| length: 10 min. |
|Forty Years of Queer Emancipation Struggle and its Results|
by Martien Sleutjes in History & Politics , 17 December 2018
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length: 10 minuten
IHLIA with pride. Forty years of IHLIA, the forty years from “Lesbian Archives” and “Homodok” to the LGBT Heritage Centre. IHLIA is on the look-out for a new generation that will bring the centre into the next forty years. What was the energy that led to the creation of the centre, who initiated it, what did we do with it, as well as the question: is the world of yester-year that much different from the world of today?
From November 8 to January 25, 2019, IHLIA has organized an exhibition in the large exhibition hall at their headquarters OBA Oosterdok Amsterdam. Smaller exhibitions follow in 2019, which are linked to a place or a function of other heritage centres.
In Amsterdam, themes from those forty years and a number of questions about the future take centre stage. Showing its entire history and honouring all the players is impossible. IHLIA also wants to look forward. We know that we were once young, pretty and handsome, but we need the activist energy of time itself again to show progression with other, younger people.
IHLIA, Lesbian and Gay Studies, “Homologie,” “Diva,” the “Lesbisch Prachtboek,” the “Flikkeragenda,” and so on stem from student activism. From the middle of the 1960s, progressive students were getting louder and louder. Other than the traditional student unions, they wanted change, away from lethargy. Their number was growing, as well as their position and status. This resulted in occupations, protests and other campaign methods.
Female students who participated in these campaigns soon came to the realization that left-wing men were sexist as well. Therefore, the women organized themselves, for instance in “Dolle Mina” and “Baas in eigen buik” (Boss in Own Belly) in a new wave of feminism. Within that feminist wave, the same thing happened as did within the student movement. Now, it were the lesbian women who felt short-changed by the other women.
They were perceived with scepticism at the beginning of the 1970s. A very small group of activists from “Paarse September” (Purple September) with very sharp pens went into battle: “Being lesbian is a political choice,” and: “One doesn’t sleep with the oppressor.” Around 1975, the lesbians and their sisters in other countries had won the argument. Straight women as well started questioning their choices in life.
After 1975, the women’s movement could fall back on activist lesbians. It was they who would benefit the most from change. Conversely, they were the ones who hadn’t much to lose, and dared to spring into action. Squatting of the Women’s House in Amsterdam? Pro-abortion demonstrations? Women’s bookstores? Bars and parties? It was highly likely that they were carried out and started by a group of lesbian activists.
And then? Then we needed that energy for self-preservation. The Western pink world was strongly interconnected. Travelling to the United States cheaply was not mainstream yet, but there were ways to stay in touch. Magazines, books, conferences, a telephone network, the world service, correspondents, and so on. But nonetheless, Anita Bryant’s victory at the beginning of June 1977 devastated the Western gay community. Bryant was a representative of the Christian right-wing in the United States, which fought against the “excesses of the liberal world” and would help Ronald Reagan win the Presidency. The conservative Bryant considered the fight for equal rights by homosexuals one of these “excesses.”
In June 1977 in Miami Dade County, Florida, there was referendum held to reverse the granting of equal rights. A large majority voted in favour of the proposal. What Bryant’s group did not foresee, was the rapid emergence of a counter-movement. When people see their lives endangered, things can move fast. Bryant’s victory made the movement grow exponentially. In fact, it never quite disappeared again.
In many western countries, annual Pride weekends and marches were organized at the end of June. In the Netherlands, only lesbian activists had a lot of experience with the setting up of protest marches, for example the pro-abortion demonstrations. The electoral gains of the Dutch Christian Democrats (CDA) at the elections in the spring of 1977 and their foreman and abortion-hater Dries van Agt made the parallels with the American right-wing Christians apparent.
The spark of activism in the women’s movement blew over to the pink community. The network of writing activists and women with experience in marches quickly pulled all the strings. On June 25, 1977, they organized the first Pride march in The Netherlands. According to the jargon of the times, it was a solidarity march. But with whom? With Americans or with ourselves? Activist men from gay political groups and the “Rooie Flikkers” (Red Faggots) also marched along. Within the “Rooie Flikkers,” people were considering setting up Gay Studies at university level.
When Annemarie Grewel, president of the University Council of the University of Amsterdam, made the concluding speech, it rekindled the spark of hope in establishing this new field of study.
In February 1978, Annemarie Grewel and teacher / leather queen Jim Holmes held a meeting to test the feasibility of Lesbian and Gay Studies. A month later, the “Rooie Flikkers” organized a meeting at the IVABO in Amsterdam where Gay Studies (Homostudies) in Amsterdam and Utrecht, the magazine “Homologie” and the Amsterdam Documentation Centre Gay Studies saw the light of day. It was the start of non-hetero research and education.
Gay Interest Group COC
In 1977 and 1978, COC, “the mother church,” kept quiet. In the background, however, it did play an important role. In the early 1970s, universities were the main suppliers of members of the boards of interest groups as well as officials in campaign groups. They tried to influence politics through lobbying, although this was not done visibly.
With its national magazine “Sek” and with local spaces, the COC did create a visible platform for new groups. Through the magazine “Sek,” the various groups of activists could reach a larger GLBT audience. It was mainly the editors who actively participated in the discussions. The COC considered participating in Pride-like marches much too American. Only at the third national march of 1979 did the COC change its tactics and actively participated in in it as part of the casual group “Roze Front” (Pink Front).
With the discussions about the Equal Treatment Act, the COC was fully committed and working on their goals through their political channels and networks. Things were more complicated when it came to the recognition of same-sex marriages. Initially, the COC followed the old aversions from the women’s movement against this symbol of the oppression of women. However, clear legal arguments and the wish of many from the grass roots movement to embrace a romantic tradition made them change their minds.
In Amersfoort, the Pink Saturday of 1982 got out of hand. It brought political gay groups and the COC together in their wish to start at a more local level in achieving a safer environment for lesbians and gay men.
And Then, the Movement Got AIDS
The English-speaking residents in Amsterdam told disturbing stories in 1982 already. In 1983 an awareness campaign for gay men was started. One of the activist groups that came out of the 1977 wave was the “Homogroep Gezondheidszorg” (Gay Group Health Care) and the “Stichting Aanvullende Dienstverlening” (Foundation Supplementary Services). From that group, student doctor Jan van Wijngaarden and Hans Moerkerk of the “Buro GVO” (for health education) became the first to give a response to the AIDS crisis in the Netherlands. They visited the gay scene, and did not care that they were called “AIDS sisters.”
They also were in contact with health organizations and STD prevention. This enabled them to avoid discriminatory measures with the support of various groups from the Pink Front. Later, when the AIDS organization became more bureaucratic, this watchdog function was taken over by the magazine “Aids Info” and later by Act Up!. The COC used its secret weapon: Janherman Veenker, who was beloved, neutral, knowledgeable and conscientious. He became an excellent watchdog for GLBT rights and a good conductor of things that were of a sensitive nature in the straight world.
In the Netherlands, the AIDS epidemic entered the country with a delay. Gay men took their responsibility. STDs decreased spectacularly. For the authorities, it was the signal that it was their turn to take action. Act Up! was pressuring all groups. The knowledge within Act Up! about all aspects of the disease was phenomenal, and its network to share information was well-organized.
In spite of everything, the epidemic did hit the Netherlands. The world of sexually active gay was too globally entangled. The terrible pictures of formerly beautiful bodies that were emaciated and heavily affected by the purple spots of Kaposi’s sarcoma didn’t escape us. This was postponed until the second part of the 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s.
Hell broke loose for many. In one of the 1992 archives of IHLIA these typical phrases can be found: “I intensely enjoyed my life. I hope that others can say this as well. I am glad I am leaving this world. If you are talking about hell: it is already here. It can’t get any worse. I also believe in reincarnation. But I hope I do not have to come back here.”
Only in 1996, this hell was pushed back. The combination therapy was a success. Act Up!, the “Hiv Vereniging” and the bureaucratic world of AIDS enforced accelerated financing. This made 1996 the “year zero” for living with HIV. In a number of years AIDS disappeared to the background. But for many it was too late.
In contrast to the major cities in the United States the gay hospitality industry in the Netherlands kept going at full speed. We sought each other out and continued the fight against misery. AIDS advisers made use of this situation with new programs that connected to the real-life experiences of the queer community. The club scene came to full bloom. More and more, the busiest times shifted to the morning. Modern drugs made it possible to keep on partying, and the music facilitated this.
In the club scene and through special parties, particularly with kinky parties, the dividing line between straight people and queer people started to fade. This phenomenon led to commercial parties, such as the White Party.
Nevertheless, something strange happens. One would expect that the dividing lines between the different sexual preferences would be more fluid because of the continuing acceptance of sexual differences. Yet the average age at which lesbians and gay men come out of the closet did not see a drastic reduction. For most people, a change in social environment is needed. For example, after secondary school, when people start attending university or professional education. For boys, it is more difficult to come out to their fathers then with other family members and friends.
However, fluid we say we are, being straight is still the norm if only because they simply form the majority. We can continue to dream, but if the heterosexual majority does not change, standing up for different sets of values remains necessary.
There are aspects in being of a minority that are not great. The danger zone of negative changes can quickly close in on us. The AIDS crisis was such a danger zone. Despite much grief, the LGBT movement came out stronger. Do not let them steal your rights, do not remain inactive, was the message then. Let us use this to look forward to the future.
40 years of IHLIA, exhibition in the large exhibition hall till January 25, 2019
IHLIA, Oosterdokskade 143 (@ OBA), Amsterdam. www.ihlia.nl
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