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social sciences

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The Netherlands  
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The major change during the German occupation was the introduction of the German anti-gay paragraph 175 in the Netherlands. The law forbade sexual intimacies between men of all ages. One of the ironies of history is that the Dutch legal authorities, who had introduced 248bis to prevent the seduction of minors, now used the German paragraph mainly to prosecute those "victims" between 16 and 21 years old who were not deemed worthy of protection.

While there were some gay and lesbian heroes of the Dutch resistance against the Nazis, there were also collaborators. A complicated case was a lower-class Jewish lesbian who was forced to help the police. She did so a bit too eagerly and was sentenced to death after the war for her betrayal. She was the only woman to face execution. Many more important war criminals were reprieved by the authorities.

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The Post-World War II Homosexual Movement

After the end of German occupation, the monthly Levensrecht picked up where it had started in 1940. In 1946, it developed into the major post-war Dutch homosexual organization, the COC (Center for Culture and Recreation).

The post-war climate was very anti-homosexual; the number of prosecutions under Article 248bis reached its highest level in the 1950s. But the same decade also saw the first breaches in the general public condemnation of homosexuality, when some doctors and clergymen re-evaluated their stance. Instead of comparing homosexuality with prostitution, as they did in the early 1950s, they discovered the human and loving side of gay men and lesbians.

One psychiatrist, who had railed in the 1940s against homosexual abuse of boys and promiscuity, discovered that seduction played no role in becoming homosexual and that many gay men preferred stable relationships to anonymous sex. Another pro-gay psychiatrist announced in 1969 that homosexuals were simply the same as heterosexuals.

These supportive clergymen and doctors made the sexual revolution more successful in Holland than elsewhere. Because they convinced their fellows, including Roman Catholics and Calvinists, that homosexuality was not a major problem, most Dutch came to support the legal reforms of the sexual revolution, including the decriminalization of homosexuality, adultery, abortion, prostitution, and pornography. The Netherlands was transformed into the world's most progressive country in respect to sexual issues.

Gay and lesbian identities during this period also changed, from gender inverted to gender conforming. The object of desire for most gay men and lesbians also changed, from predominantly heterosexually-identified people to other homosexuals. Gay men began to see themselves as masculine, the starkest example of which was the emerging leather culture of the 1950s, while lesbians began to identify as feminine.

Gay men and lesbians were no longer any different from other men and women, except in the bedroom. Their relational model changed from one similar to the world of prostitution to one more like heterosexual marriage.

Gay and Lesbian Political Gains

After 1955, the gay scene exploded first in Amsterdam. Discos, hotels, saunas, and leather bars were opened, and Amsterdam became the European gay capital.

In the 1960s, gay men and lesbians began to come out of the closet and into the streets. The gay movement organized and struggled against anti-homosexual discrimination, with stunning success.

Article 248bis was abolished in 1971; openly gay men and lesbians were admitted into the army in 1973; psychiatrists stopped seeing homosexuality as a disease. The possibility of gender reassignment surgery was legally recognized in 1978; such surgery could be paid for through the national medical aid fund.

The first exclusively lesbian bar, Tabu, opened in 1970 in Amsterdam, and the first radical lesbian group, "Purple September," was organized in 1972.

From the late 1970s on, gay and lesbian groups were formed in political parties, labor unions, universities, health organizations, the police, and the army. A new newspaper, the Gay Krant, became the mouthpiece of gay men.

The annual gay and lesbian parade was inaugurated in 1977. When the parade was attacked in Amersfoort, the center of the Dutch Bible Belt, by gaybashers in 1982, the outrage sparked a major outpouring of national support for gay and lesbian emancipation.

The government began to support the goal of emancipation. To this end, it provided new regulations and some financial support. The police stopped harassing gay men in their cruising areas and instead began to protect them. It was the right moment for a change in social attitudes regarding homosexuality, as 1982 was the year that AIDS arrived in the Dutch gay community.

The Response to AIDS

Thanks to a strong gay infrastructure and the support of both government and health authorities, the epidemic was contained. A remarkable number of gay men changed their sexual behaviors. Although AIDS was a personal and social disaster, the number of victims in the Netherlands remained low compared to other European countries.

AIDS may even be said to have strengthened gay and lesbian health institutions and made it possible to discuss (homo)sexuality in concrete terms in the media and in schools.

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