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How Did the Gay Emancipation Movement Fare After 1969?

by Gert Hekma in History & Politics , 29 juli 2019

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
Length: 10 minutes


The gay revolution broke loose in the years following 1969, and it was certainly a left-wing movement: much needed to change, and some of it completely. What had to be done differently throughout Europe was legislation and, as we know now, this would take some time. For instance, in the United Kingdom, where Clause 28 (now comparable to the Russian anti-gay propaganda law) was first enacted in May 1988 and abolished in 2003.

Gay Liberation Monument (1980) in Christopher Park (USA)
In France, it is only until 1981 before anti-gay legislation, a police list of homosexuals and the banning of magazines was abolished by President Mitterand, and even then, not quite yet. In Germany, East and West Germany at first and then united, it took a very long time for legislation to be aligned. In the Netherlands, we abolished article 248bis in 1971, but article 239, the prohibition of a “public offence against decency” is still in place in the Dutch Penal law, and there are still problems with sex in public (as elsewhere). The question then arose as to whether the victims of these discriminatory laws and measures should receive compensation.

In Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada they did, but not in the Netherlands nor in most other countries. Moreover: in half of these countries they still had, or sometimes even have, anti-gay and discriminatory sex laws in place. For instance, in the United States, a country that with the Stonewall riots is seen as a gay rights world leader, but certainly does not live up to its former reputation. The “sodomy law” was abolished very late in the USA, in 2003. Same-sex marriage is only possible since 2015. In the largest countries, China and India, specific anti-gay laws have since been abolished, but there is no same-sex marriage.


Psychiatry and Religion

Homosexuality was a crime, and another obstacle was that homosexuality was a psychological disorder for which some people were treated or given pills. That came to an end in the Netherlands because of psychiatrist Wijnand Sengers who, in the late 1960s, stated that homosexuals were not ill, and that a good conversation or a visit to a gay club had more effect and was less painful than expensive treatment. Within a decade, this opinion was common among colleagues.

psychiatrist Van den AardwegOnly orthodox people held on to their view that homosexuality is a disorder, like the psychiatrist Van den Aardweg, who 1967 wrote about “Homophilia: neurosis and compulsive self-pity.” Ideas about same-sex love as a mental disorder were quite common, from New York, Paris, Russia, Latin America to many Third World countries, where traditional psychoanalysis still is of influence. In the Netherlands, we had Freudian P.C. Kuiper as the leading psychiatrist, who despite his own strong homosexual desires kept saying that children needed a father and mother in order to learn “correct” sex roles.

He himself went into crisis and received treatment with electroshocks, such as clinicians previously treated homosexuals with. Many gay psychiatrists, such as Sengers, or anti-psychiatrists saw nothing bad in homosexual expressions for children either - a common argument that it is wrong to confront them with these feelings. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association decided through a vote that homosexuality was no longer a mental disorder - an important victory after a long period of agony and a short struggle with psychiatrists who were more old school and were offered loopholes to continue to stick to their ideas.

The third theme was that homosexuality was not only a crime and illness but also a sin. These first and third themes are persistent in many countries. This still holds true for most religions, especially in orthodox but even in modern variations: Protestants in their many forms, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Catholics who teach billions of people a doctrine they do not adhere to themselves. It is primarily religious fundamentalism that continues to support a negative attitude towards gay sex. The Catholic Church and Pope Francis continue to struggle with what can and cannot be done in their faith. Sexual abuse of children by priests is just as taboo as the reverse: homosexual pleasure that is enjoyed with each other and other adults.

A Moroccan once spoke of Qur’an schools as gay breeding grounds in which Islam and homosexuality went hand in hand despite of being sinful. In an increasingly prudish world, a policy of ignoring what you see or hear seems to be gaining ground among Muslims, and homosexuality becomes undesirable. Incidentally, such a negative policy is under attack in many Third World countries such as Latin America, China and India. But at the same time, we see that a gay-friendly attitude is not always embraced, or even disappearing, such as in Brazil, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Uganda. It remains to be seen what the effects of such contradictory developments will be.


More Rights

Demonstration against the introduction of Section 28 in the UK
Gay emancipation was only slowly gaining momentum in Western countries. Often laws were abolished, followed by rules and measures. Gays were given rights to rent houses together, rights that were not only for the individual but also for partners - to visit loved ones in hospital, inheritance and asylum rights - facilities were provided, from education to care for the elderly, and the government started to pay more for it like at the time when gay men were hit hard by the AIDS crisis. There came funds for gay organizations and initiatives, and relevant education. Love was more important than blood ties.

Anti-discrimination laws, such as the General Equal Treatment Act, were introduced in the Netherlands in 1994. Shortly before that in 1989 partnership rights were introduced comparable to those in Denmark. A registered partnership was established in the Netherlands in 1997 with limited options as a starting point for opening up marriage to same-sex couples. Gay marriage was introduced in 2001, and many gays and lesbians celebrated it as a victory. For gays and lesbians from around the world, same-sex marriage in the Netherlands was a great triumph.

It was celebrated more in the rest of the world than in the Netherlands.

Gay demonstration in Toronto (1973)There were some restrictions in place on same-sex marriage, but they have mostly been corrected. The most ridiculous thing was that the queen or king was not permitted to marry a same-sex partner. Machinations of former Queen Beatrix? Secondly, gays were not allowed to adopt children from a gay-unfriendly foreign country, something that has also become more difficult for straight couples. Finally, there was no biological relationship: when a child was born in a straight marriage, the father was “real” and “organic” even when his sperm was not used.

However, this did not apply to gays and lesbians - there was always a third “real” parent involved. Throughout the world, such arrangements remained difficult. At first when it involved gays and lesbians, and later with transgender and intersex people: what is a man and what is a woman, a father or mother, what is medically possible, who pays the costs, can you change your gender, and are others needed - such as a doctor, psychologist or a judge - or can you decide for yourself?


Private Matter

Much needs to be done when it comes to more liberal thinking about sexuality. We are supposed to be free citizens in democratic states, certainly in the West and in the European Union, but you do not get that impression when you hear how parents and authorities think about sex and children, or when you consider the controversy around MeToo - as if women are only victims and no autonomous sexual citizens. We have gone a long way from the 1960s, from the deprivation and repression of women and gays to more opportunities and rights in the present time. But sex remains a private matter, a matter of shame and prejudice. How many people find it easy to discuss their sex lives, their loves and preferences, pleasuring yourself, male on male sex, fun with cuffs and whips, or scat. How many people know their fetishes, how many schools teach about sex and gender?

Activist and Drag Queen Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) leading an Act Up march in June 1994
It was a curious sensation perusing my shelve with old books, discovering that there were indeed a lot of sexologists and enthusiasts who themselves wrote about special and specific preferences around 1900, such as “eonism” (travesty by men), androgyny and effemination, fetishism, algolagnia (masochism), flagellation and bondage, about coprophilia (scat), necrophilia (sex with the dead), voyeurism and exhibitionism, paedophilia, mono-sexuality (sex with yourself), nymphomania and satyriasis (lust for men among women and vice versa), incest, sex murder and rape, agoraphobia and agoraphilia (aversion to and preference for public places for having sex). There were often alternatives to those words and there were many other preferences. All those variations on sexuality were called perversions, deviations from heterosexuality, coitus and monogamy, as that was the norm.


Alphabet Soup

What always struck me is that there are many different perversions, but that they never occur in the new alphabet term that slowly came into existence. At first it was homo or gay, and sometimes gay radicals called themselves “flikker” (faggot) and “pot” (dyke), while gradually becoming gays and lesbians. Only around 1990 bisexuals were added in the letter B to become LGBs. Soon after, new acronyms followed: transsexual and queer.

Since the 1970s, the first abbreviation was initially T&T for transsexual and transvestite, but around 1990 this changed to Trans, which included all variations on the gender spectrum between male and female, whether it was natural or cultural, through an operation, and with or without legal approval. Ultimately, the question arises as to whether it is still useful to speak of male or female: everyone is their own gender performance, and with operations you can shape a gender that is not fixed. It is not to the liking of many people who just want to be male or female or sometimes trans.

Queer and “flikker” are both a term of abuse for gays who were increasingly starting to use them as terms of self-confidence and assurance. Queer came up almost simultaneously as an action term for gays in the AIDS era, such as Queer Nation, and for more academic fags and dykes with Queer Studies. It could stand for being contrary and recalcitrant, but also for non-heteronormative, and finally simply “different.” Sometimes it goes even further and stands for inclusiveness: encompassing everything, even heterosexuals. The more respectable clubs now have the lowest thresholds, and everyone is welcome. What were once Gay Prides can now be seen as Gay Shames, while they’re completely uninteresting because of all the straight people.

There was no immediate recognition in 1969
The list of abbreviations is constantly growing: after the T and Q, the I of Intersexual was added for persons who are not purely male or female: the old “Zwischenstufen” (intermediate stages) of Hirschfeld. This became the term we now use: GLBTQI. Since then, the abbreviations frenzy has continued: A stands for Asexual and sometimes for Ally (partner), P does not stand for Paedophile or Promiscuous, but rather for Polyamory and sometimes for Pansexual (those who cannot choose) but not for Polysexual.

The Q is used for people who are insecure, questioning. Sometimes, all these groups together are referred to as SoGi: sexual orientation and gender identity. The question is why sex and gender should go hand in hand. Is it because they are so closely related? Not everyone is convinced. For Dutch philosopher Maxim Februari, transsexuality is about gender and not about sex, and gay men see their preference as sexual and not as something relating to gender. And what is common between an asexual and a homosexual? What one doesn’t have, others do.

The big question is why it must always be an identity and why people cannot be more than just one thing or even fluid? An easy-going woman at work in the morning and a sadist in the basement in the evening. One day playing with yourself and the next a loving man, and a playful boy in the weekend. Why should we limit ourselves to this or that? Why so rigid and why not do and be nothing, while at other times do what you are into at that time and reinvent yourself? Or let sexuality and gender run free: connect when it is useful or fun, and to explore when the connection is lost.
 



 





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