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social sciences

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Gay Life in an Amsterdam Neighborhood

De Haan's novel Pijpelijntjes (1904), the publication of which cost him his jobs as teacher and journalist, describes gay life in an Amsterdam neighborhood. The main characters are lovers, but they pursue casual sex on the side, one with boys in their mid-teens. Closely resembling De Haan himself, this character picks boys up from the streets, serves them strong drinks, and has sex with them.

The novel's description of a same-sex sexual world without gay bars is realistic because there were very few homosexual venues in Amsterdam at that time. Those that did exist, fearful of being raided by the police, often changed their locations.

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Growth of a Subculture

In the period between the two World Wars (1919-1939), Amsterdam developed a gay subculture, characterized by more stable locations for gay bars and other meeting places. These venues were strictly monitored and controlled by the police.

From one of these bars, the Empire, some clients produced the first Dutch gay journal, Wij (We). They also intended to start a recreational homosexual organization, but just before they assembled to discuss this initiative, the police raided the bar, ending both ventures.

These bars catered mostly to a homosexual-identified public who came there to meet similar-minded persons with whom to socialize. For their sex life, they cruised the streets for "normal" men of another class or youngsters of another age.

The best places for this kind of cruising were public toilets, parks, and the Red Light District. In the last location, half a dozen "queer" bars were established, often tended by lesbians who had worked as prostitutes and invested their money in these enterprises. They catered to a mixed clientele of prostitutes, johns, gay men, and lesbians.

The most famous of these bars was the Basket, established in 1927, by Bet van Beeren, "Queen of the Zeedijk," a cigar smoking, gin drinking, motorbiking lesbian in leather. The bar still exists but is closed to the public. A replica is preserved in the Amsterdam Historical Museum.

German Occupation

German forces occupied the Netherlands in 1940. The Germans introduced anti-homosexual legislation in the Netherlands, but did little to enforce it. Some Dutch men prosecuted under this legislation had had homosexual relations with German soldiers.

Most of the gay bars that had been established before the occupation continued in existence, though they were subject to raids by the Germans. There were even some new bars established, such as the Monico, which was opened by "Blond Saar" Heshof in 1941. She continued to operate the bar until 2001.

Dutch homosexuals reacted to the occupation in much the same manner as other Dutch citizens. Some supported the Nazis, others joined the resistance, but most remained neutral.

The gay artist Willem Arondeüs, who had been quite unhappy before the war, found a new zeal in the resistance. He joined the group that set fire to the Amsterdam Persons' Registry, an essential bureaucracy for the persecution of Jews.

Arondeüs's group included several homosexuals. It was betrayed and most of its participants, including Arondeüs, were executed.

Post-World War II Activism

Just before World War II, some courageous men in Amsterdam established a gay journal Levensrecht (The Right to Live), which was soon interrupted by the German occupation. After the war, in 1946, these men established the COC (Center for Culture and Recreation), which sponsored social events such as dances and lectures. In addition, they attempted to convince the police and other authorities that homosexuals were decent persons.

In 1953 the COC opened a dance hall, the DOK, that proved very successful. In 1955, COC opened another venue, De Schakel (The Link). Suddenly, Amsterdam had two gay clubs many times larger than the traditional bars. These huge establishments were allowed to exist by the police, who would rather have gay men dancing behind closed doors than cruising in the streets. Soon other gay bars opened, including the first leather venue, Hotel Tiemersma.

Gay tourists--mainly Germans, English, French, and American soldiers from Germany--soon discovered the relatively open atmosphere of Amsterdam. Several hotels began to cater to a growing gay public. The first gay sauna opened in 1961.

The growth of the gay scene in the 1960s worried the city authorities, but the sexual revolution of the decade overtook them and their worries.

Homosexual activist groups were established by students in 1967. They organized disco evenings for gay men and lesbians under 21 and held the first gay rights demonstration in Amsterdam in 1970.

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