Homophobic incidents have increasingly been making the news in the Netherlands – once so proud of its international reputation for tolerance. Recently in the central city of Utrecht, homophobic threats and abuse drove a lesbian couple, a gay couple and a transgender woman from their homes. However, there are no reliable figures showing an increase in homophobic attacks.
René Tigges, a 40-year-old gay man, recently moved to Utrecht, unperturbed by the recent reports. He lives in a multicultural neighbourhood and has no intention of changing his behaviour. For example, he doesn’t worry about who’s watching when he kisses a male friend goodbye in the street.
“I just stay myself. If I’m in the street with a gay friend or if I walk him to the station, for instance, then I say goodbye just like anyone else would. I don’t start looking round, thinking ‘Oh, who’s watching, oh no, I shouldn’t do it, because someone might say something.’ No.”
Three kisses on the cheek is a normal greeting in the Netherlands, also between urban heterosexual men. Nevertheless kissing between men can draw horrified reactions from young Dutch Moroccans. And it is against such young men that complaints of homophobic abuse are most frequently directed.
One young Moroccan in Utrecht claims gay men only have themselves to blame. “They draw attention to themselves, act a bit disgusting. It’s not on, is it? If you’re doing your shopping then you start kissing. It’s disrespectful, isn’t it? Yes, it’s a provocation, you know what I mean. Man-woman, okay, but you’ve got to show a bit of respect.”
According to another Moroccan in his twenties, teenagers are usually behind the anti-gay abuse. They learn nothing about homosexuality at school, and there’s a fierce taboo on the topic at home. Meanwhile, he says, far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders adds fuel to the fire with his anti-Islam politics.
“It’s also mainly to do with Wilders. He’s fighting against Islam so they want something to fight against too. So they pick gays, because Geert Wilders stands up for them. That’s what I hear from the youth in the neighbourhood.”
René Tigges is a regular at Bodytalk, Utrecht’s only gay café. On several occasions, along with other customers at the café he has been on the receiving end of abuse from young Dutch Moroccan men: “Filthy homos, faggots, that sort of thing.”
Police on the scene failed to intervene during one such incident, according to Mr Tigges. However, Utrecht city council is soon to set up a special emergency phone line for victims to report homophobic violence.