LGBT History in the Netherlands

On 1st April 2021, Netherlands celebrated 20 years of being the first country to legalize same-sex marriages. The country stands tall and proud of its massive achievements in making life a little easier for the LGBTQIA+ community. Today, Netherlands is considered one of the most tolerant countries in terms of legally accepting the LGBTQIA+ community, moral acceptance is a whole other matter. There is still a long way to go, but for people who are part of this community, Netherlands seems like the perfect escape.

The LGBTQI+ community has had its fair share of problems since what almost seems like the beginning of civilization, and while the problems continue to grow, it is safe to say that there are some places that have taken huge steps towards accepting the community. It is true when they say that it is hard for us humans to accept something different, something we are not familiar with. But then again, every human in the entire world is different, whether it is in terms of the language we speak or our sexual orientation. So, why the discrimination against a certain group? While it has taken us centuries to answer that question and might take a few centuries more, we can proudly say that 21st Century has brought about a tad bit of change. The fight for LGBT rights is an ongoing battle, however, for countries such as the Netherlands, the story is very different.

LGBT History In Ancient Europe

Netherlands History
Male Lovers Image credit: Marie Lan Nguyen

There are records of people of the same sex participating in sexual activities since the “before Christ” era. In fact, in a lot of cultures it was considered very normal, and sometimes even preferred, to have partners of the same sex. The concept of homosexuality can be seen in documents from ancient Greece, where the concept of “male lovers” was very common. Even though there were no records of same-sex marriage, older men were said to have younger lovers (adolescent boys) at the time. Famous philosophers like Plato and Aristotle have spoken about same-sex relations in their writings. Plato saw homosexual practices as a depiction of democracy and believed that only barbarians would consider it “shameful” because they are ruled by people who are scared of the influence of such “great ideas” or relationships would have on their subjects. Aristotle mentioned in Politics that the Celts considered homosexuality a special honour.

Netherlands History
Goddess Cybele
Image credit: Marshall Astor

Some of the earliest records of transgender people were the worshippers of Goddess Cybele in ancient Rome. The adult male citizen in the Roman patriarchal society had a right to have same-sex relations openly with a male of lower standing in the society. There were no legal barriers to same-sex relations. However, the mention of female partners and lesbians is almost non-existent in LGBT history. Some say this could be a result of the absence of a phallic object/symbol within these relationships which might have been the reason why most lesbian relationships might have gone under the radar.

LGBT History in the Netherlands

The history of the Netherlands is quite vast, and the LGBT history of the Netherlands is even bigger. It has taken years of striving for the LGBTQI+ community to reach where it is now in the Netherlands. We go back to the 18th and 19th Century where Sodomy was considered a capital crime and a lot of people were executed for performing acts of homosexuality. However, acts of sodomy committed by heterosexuals at the time were also considered a crime. In 1777, the narrative took a turn where it was recommended to educate boys and girls on the vices of same-sex relations in order to avoid the punishable crime that is Sodomy.

The year 1806 saw the rise of Holland as a kingdom under the rule of Napoleon’s brother. The kingdom adopted the liberal views of the French and soon after, in 1811, homosexuality was decriminalized. Homosexual activities were punishable only as a public indecency till the year 1886. It was during this era that the Netherlands thrived and witnessed sexual freedom. At the same time, the stigma around same-sex relations and sodomy remained the same but wheels of change were set in motion and nothing could stop it.

Netherlands History
Demonstration against Article 248bis

In 1911, laws against abortion, prostitution, pornography, and same-sex acts with minors under 21 were passed. Talks of homosexuality and sexual orientation became even more popular during this period and the Christian parties could do nothing to prevent this dialogue in 20th century Netherlands. It is human nature to want something you cannot have and to do something you’ve been told not to do. Article 248bis that set the age of consent for homosexuals at 21 was a very clear discriminatory law that gave birth to a new subculture for the LGBT community. The red-light districts were chock-full of bars and pubs that became regular hangout spots for gay and lesbian folk.

The post-world war II climate saw a complete change in the attitude towards homosexuality. Homosexuality was now condemned by many. However, the thought process changed again when a few clergymen and doctors began questioning the basis of a homosexual relationship and started comparing it to heterosexual relations. At the end of the day, the one common factor in their evaluation of these relationships was love. This gave rise to the sexual revolution in the Netherlands and a number of legal reforms led to the country becoming one of the most progressive ones in the world.

Amsterdam – The LGBT Paradise

Hotels, saunas, bars, pubs, and discos became all the rage in Amsterdam in 1955. The acceptance of gay culture was in full swing and very soon Amsterdam was deemed the gay capital of Europe. The wave of change led to a lot more people coming out and experiencing the freedom of being themselves out on the streets among the crowds during 1960. This change also led to the abolishment of Article 248bis in 1971 and homosexuality was not seen as a disease anymore. Openly gay men were being admitted to the military by 1973, and gender reassignment surgery was legally recognized by 1978.

The LGBT community was being recognized and they were the ones forming gay and lesbian organizations, groups, labour unions, political parties and so much more. It was not until 1982, when after a violent attack on the gay and lesbian parade that the government started completely supporting the goal of emancipation for this community. There was legal and financial support being provided along with the general safety being taken care of by local law enforcement.

The 1980s was also the time when AIDS was the biggest concern for governments all over the world. Fortunately, Netherlands did an excellent job keeping the epidemic contained. In fact, the fact that the government was so supportive of the LGBT communities made it easier for them to communicate with the people and keep the numbers of AIDS victims very low.

Why are we talking about the Netherlands now?

The LGBTQI+ community today is doing much better than it was before. However, the world has a long way to go and a lot to learn from the Netherlands. Today, Amsterdam – the gay capital of the Netherlands hosts a wide variety of tourists from all over the world for the simple reason that it is safe for couples of all sexual orientations to do whatever they want. Whether it is going clubbing, bar hopping, going for drag shows, or just taking a stroll around the canals and stealing a kiss with your significant other, there is a kind of freedom that the LGBTQI+ community does not often get to experience.

Over the years, Netherlands has adapted to the changing times. Life is a lot more colourful in the streets of the Netherlands with the emergence of more gay, lesbian and transgender subcultures. In fact, even political leaders came out as openly gay and that is what made them more attractive to the public as well. Even today, there are multiple groups and organizations that work towards not just LGBTQIA+ rights but also focus on anti-sexism and anti-racism. The idea of being discriminated against because you are different is something a few people or groups in the Netherlands are trying to change.

Worth the visit!

A night by the canals of Amsterdam

If you are planning to elope to the Netherlands to get married to your partner, we completely understand. It’s not just about the atmosphere but it is also the beauty of this country. It is almost like the attitude of the people is reflected through the scenic views of the Netherlands. Furthermore, if you really want to experience the LGBT culture of the Netherlands, there is no better place to be but Amsterdam. Amsterdam is not just famous for its magic plant (if you know what I mean), it is also known for the abundance of gay-friendly bars, hotels, clubs, events, and much more.

The Amsterdam Gay Pride Celebrations

The Amsterdam Gay Pride is one of the most well-known celebrations that take place in July or early August. If you are making your way to Amsterdam, you do not want to miss this. The vibrancy and the flamboyance of this wild celebration are beyond words. Unlike the regular Pride parades around the world that are more a demonstration of equal rights, this parade is a celebration of freedom. You have to experience the Canal Parade that has a huge group of people filled to the brim on several boats that are floating away on the canals of Amsterdam. Furthermore, this is not a celebration that simply lasts a day. The Amsterdam Gay Pride goes on for a complete week and is a continuous celebration or as some may say a wild party!

You can also be the typical tourist and visit the numerous museums and take in the beautiful urban landscape of Amsterdam. If you’re in the mood, take a trip to Pink Point. It is the place where gay men and women were executed for being themselves; also, known as the Homomonument, the Pink Point commemorates all the men and women that lost their lives because they participated in homosexual activities.

Where else to go in the Netherlands?Utrecht

If you are visiting the Netherlands, do not just limit yourself to visiting the gay paradise that is Amsterdam. There are multiple locations within the country that celebrate the freedom of being yourself with pride. Utrecht, a city just half an hour away from Amsterdam, is quite an attraction, especially for students. It is a university town, so naturally, the nightlife is colourful, to say the least. The city is also considered a religious center, given the fact that some of the religious buildings in the area date back to the Middle Ages. Furthermore, the town has had a very interesting history that can be traced through the multiple museums in the region. Utrecht also has the old canals running through the streets that make the town look like something out of a book.

After visiting these two cities, if you still have the capacity to party and explore a little more of the LGBT culture head over to Rotterdam, and then the Hague. Rotterdam is known to have gay bars that were opened in the 1910s. Bars, dance, parties, LGBT events, art, music, architecture, design and so much more for one to explore. No matter what your interests are, Rotterdam has more to offer than you can imagine. City tours that take you through museums and a walk through the architectural marvels around you; harbor tours, theme parks, food tours, queer networking, and cafés that cater to the LGBT, the list is endless. The Hague is known for its cafes and is also a perfect place to meet new people from the community. No matter sexual orientation and preference is that everyone is welcome here. The best part about these cities is that the diversity only begins at sexual orientation. These are highly culturally diverse areas where you are bound to meet people not just from Europe, but from different continents as well. As I have mentioned before, Netherlands is a safe haven for the LGBTQIA+ community.

In the 21st Century, people are more aware and educated about other cultures, races, religions, and sexual orientations. Yet they choose to not accept these differences. Netherlands’ effort at making life legally easier for the LGBTQIA+ community is a massive step towards acceptance. It’s true that things are not perfect, people of the community still have to face anti-LGBTQ groups and violence in the Netherlands, but there is definitely a change in the attitude. Currently, there are multiple groups, political organizations, and even political leaders who accept the fact that the attitude towards the LGBTQIA+ community in the Netherlands is far from perfect and are constantly working towards changing this. It is the effort of people like such and especially the support of the government that gives us hope that things will get better for the community over the years. And if this attitude is not adopted by other countries well then at least there will be ONE country in the whole world that understands what it is like to be different.



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