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Fortuyn, Pim (1948-2002)  
 
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His supporters saw in him a savior, a messiah, a saint, and they compared him to Martin Luther King, Jr., President Kennedy, and Princess Diana. His adversaries compared him to Hitler and Mussolini, threw urine at him, and sent him death threats. The immaculately dressed, openly gay, hard-hitting Wilhelmus Petrus Simon Fortuyn--or Professor Pim, as he called himself--liked to stir up controversy.

Fortuyn was in the Dutch political spotlight for only a few months, yet he managed to change the modern Netherlands. In the wake of his assassination in 2002, the electorate ousted a liberal government, and all major parties shifted their positions rightward, especially in the area of immigration, shifts that some people have seen as making the nation less tolerant than it had been and that others contend are necessary to preserve Dutch liberalism.

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The Netherlands remains committed to equal rights for gay men and lesbians, and has led in the area of same-sex marriage. Other liberal social policies are also secure. For example, the possession and sale of small amounts of marijuana remain decriminalized, as do certain forms of euthanasia. Similarly, prostitution is still legal and regulated. But immigrants and refugees, especially from Muslim countries, are less welcome than they had been, at least in part as a result of Fortuyn's forceful protest against the threat to Dutch values that he saw posed by Muslim religious radicals.

For glbtq culture specifically, Fortuyn matters in two respects. First, Fortuyn was not closeted. Since he lived in the Netherlands, his sexual orientation was, it is said, a non-issue, though it is worth noting that no other leading Dutch politician has declared his or her homosexuality. Second, although Fortuyn was frowned on by some gay activists as extremist because of his perceived right-wing positions, he was admired by many glbtq people who saw him as articulating their concerns over the intolerance of a growing Islamic minority.

It may also be the case that, although Fortuyn thought of himself as defending glbtq rights against the threat of religious radicals, since his death his party has supported political changes that have negatively affected some gay people, especially refugees from Iran and other countries that persecute sexual minorities.

Biography

Fortuyn was born on February 19, 1948 to a large Catholic middle-class family. He grew up in suburban surroundings, which he found suffocating and from which he longed to break away. He found refuge in Catholicism. Indeed, as an altar boy, he had visions of becoming Pope one day.

As a teenager, Fortuyn discovered his homosexuality. As he freely admitted, he quickly began a life of great promiscuity.

In 1967, he matriculated at the University of Amsterdam, majoring in sociology. After a few months, he transferred to the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. He received the academic degree Doctorandus in 1971.

Fortuyn pursued an academic career as a lecturer as the Nyenrode Business Universiteit and, then, as an associate professor at the University of Groningen. In 1981, he received a Ph. D. in sociology from the University of Groningen.

From 1991 to 1995, he taught at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. When his contract was discontinued, Fortuyn embarked on a career as a public intellectual, writing books and newspaper columns, and becoming increasingly involved in politics. A dynamic speaker, he earned hefty fees for his lectures.

When he emerged on the political scene, Fortuyn was widely regarded as a breath of fresh air in a decidedly sober and low-key country, where, as a Dutch saying goes, "if you behave normally, you are already behaving madly enough." He declared himself successor to a charismatic but controversial Dutch politician, Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, an eighteenth-century revolutionary.

Appearances mattered to Professor Pim. He wore designer suits, sported brightly colored ties, shaved his head, lived in an Italian-style villa adorned with precious artifacts, cherished his two lap dogs, enjoyed the services of a butler and a chauffeur who drove a black Daimler displaying a family crest (in a country where most people ride bicycles), smoked Cuban cigars, and clad himself in politically incorrect fur.

Although Fortuyn was entirely comfortable with his sexuality, his pronounced effeminacy and campy flamboyance alienated some of his acquaintances. He described himself as a "self-proclaimed homosexual, more feminine than every woman in the Cabinet, an aesthete and grass roots democrat, a desperado, a Dadaist with a skull of a gladiator."

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A monument to Pim Fortuyn in Rotterdam. Photograph by M. Minderhood.
  
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