Mobilisation Without Borders: American Influence on the Netherland’s 1977 homodemonstratie
The first large-scale march by gender and sexual minorities in the Netherlands took place in 1977 in response to events that were unfolding in Dade County, Florida.
While it was not the first to take place in the Netherlands (in January of 1969, protests in the Hague sought the repeal of the Dutch ‘Article 248bis’ that imposed an unequal age of consent for homosexuals) 25 June 1977 was unprecedented in its scale. It also would become the first of yearly, national marches that conformed to the (then) nascent, globalized institution of ‘pride’ marches. (Hekma 1989, Hekma 2004)
Before Pride: Franco-German Influences on Dutch Attitudes
Thanks to a French imperialist project, the Napoleonic Code was instituted in the Netherlands in 1811. The code legalized homosexuality. Post-Napoleon, liberal laws toward homosexuality remained in place.
A century after the Napoleonic Code, ‘article 248bis’ came into force in 1911, instituting laws that undermined the liberal legal attitudes enshrined in the law. The legislative instrument set the age of consent for homosexuals at 21, while the heterosexual threshold was set at 16.
The institution of article 248bis, however, met with a progressive social and academic stance (resistance) on homosexuality influenced by Magnus Hirschfield’s Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (WhK) – the Scientific- Humanitarian Committee – in Germany.
Hirschfield and the WhK had established themselves as the first organization to seek social and legal protection for gender and sexual minorities at the dawn of the twentieth century. Hirschfield has also sought to explore, through academic methods, homosexuality not as an illness but rather an orientation among other diverse expressions of sexuality and gender. This was revolutionary for the time.
Jacob Schorer oversaw the Dutch chapter of the same organisation, the Nederlandsch Wetenschappelijk Humanitar Komitee (NWHK), that sought the same ends. After spending time in Berlin and having worked alongside Hirschfield, Schorer was part of a Dutch milieu that challenged conservative thinking on sexuality.
The Conservative Turn: Paragraph 175 goes Dutch
The Nazi invasion during the Second World War resulted in the introduction of Paragraph 175 that made homosexual acts criminal in the Netherlands. As such, this effectively halted Hirschfield and Schorer’s earlier work. In Germany the WhK’s work was effectively destroyed, with several pages of research being burnt by the regime. As is widely known, homosexuals were sent off to concentration camps during the period.
Post World War II Netherlands and Dade County, Florida
The end of the war witnessed the emergence of new organizations fighting for expanded rights for gender and sexual minorities. The sexual revolution of the 1960s further liberalized attitudes toward formerly transgressive expressions of sexuality. By 1973, article 248bis had been repealed, and the view that homosexuality was a form of mental illness had become antiquated in the Netherlands.
Local struggles to transform attitudes, science and laws related to sexuality reflected developments elsewhere in Western Europe at the time. However, in 1977, Dutch gender and sexual minorities sought to weigh in on policy discourse taking place beyond the North Sea and the Atlantic- in Dade County, Florida.
At the time, the now infamous ‘Save Our Children’ campaign, led by Anita Bryant was seeking to overturn an ordinance that ended discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation. The ordinance was subsequently successfully overturned in a widely-supported special election.
One of the cornerstones of Bryant’s argument was that the ordinance would have ultimately endangered children who would now be subject to homosexual propaganda. Furthermore, Bryant’s campaign contended that sexual minorities would now turn to recruiting young children to become as they are, given their inability to reproduce as same sex couples.
Bryant’s movement inspired mass responses in the Netherlands and was the chief motivation for its first large scale march among gender and sexual minorities in June of 1977. This would subsequently evolve into the now institutionalized, annual marches that one finds in cities across the world. In 1979, it was adapted to local tastes as ‘Roze Zaterdag’ (Pink Saturday), generally held during the last week of June or the first of July, evidently timed to coincide with Stonewall commemorations at the time
Local, American policy discourse turned into a matter of significance in a vastly different context that had already made progress toward the liberalization of attitudes related to gender and sexual minorities. In this regard, the Dutch example is an interesting case in the motivations for social mobilization. The local policy rewards were limited for the Dutch, yet, solidarity seemed to be an adequately strong motivation for the first mass, national ‘homo-demonstration’ (‘homodemonstratie’) to take place in 1977. The Dutch example, and others, also raises interesting questions about the contemporary relevance of gay pride marches given their emergence as reactions to policy discourses of a particular moment.
Hekma, Gert. “Homoseksualiteit in Nederland van 1730 tot de moderne tijd.” (2004).
Hekma, Gert, Kraakman, Dorelies, Lieshout, Maurice van, Radersma, Jo (red.), Goed verkeerd. Een geschiedenis van homoseksuel mannen en lesbische vrouwen in Nederland. Meulenhoff, Amsterdam 1989.
Author: George Katito