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History & Politics

Perhaps gay life in Europe in the 1920s became somewhat livelier, but with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis it certainly became bleaker when murder became the rule. In its initial phase after 1917 the Soviet Union may have preached progress and justice, but that came to an end immediately after the civil war and completely with the arrival of the totalitarian Stalin and the introduction of anti-gay legislation.

by Gert Hekma - 29 May 2019

length: 8 min. Printer Friendly Page  
Standing Up for Same-Sex Love III, from Kinsey to the First Gay Demonstration

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 8 minuten

Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca
In 1922, Mussolini was the head of his fascist party that was in a coalition. However, the coalition parties soon were forced out. For gays, it was not as bad as in Germany, but certainly no ball. In the 1930s with Franco and Salazar, Spain and Portugal were also governed by right-wing regimes that were colonial and homophobic. The Spanish poet Federico Garcìa Lorca was an early victim of the Francoists. At the same time, there were sexual scandals under colonial administration, for instance in the former Dutch colony of Indonesia.

In 1937-1938 and on the basis of a local version of the Dutch article 248bis, the local police there acted against white 21+ men who were having sex with local minors. More than two hundred men were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment or dismissed, and hundreds of boys had to recognise “offenders.” As a “thank you” some were given a punishment for “vagrancy” and others ended up in borstal or reform schools. A result of colonial interference was the introduction of European laws in non-Western countries, especially British, but the Dutch 248bis also remained the law of the land for a long period of time and is now “renewed.” A disgrace from the past that continues to this date.

After 1945, there may have been hope for the Nazi victims of the Second World War, but the new President of the newly founded gay interest group COC Nico Engelsman stated that for Dutch gays, the situation before, during and after the war didn’t make much difference: it was miserable. Liberation came to them only after 1960 when the most repressive ideas were gradually becoming a thing of the past, such as about masturbation, reproduction, abortion, and sex. Within ten years’ time, gay sex became less and less of a sin, medical condition, or crime. A great change took place with the sexual revolution in the 1960s, but even now it is not freedom and euphoria all the time.

Kinsey’s Groundbreaking Research

Dr. Alfred C. KinseyThe liberal sexology that had existed in Europe had disappeared after 1933 and resurfaced on the other side of the Atlantic in the United States after 1945. After the Second World War, Alfred Kinsey become the big name in sexology. Before the start of WWII, he was asked to teach about sex at the Indiana University Bloomington and had discovered that there was very little known about the subject. He decided to do some research and interview people about the sex they had. In 1948 and 1953, Kinsey and his team came with major books on the erotic life of the American male and female.

Their conclusion was that if the United States were to apply the laws strictly, a large proportion of the population would disappear behind bars because men had sex with whores or animals and did it unmarried, committed adultery, read pornography, bought and used erotic toys, and almost half showed forbidden homosexual behavior, with women showing similar results. Their results shocked the people who preferred a “more wholesome” image of themselves, and also the government was not happy.

The books caused a lot of turmoil, and the newspapers were full of angry and critical articles and cartoons. Others wrote books and articles that either confirmed, supported or dismissed Kinsey’s message. He lost the grant for his work and died disappointed in 1956. He could have been proud, because his work created the sexual space for liberties that became possible ten years later. He himself could have benefited from it, as he was a closeted bisexual.

For the period after 1950, Wannes Dupont researches the police in Western European countries and the USA, and discovers that they were arresting more and more gay men for all kinds of crimes. They were not allowed to work as civil servants, in government, in the army and other professions, not in Washington, Amsterdam or elsewhere. More laws were also put in place to prosecute sex, such as psychopath laws that were mainly used against small “crooks,” such as people cruising or cottaging, as the bigger fish - such as sex-muderers - were already being tackled. In the Netherlands, the attitude of psychiatrists, such as the Catholic Trimbos and the reformed Tolsma, towards homosexuality was still pronouncedly negative.

Ten years later, both gentlemen completely changed their point of view. They had come to know religious gay people and had started to think more positively about them. There were not men who seduced boys, but were mostly living with a steady boyfriend: More marriage than debauchery. In the Netherlands, this change of attitude happened more quickly than in other countries, with a faster process of nationwide secularisation. Only orthodox believers among Catholics and Protestants were sticking to their old-fashioned guns.


James Dean & Sal Mineo in Rebel without a CauseIn the 1950s, slowly there was more room for the gay scene to develop. There were movies such as “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean and Sal Mineo (Plato!), and books by Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, psychiatric and sociological studies, and gay organizations, such as the Mattachine Society, One, Inc., and the lesbian Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), forerunners who built on Kinsey and were a prelude to the next decade.

It was a time in which European and American gay organizations worked together, for instance the Dutch COC, the Swiss Der Kreis, Arcadie from France, as well as British, German and Scandinavian associations.

The Danish were among the more active. They did not only start a political movement, but started a magazine and traded in porn, very much to the dismay of French and Dutch police who encouraged their Danish colleagues to prosecute homosexuals.

In vain, as it did not take long before politically active groups surfaced, and gay porn became available. In 1952, the Church of England founded a committee that, two years later, would publish a report about the “problem of homosexuality” and argued for legal reform.

A committee set up by the British government published the “Wolfenden Report” (1957) which had the same conclusion, and would partly be carried out a decade later. Kinsey’s influence was certainly apparent here.

The Sixties

Gay rights activists protest at the White House, 1965An important breakthrough came in 1949 with Simone de Beauvoir’s “you are not born a woman but made into one.” This gave a first boost to feminism, which became widely influential around 1970 in most Western countries: MVM and the Dolle Mina’s in the Netherlands and other groups in the UK, Germany, France, and elsewhere in the world, with discussions about female sex, the clitoris, children, the pill, abortion and the question of “rather being a lesbian” than to go to bed with your oppressor!? In addition to the gender debate, a conversation about religion was started, with an early example of this in the Second Vatican Council, in which “the sex issue” was debated.

It was about male versus female, marriage and homosexuality, a subject the Catholic church is struggling with to this date. Certainly in the Netherlands, the protestant churches were more gay-friendly, even though this does not hold true for the more fundamentalist among them, as we can see in the Nashville Statement. Consider Kertbeny who a century and a half ago said that free citizens in a liberal state can make their own sexual choices and can simply ignore other people’s dogma’s.

The changes that came with the 1960s were a tidal wave. Homosexuals started to come out in large numbers: on stage, in ballet, newspapers and on the relatively new phenomenon of mass TV. In the Netherlands it were Blaman, Reve, Premsela, Van Maanen, Harten, Burnier, Bet van Beeren, and Lou Charité who came out, as well as people at work and in families. There were plays by Jean Genet, Joe Orton, Edward Albee and Mart Crowley (“The Boys in the Band”); “Death in Venice” and “The Damned” by Visconti, and “Satyricon” by Fellini in the cinema, and later films by Pasolini, Fassbinder and Von Praunheim.

The gay movement first began in Scandinavia, West Germany, The Netherlands, and England, and later southbound in France, Belgium, Italy - and Spain and Portugal after the end of Franco’s and Salazar’s reign. In the USA, Stonewall set things in motion. All the hustle and bustle about sex affected pastors, priests, psychiatrists, lawyers, teachers, social workers, parents and families. In the Netherlands, politicians finally abolished article 248bis in 1971, which had made more than 4,000 victims in sixty years’ time and had gradually become a historic fossil.

Militant Students

The first gay demonstration in the Netherlands, in 1969 at The Hague
The highlight of this development was at the beginning of 1969 when a group of homosexual students protested against article 248bis at the heart of Dutch politics, near the meeting place of both Houses, the Binnenhof. Never before had a gay rally been so successful so quickly. Within a year and a half, article 248bis had been abolished, partly because the Christian parties no longer supported it. S-5, representing the unsuitability of gays for military service, was abolished shortly thereafter, and the COC received royal approval, which meant that individual board members were no longer personally responsible for the finances of the association.

The COC established branches all over the country, and new gay and lesbian associations, magazines and clubs were set up. The élan of the 1960s was followed up in the 1970s. The first activists did not believe in a sexual identity - “Homosexuality did not exist”; did not want a relationship that was similar to marriage - “no partners for life”; they preferred a radical change in social structures, for instance in the family, creating more room for homosexuality. There was a gay revolution that seemed a sexual revolution with much more force, but the wishes of gays and lesbians remained largely unfulfilled, still having to fight for what they wanted and believed in.

to be continued...



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