The dream is slowly dissolving. The Netherlands was once the promised land for homosexuals. In 2001, this resulted in the first legal same-sex marriages in the world. Now more and more couples are being persecuted by their neighbours.
Robin and Sam (not their real names) no longer dare to walk hand in hand in Amsterdam. They have decided to move to the Veluwe region in the east of the Netherlands.
Still a tolerant country
The Dutch police’s National Diversity Expertise Centre has recorded reports of discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people since 2008. The number of reports increased by 54 percent in 2010 compared with 2009. The increase from 2008 to 2009 was 13 percent.
The Amsterdam police primarily put the increase down to a greater willingness to file a report. This is contradicted by a survey among homosexuals in which many victims said they do not often go to the police.
The Netherlands still remains one of the most tolerant countries. Recent studies by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research showed that 9 out of 10 Dutch people accept homosexuality. Ethnic minorities are less accepting, particularly Turkish Dutch (30 percent) and Moroccan Dutch (25 percent).
In 86 percent of cases, homophobic attacks were committed by native Dutch people. In 2008, the percentage of attacks by people from ethnic minorities was 14 percent. The number of attackers of Moroccan origin was markedly higher in Amsterdam – 36 percent.
I'm the man
The first time they were confronted with aggressive behaviour was seven years ago. They hadn't been together very long and, like many couples in love, they were walking hand in hand.
“A Moroccan came up to us and said: which one of you is the man? Because I hate all that ‘butch, femme’ stuff, Sam said: I’m the man. We both had to laugh, but the man took a swing at me. Luckily he missed my face, but his fist hit my shoulder. It was incredibly painful.”
We'll knife you
They never reported the incident to the police. Robin says they couldn’t describe the man. “What do you say then? Someone hit me?” When the aggression got worse they didn’t know how to deal with it.
“In the supermarket I always used to go to – I avoid it these days – they started playing a kind of game with me. There were two boys, I’m sorry to say they were Moroccan too, Dutch of Moroccan origin. They blocked my way and started hassling me. I didn’t realise at first it was about my being a lesbian. As I walked away they called after me: next time we’ll knife you, you filthy dyke.”
On the lookout
Robin regularly finds pictures of women having sex with men in her letter box. It makes her feel sick every time to realise they know where she lives. However, she has no clear idea who ‘they’ are. The persecution has achieved its aim. Robin and Sam no longer feel free to express their sexuality openly in their own neighbourhood.
“We don’t walk hand in hand any more. Always keeps some distance between us. You go first and I’ll follow. When we walk through Amsterdam we’re constantly on the lookout. If we spot a group of youths hanging around, we go ‘oops’ and take a different street. We’re really afraid.”
Born and bred
Robin says being forced into this evasive behaviour is not the worst problem. It’s not even the abusive comments. The feeling of helplessness: that they can’t defend themselves, that they have to keep their mouths shut and accept discrimination is much worse. “If you do react, they may scratch up your car or pull a knife on you.”
Sam has had a house in the Veluwe for some time. She prefers not to visit Amsterdam any more. As soon as she drives into the city to see Robin she starts to get nervous. Robin, born and bred in Amsterdam, would prefer to stay there but she too has had enough. She has registered for a house in Harderwijk, on the edge of the Veluwe.
Their friends and acquaintances are amused by their choice. Harderwijk is in the so-called Dutch Bible Belt, where Christians generally have fundamental objections to homosexuality. Robin says there is actually room for discussion and their sexuality is respected.
“They are hypocrites, though. We’re told that as a couple we’re okay. But they would kick their own children out the house if they turned out to be gay.”
At least in the east of the Netherlands they have never been threatened. They feel safe there.