much. We call that the ďmaaiveldĒ, maaien = to mow, veld = field.

Dutch culture is varied in the small things, but it is not very tolerant with regard to excentricities (British culture is right the other way round), which is probably one of the reasons that the Dutch are experiencing problems with immigrant whoíve integrated and are showing that by organising themselves socially and politically, and putting things on the political agenda that have never before been seen in polderland, and the ethnic Dutch donít know what to think of that.

We also have another expression: oogkleppentolerantie. Itís about going through life with your blinders on: anything is permissible as long as doesnít happen under your nose. Negative tolerance, anything goes but donít let me see it, versus positve tolerance, anything goes and we revel in diversity.

So what is normal? Look into the mirror! Thatís what friends used to tell me when I first moved to Amsterdam, after a three year stint of leading the double life in England. In my life, I am the measure of normalcy, but in your life, you are.Granted we live in a very consumer oriented society with infinite choice, but life is more than consuming. I donít conform to the gay lifestyle that is being pushed because weíre now all double incomes and have been discovered by big business; and I donít confrom with the heterosexual lifestyle and its gender stereotypes. I donít have a driverís licence, I donít have a mobile telephone, Iíve got a pretty bad dress sense, our house is a tip, but Iíve got a pretty extensive library of gay literature (and much more), kids love their crazy uncle, Iím a great cook, and I get around. I am in charge of my own destiny. Isnít that what the American revolution was all about?

Integration is about belonging to a whole that is bigger than yourself. It is about the things that we have in common. But is that about clogs and bicycles? Or is it about the ability to make it with a sense of self within the cultural, social and economic context that you find yourself? How similar do we have to be before weíre all integrated?

Emancipation is about the things that we donít have in common. Ask any feminist and she will talk about the right to be a woman the womanly way, and not be discriminated at the workplace or anywhere else in society.

Hekma (a Frisian name, actually, he wrote the Dutch sections of this webpage, and recently published a history of homosexuality in the Netherlands since 1700) once wrote in an article that the battle fought to date is about legal rights, it is about access to protection by the law, access to the goodies that the law links to the marital status, etc., etc., and on that front a lot has been achieved. But the real battle is on the social front: kids at school not daring to come out, gay teachers keeping their identity a secret, quotas for everybody but not for gay men and lesbians, villages gays shunned by their neighbours, etc. etc.

The big public debate is about the principle of non-discrimination pitched against the principle of religous freedom and freedom of expression. A complicated debate, because it is also about integrating the Muslim minority, but started when several fundamentalist imams said that itís okay to beat your wife and that gay men should be thrown off the higest tower. And, of course, itís about the international aftermath of 9/11.

But the emancipation of gay men and lesbians is necesary: itís what gives a voice, itís why we need to be accommodated. I can appreciate that there are people who canít or wonít join struggles, but limit themselves to eating the fruits; but I canít stand the so-called gay men who then shoot the gardener. I once had a colleague like that: the first to sign a cohab contract, the first to get married, but also the only one to protest against the appointment of a lesbian director and her telling the world about her memberschip of the gay movement, the guy who stopped any talk about funding projects for gay men and lesbians in Israel and Palestine, because it stigmatised him. We get a lot of that over here. Thereís a lot of ranting from gay men against the annual gay pride, the queens, the queers, the dykes showing off. But take a good look at the nudity and extravagancy of the annual Caribbean carnival.....

It is a big question that weíre grappling with: what next? I remember an article written 25 years ago: once legal equality has been achieved we will no longer feel the need to fight, lose our shared sense of self, submerge in the masses and disappear as a minority. It has an eery ring of truth to it.

I am out and proud for simple reasons. Iím out because Iím only too familiar with what the closet does with your sense of self: it kills it, it kills spontaneity, it kills love, it kills frienships because youíre not real because youíve got too many secrets. Iím proud because I changed the curse into an opportunity to go through life without an autopilot and be in charge. I can appreciate peopleís need for an autopilot, but for as far as Iím concerned the risk that it directs you away from yourself is just too big. Drop the autopilto, donít be afraid of the consequences, because the road you then travel will take you to people who appreciate that, and theyíre your true friends. At a certain momen in my life the people (family, etc.) who criticised me for showing off, flying the flag, embarassing them, putting the family name up for grabs, they all turned jealous.....

Frank Sinatraís ďI did it my wayĒ gave me courage when I was 18-19. When Robbie Williams came out with his version it was at a lowpoint in my life, and it perked my up, because yes, I did it my way, but Iím only 45, so whatís next. Thatís something Iím working on.

More later, itís midnight now, and I do have to get up at six a.m.
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Posted: 19 Jun 2004, 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Second instalment, I hope it fits.

The main objective of the gay struggle is to demand from society that it is genuinely inclusive, but we donít want it to be inclusive by means of forcing everybody to conform to some standard, we want it to be inclusive in a manner that respects differences. In that struggle we have got a lot of disadvantages to overcome, not the least prejudice and ingorance.

But it is also about practicing what you preach. We also want the gay movement to be inclusive. But how do we make it inclusive without falling in the trap of only agreeing on the lowest common denominator? Especially, when we donít really exist as a community. Weíre raised in a straight context that begins to feel like a straight jacket from which we want to escape. We call that coming out of the closet, but because of that origin we start off without a sense of community, itís something we build when weíre already part of a community, Dutch, catholic, southener, etc., in my case, but with a strong English tinge. We canít really say goodbye to that because itís imprinted, we develop as that community develops, we develop our sense of belonging to a gay community within that context.

And for every individual this is a different process, that depends as much on the environment that you came from as on personal aptitudes and aspirations. There is a lot that divides the gay community.

There are the things that divide any community: religion, ethnicity, politics, social status, economic prosperity, etc. Thereís little that can be done about that, but our status as a second class citizen and last class human being tends to overcome these difference for a common struggle for respect and equal status with the ninety percenters.

Then there are the differences that come about because we give different answers to the vexed question as to what it means to be gay. Is it only about sex? It is that in an oppressive environment, because you canít develop all the other apsects. But what if it is more than sex, what is it then? What is it when youíre not the obvious type? In response weíve developed subcultures, and quite often they can be pretty dismissive of each other. But again, we unite when faced with obstacles that are common to us all.

And then there is a category of differences thatís really a bitch, and thatís about the choice to face the music that happens when you come out of the closet, or to plug your ears and just get on with it. A choice that the obvious type doesnít really have to make, but most of us arenít all that obvious, and besides straights can be pretty blind to the obvious. You donít just come out of the closet once. You come out of the closet a thousand times in a lifetime, to every new person that crosses your path. So visibility is an issue. As long as weíre not visible we donít exist. And thatís where the bummer starts.

Weíre visible to straights when weíre obvious, and they tend to associate homosexuality with the obvious types, and treat it with derision. So the not so obvious amongst us, who are out to their family and friends, donít want to be associated with them. And this division in gay society really is a bitch. The obvious ones get accused of stigmatising the rest, and the fear of stigmatisation tends to keep some inside the closet.

Yet, itís the obvious ones that lead the struggle. Theyíre often out of the closet because they havenít got a choice, and they have to face the music head on. You can draw parallels with the womenís struggle for equal rights: the ones most confronted with the reality of their unequal status were the first ones to get motivated to do something about it, and they too have had to cope with hords of housewives who had it comfi and didnít really understand what the fuss was all about.

Nevertheless, the gay struggle includes the not so obvious guys and galls too, but this is why it often is so difficult to get gay men and lesbians to unite behind a common agenda that is based on identity, just like the feminists had problems to get women to unite behind a single banner.

Weíre ten percent of the population, but you wouldnít say that when you walk the streets. Weíre not born in a geographical concentration, like so many ethnic minorities. Once out, or to escape social oppression we drift to the urban centres, where we start building some kind of community. We do that because the big cities offer anonimity, you can drown in the crowds. You canít do that in villages and small towns, so if desire or necessity keeps you there you tend to keep a low profile.

You develop a strong sense of private life, and a sharp division with public life, but you canít escape the desire to make public the private things that straights take for granted are public in their lives. You can even find this wish to sharply separate the private from the public in the urban context.

Gay marriage as an idea was first developed in the late 1970s, and it met with a lot of opposition from within the urban gay community. Those were the days before AIDS and we were busy with experimenting with identities, in which the main thread was that weíre men, among men, whether femme or butch. The much criticised promiscuity of the urban gay community exists for two reasons. One of them is historic: centuries of persecution created a tradition of furtive, secretive meetings, delinking the sexual urge from emotional needs. The other one, well those were still the days that men were supposed to test the waters before getting hooked, women were supposed to remain prim and proper. Promiscuous men were studs, and promiscuous women were the village bicycle, and the men of my generation (and one or two that followed) were raised with that. The pill had yet to affect the social changes that we now take for granted. And then we found ourselves as men among men. That promiscuity happen(s)ed because weíre men, not because weíre gay.

And as gay men we were developing a community in which we could have as much sex as weíd want, without consequence. No fear of getting anyone pregnant.

So the fist reaction to gay marriage (and in NL it was first proposed by gay Christian Democrats) was to dismiss it as irrelevant. It was not about copycat living. It was about recognition of our sense of uniqueness (that was till embryonic), it was about detaching the goodies from the license, because marriage was antiquated anyway and on the way out. An anti-discrimination law was much more important.

That argument didnít last long. AIDS threw a spanner in the works. Gone was the idea that weíd found the magic key to sex without consequence. Safe sex is wise, but it isnít always fun toíve got to put brakes on an experience of ultimate intimacy.

But something else also happened. The first and second generations that were out of the closet in great numbers (in the urban centres), grew older, got fed up with the cruising scene and developed friendships. The lesbians began to come out of the closet in great numbers, and they preached a different attitude towards sex and friendship. And we were clumped together, because of the same-sex nature of our inclinations, not because weíve got a lot in common.

The early eighties also saw a realisation among the gay politicos that the urban guys arenít the only ones around, that itís not just about Amsterdam, and the Netherlands had a national gay movement. It had to give meaning to the idea of being national. The annual gay pride march moved out of Amsterdam into the provinces (and once in my hometown). That quickly drew the attention of the public at large. The provincial straights didnít take too kindly to the parade of queers, queens, poofs and dykes.

The gay rights march in Leeuwarden in the North on May 3, 1980 turned violent. It was a protest against straights smashing up an info stand of the COC. The local gays mostly stayed at home, but around 600 of us from all over the country did turn up, as did around 600 queerbashers. It didnít reach the national headlines, because the country was still coping with the shock of the coronation day riots three days earlier.

Two months later the gay pride march in Amersfoort, however, also turned violent, but this time it reached the national headlines. National television was there and the violence was beamed into every household. Fine, my mother reacted by saying ďdonít show off thenĒ, but the country woke up to a reality that it had denied, because only the Amsterdam gay community was visible and it seemed to thrive.

That got a national debate going about equal rights. It led to anti-discrimination legislation slowly but surely (although it still has exceptions ). It led to a greater recognition of gay relationships. The cohab contract became more common, and many businesses began to accord equal access to benefits attached to the license.

Much of this happened not in the politically progressive circles, but in the politically moderate ones. It were protestant churches that were the first ones to bless unions, although itís the fundamentalist protestant churches that then and now give us the worst headaches, but then the Dutch have 240 protestant sects to choose from. I work for a charity that is identified with the left, but in its sector it was the last one to introduce equal pension rights, and that only because the law changed. But thatís a different story.

The government changed the constitution and included a non-discrimination first article that didnít mention homosexuality but did include an ďetc.Ē Individual gay men and lesbians in problems went to court and sought verdicts that confirmed that the ďetcĒ included them. They were successful. That created the need to introduce a non-discrimination law, which happened in the second half of the eighties. And that made organisations and businesses grant gay men and lesbians access to benefits.

Gay marriage became the official goal of the gay movement because (a) most of us do settle down sooner or later, although the open relationship is practised a lot to accommodate male nature, (b) our relationships are as worthy as theirs, (c) and non-marital straight couples had similar problems that needed to be solved. If you donít like to get married because itís a straight thing, so the argument runs, then donít, as so many straights donít either, but suffer the consequences. The introduction of gay marriage does in no way limit your choice of lifestyle: it adds one, it doesnít take any away. On that basis I was all for gay marriage, although by the late eighties there was already a strong movement towards detaching the goodies from the license.

Access to benefits was one issue, but cohab contracts or criteria like one year on the same address had already made those benefits available to many non-marital couples. On the other hand, it became a jungle of criteria that needed weeding.

Inheritance law was another issue, that gay men shared with many straights. The old law restricted the right to inherit to blood relatives: half goes to the surviving spouse, the kids get a proportional share of the rest. You could leave a will that was different, but if bloody blood decided to contest the will your partner was out of a home. That law was changed independently from the civil code, but blood still pays much less in inheritance tax than non-blood. The criterion for a non-marital partner to be recognised is five years, and he then only inherits as if a brother, which makes a difference of a couple of hundred thousand eís in inheriting tax free, which means that your partner has to sell the home.

A third issue was powers of attorney. Cohab contracts became a way of arranging this.

So in some ways developments had preempted the need for access to the license. It wasnít perfect, but gay men, lesbians and straight non-marital couples had found ways around the license. When gay marriage happened it was above all of symbolic importance and some argued that we would one day rue the day that it happened.

The fourth issue, the clincher, was children, a relevant issue above all for lesbians, because they had already obtained non-discriminatory access to artificial insemination, and of course spoons were always there and obliging men could be found. But should the biological mother die than the biological father and his blood had first rights to the child(ren). The partner had no right to adopt the child.

The government first introduced civil partnership (which is still there). It is almost equal to the marital status, but it failed to deal with the issue of the rights to children. Gay men and lesbians could adopt as individuals, but they could not adopt as a couple. So, two years later they were granted full access to the license, April 1, 2001.

Whatís happened since then? First of all, the goodies have been reattached to the license. A proper study into this needs to be done, but Iím at present translating the agreement between the union and my employer that regulates working conditions, and yes, access to benefits is conditions on marital status, civil partnership or a cohab agreement that is about property, a more restricted access than a couple of years ago.

In April 1996 I had my first scare when my partner disappeared from home and went missing for a week: I had no problems with the police. In September 2001 (barely six months after the introduction) he went missing again: the police refused to lift a finger because I had yet to marry him, and not a thought about a gay man whoíd been abandoned by his blood, no, only blood could register a missing person. They were unrelenting.

Should Iíve married him at the earliest opportunity? You marry some one because you want to, not because you have to. The days of the shotgun wedding are over, or arenít they? And I no longer really had a partner. I had a patient, and you donít marry a patient.

I can appreciate it, equal rights, equal shit, itís something I also tell feminists who insist on special considerations where none are warrented: this is the 21st century, being a woman is no excuse for jumping the queue. But I was dealing with a man whoíd been abandoned by his family because he is gay, and mummy lived in England, daddy in California, how could they register a missing person? Besides I was already in a position in which I had legal responsibilities. So where are the rights?

Now this kind of ignorant and cold and uncaring attitude we also encountered in the health sector seeking help, and it is this attitude that led to the Pim Fortuyn phenomenon, which was also about perceived rising crime, perceived problems with immigrants and asylum seekers, perceived problems with Muslims, and it was something that galvanised the so-called losers of the social revolution and economic boom that this country experienced in the 1990s: single-income families in a country where double-incomes were living it up and pushing up the prices of basic needs such as housing. Amsterdam has become unfordable to live in for single-income families, especially for first time buyers.

To be continued.
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Posted: 21 Jun 2004, 8:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Third instalment, a bit on the history and context.

Of course much more has happened. When I first moved to Amsterdam there was just the gay scene and the COC. A few gay men were beginning to organise gay groups inside existing political parties. The PSP (Pacifist Socialist Party) gay group was the first, followed by the PvdA (Labour), and, if I remember correctly they were also present in the Communist Party and Democrats 66. A couple of years later the first off-scene activities appeared, gay menís choirs were formed and Tiger was created, a sports club that had begun as a self-defence course. In 1984 the first gay book store was opened, called Vrolijk, which is Dutch for gay, but only in the old meaning, it never caught on in the new meaning.

Now there are dozens of off-scene societies, ranging from Euro Faerie (about celebrating gay history), to So-Society (cooking, cinema, books, cycling, etc.), bikersí clubs, sports clubs, camping clubs, country and western dancing, etc. etc. The gay scene (bars and discos) no longer has that aspect of being a refuge for the haunted and persecuted, but functions like any other nightlife scene.

What made all of this possible? It wasnít just the zest and zeal of individuals, but also the context. Dutch society is peculiar in many ways. Itís a small country, but nevertheless it has deep divisions of its own that go back hundreds of years. It was a republic before it became a monarchy. It was a federation that accommodated differences before it became a unitary state that has a 19th century history of seeking ways and means to accommodate the differences.

Foreigners often describe it as the most Americanised culture in Western Europe, but thatís not because weíre imitating America. Itís entirely home grown. Our war of independence against Spain lasted 80 years, and it began as a rebellion of aristocrats against the centralisation of power that Philip II sought, attempting to protect their privileges. The first round happened in what is now Belgium. The aristocrats lost it, and those that werenít beheaded fled North, where the Reformation had begun to take root and merchant capitalism was on the rise. In the end, Spain recognised Dutch independence (without Belgium). The mercantile classes of Holland and Zeeland were the real winners; the landed aristocracy had lost. The Netherlands became Europeís first country where government was not in the hands of the aristocracy, and where social status was more about the powers of the wallet than about breeding. It was oriented towards the sea and trade. Requests from one or two German principalities to join the Republic of the Seven Provinces were turned down. The merchants werenít interested in a land empire, they wanted a sea empire, and got one.

Every Dutch school child learns about the big compromise of 1917, when we also had a failed attempt at a socialist revolution. The big compromise became the basis for the political and social organisation of much of the 20th century. It settled the 19th centuryís major political issues: the funding of education and the extension of the vote.

One side agreed to private education but state-funded, with the state also in the role of designing the main organisational structure of education and of overseeing and maintaining quality, but all schools were in essence private. The other side agreed to extend the vote to all adult men. A few years later all adult women were also included.

This meant that the main social groups, or pillars as we call them, in Dutch society controlled education. Those pillars did not really mix, except at the top, where a system of proportional representation guaranteed that all governments were to be coalitions, so effective government had to master the art of compromise. After WW II the system was further formalised. Several councils were set up to guide government policy: one third government representatives, one third trade union reps, one third employers.

Dutch society was divided along religious lines, catholics vs. protestants, and the protestants were divided between two big groups. It also had a large secular element, that was divided between the liberals and the socialist. The pillars had their own schools and universities, their own political party, trade unions and employer organisations, social organisations, broadcasting companies, butchers and grocers, doctors and dentists.

Catholics dominated in the South, protestants in the West, East and North, the middle of the country was pretty mixed. The religious dominated in the rural areas and small to medium sized towns, the secular dominated in the big cities. It was a system of living together under the same roof, but in separate rooms. Intermarriage was rare and the pillar took care of you from the cradle to the grave.

This system began to break down in the 1960s. It was a slow and gradual process and one of the social-political issues playing out now in Dutch society is about what to do with organisations, institutions and socials structures that still represent it but are no longer really in touch with modern realities. The three major religious parties merged and formed the Christian Democrat Appeal; the Liberals developed a strange mix of progressive thinking socially and conservative thinking politically; Labour became new Labour. New parties also emerged in the 1960s, and some of them are still around, and important.

The Dutch public broadcasting system is subject to intense debate, and has been challenged by commercial stations. Even the right to be free from government interference in religious instruction at school is being debated. That is because Muslim immigrants caught on to how the Dutch system worked and set up their own schools, and in the aftermath of 9/11 and because of a perceived link between ethnicity and crime the ethnic Dutch donít seem too happy with that.

The system began to break down because the Netherlands became a rich country, able to afford a generous social welfare system, which in turn created freedoms. The sixties, in the Netherlands as in America: the first mass generation of educated youngsters with money and leisure, asking questions, at a time when the Vietnam war and the Cold War polarised public opinion and politics.

It began to break down because society began to secularise more and more, and in the sixties the Dutch catholic church was renowned for its progressive attitudes (today it is as conservative as hell). Social issues emerged that the old system couldnít accommodate (feminism, abortion, gay rights), and because of the logic of its own raison díÍtre. It had been designed the way it was, because it wanted to respect the rights and aspirations of its component parts. But what to do when new groups emerge?

In 1953 my mother, an educated, highly intellectual English lady from the British Indian empire, aspiring to a working life and a small family, and already a respectable career to her name, thought that sheíd found a good match. Imperial grandeur married small village moneytocracy, the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son. Little did she realise that she had married into a traditional, catholic family, and to a man who only had the kitchen sink to offer. The catholic in-laws told her off for seeing the protestant dentist, even though they were the first family in the village with a television set. Imagine her shock when she had four children in four years!

Dutch social structures were very backward at the time, which meant that when change came, it came with a vengeance. They gave her such a knock-out that she refused to learn the Dutch language properly, and two kids more later she divorced my father and raised the six of us as her little England, and resumed a career in the early seventies. We were a revolutionary household in the sixties, in a catholic village in the South: a foreigner, divorced, six children, who couldnít care less about local dos and doníts. Sundays were for the family, friends werenít allowed to come over and play, so they all came to our house, the only place where kids were welcome on Sundays. But even my mother was overtaken by the social revolution that hit the Netherlands in the middle sixties and early seventies, precisely because she held on to her English roots.

The Dutch remained neutral during WW I. The army was mobilised to patrol the borders, but much trade and industry had collapsed, so there was no need for women to go into the factories to support the war effort, as happened in England, France and America. During WW II the country was occupied. Young men were conscripted into the German labour force, but again they didnít leave jobs behind that demanded replacements. In this sense the history of Dutch women is unique in Western Europe: they didnít get that taste of economic freedom and responsibility that their participation in the war effort gave them elsewhere. What feminism existed was entirely left-wing inspired, and pretty marginal in the larger picture, but not within the socialist pillar.

After WW II the destruction of entire cities and a collapsed economy, encouraged the (socialist dominated) government to put social relationships in the freezer. Employment policies were aimed at one job per family (the man) and emigration was encouraged (Iíve got an aunt in Canada). It was okay for businesses to not hire women, or to fire them when they married or got pregnant. The civil service did the same thing.

The resistance didnít just fight against the Nazis and German occupation, it also fought for an ideal of a new and better society, and it included many women. They saw their aspirations betrayed in the name of reconstruction. In terms of womenís participation in the economy and social life, the Netherlands was one of the most backward societies in Western Europe.

When reconstruction was over and prosperity took over, their daughters came out of the closet with a vengeance, motivated by their mothersí resentment. It gave Dutch (secular, socialist) feminism a very sharp edge, and the gay lib movement rode piggyback on it. Feminism also found allies among the liberalism, especially with regard to issues like abortion, the abolition of prohibitions to work, but not with regard to issues like positive discrimination. Gay men and lesbians also found allies among the liberals.

A characteristic of coalition government is the search for consensus. It means that controversial issues can take long to solve, but it also means that political debate avoids the extremes. Itís not like the British system where political debate is characterised by saying the opposite of your opponent. On the contrary, if a party wants to join government then it must search for the common ground. That doesnít stop parties from having principles on which they refuse to compromise. Thatís what made certain issues controversial. But the Dutch have even found a way around this. Rather than change a controversial law and write a new one on which nobody agrees, the Dutch have a formalised system of not implementing laws, of taking away the rough edges. We call it gedogen, which means to tolerate. When we want to talk about tolerance in the other sense, then we use the verb tolereren.

It is official Dutch policy, usually applied when the old laws no longer appear relevant but a consensus on new legislation has yet to grow. Thatís why the Netherlands became a country that many women visited to have an abortion, even though the law forbade it. Thatís why the Netherlands practised euthanasia, even though the law forbade it.

Consensus on issues with a high moral charge is difficult to build when the politically central party is the Christian Democrat one, and because theyíre in the centre they were the one constant in coalition government. Occasionally the coalition partners agree to let parliament pass a law thatís based on a majority made up of parties in and parties out of government. This is how the new law on abortion was passed, and the non-discrimination law from which gay men and lesbians benefited.

The non-discrimination law does have an exception: organisations and schools based on religious principles are still allowed to discriminate. Many gay men reacted, ďso what, youíve got to be a fool to be gay and want to teach at a fundamentalist schoolĒ. That reaction ignored that these schools were allowed to continue to teach children that weíre among the worst sinners. And what about kids sent to such schools?

For a new law on euthanasia and gay marriage we had to wait for a unique event in Dutch political history: a government without the centre Christian Democrats, a right-left coalition. Only in the Netherlands! It worked because the economy began to boom, so there was no need to wrangle over cutbacks in social programs vs. tax increases to pay for them. Austere financial management could go hand in hand with social programs. It also worked because there was a long list of issues that needed solving, but couldnít be solved for as long as the Christian Democrats shared in government. The civil code was rewritten. Laws about marriage were updated (the two spouses became full equals), the tax laws were changed, etc. etc.

The search for common ground means that ďreasonable argumentĒ is a valued good, as long as it doesnít touch fundamental principles. We donít have a constitution with hallowed principles like the Americans do, and immutable. Our constitution is more a practical document that reflects the times in which it was written and amended, and amending it is easy. All it takes is twice a two-thirds parliamentary majority with an election in between, but constitutional issues are rarely election issues, so many people arenít even aware that an election is also about a constitutional amendment.

This attitude helped the gay community: we could reason with politics, appeal to the UN conventions on human rights and explain how we were denied these rights; highlight the realities of discrimination and demand that something be done about it. The main obstacle was the presumption on the part of heterosexuals that everything was okay when the age of consent was equalised in 1972. There were no statistics on queer bashing, and how often havenít I heard people say that youíre bashed because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because you were gay. And surprise, surprise, especially by feminists, as if they had a monopoly on victimhood. How often havenít I heard people say that you shouldnít fly the flag, i.e. remain invisible, stay inside the closet. Iím gay twenty-four hours a day, not just when I go to a bar on the scene, itís precisely that kind of double life that should no longer be necessary. But Amersfoort and a few murders changed all that.

AIDS also had a positive influence here. The Netherlands was one of the first countries that recognised that if you want to fight AIDS then you would have to get gay men and lesbians to come out of the closet. A community that is afraid and underground canít be reached; a community that is proud and open can. If you want us to do something about AIDS than youíd have to talk to us as equals.

What also helped was that a few highbrow, popular figures opened up about their homosexuality. Albert Mol, an actor, the first one to come out of the closet. Robert Long, a singer, singing about his loves, ÖÖ., a TV presenter, presenting a popular quiz. Tjeenk Willink, a member of parliament then, a friend of the queen, and now chair of the council of state. Ien Dales, a member of parliament, mayor, then minister. Her lover, Schmidt, a mayor and later a minister.

To summarise, what made the advances in the gay struggle possible were the courage and initiative of individuals that happened in a context:

- in which status was derived from economic success and not inherited;
- that was committed to human rights;
- that was used to dealing with differences;
- that was used to compromise;
- that emphasised reason in the political and social debate, and therefore capable of taking the moral charge out of moral issues, although not always so.

To be continue.
Harry Trotsky
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