Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 1992

Homosexuality and the Dutch

by Rob Tielman

Many people know the story of a little boy saving the Netherlands by putting his finger in a leaking dyke.

Only a foreigner could invent such a story, because to know Holland is to understand that this land below sea level (the only one in the world created by human beings) has survived not through simple solutions or one individual’s efforts but by centuries of teamwork. At the same time, this densely populated community of people created one of the most independent social mentalities ever known; a society in which the human right to self-determination is accepted as a fundamental principle of a pluralistic democracy; a society which accepts voluntary euthanasia, homosexual parenthood, humanist counselling in the army, prostitution, the use of recreational drugs, and many other phenomena shocking to foreigners.

What made this country the most non-theistic and the most life-stance supportive in the free world. And how did this influence the development and implementation of AIDS policy?

Everyone knows about the American, French and Russian Revolutions, yet no-one knows about the Dutch Revolution. This revolution was not a forcible overthrow of a crumbling political system, but a radical change in Dutch consciousness and society.

The first labour pain was the Eighty Years War (1568-1649) when the partly Protestant Low Countries rose against the Roman Catholic Spanish king. This conflict was an indication of later developments, for the king was trying to impose a theocratic feudal system upon a relatively democratic and tolerant society. The geographical situation of the Low Countries stimulated democracy from the beginning, for the threatening sea forced co-operative and democratic solutions for the survival of everyone.

The second revolt in the Netherlands was the Dutch copy of the French Revolution. The ‘Batavian Revolution’ took place in 1795, and was so much in line with the evolution of Dutch society that the main transformations were continued after the Vienna Congress (1813).

The Netherlands is one of the few examples of a country starting as a republic and ending as a kingdom (since 1813). One of the paradoxes of Dutch democracy is symbolised in the Dutch saying: “Our queens are the best presidents we could have.” Although theoretically most Dutch people are republicans, almost all support the monarchy. It is a good example of the pragmatic mentality of this culture which underlies many paradoxes often unexplainable to foreigners.

But there is a revolution of another kind in present Dutch society. There is no other country in the world where the right to self-determination is implemented so radically as in the Netherlands. But this revolution is a very peaceful one, and that is probably why so few are aware of it.

The constitution of the Netherlands (1982) is one of the most modern in the world. Article 1 formulates the principle of non-discrimination. Recognising no exceptions (including women, homosexuals and non-married couples), it grants the Catholic Church the freedom to discriminate against women, homosexuals and non-married couples within the church itself (as they are free to abandon the church).

Every individual has a right not to be discriminated against by those institutions he or she necessarily makes use of, like public schools, hospitals, etc. Under the Dutch constitution a discriminating institution cannot be subsidised by the government. Those who want to discriminate are free to do so as long as they do not harm people who don’t want to be part of that institution. In other words: no woman, homosexual or non-married couple is forced to be part of a discriminating church.

Another illustration of the application of self-determination is the way in which the constitution guarantees the right of privacy (Article 10) and the right to integrity of the body (Article 11). Without informed consent no medical treatment can be forcibly applied unless there otherwise would be a danger to public health (Article 22). This means it is illegal to force people to take an HIV/AIDS antibody test because the virus can only be transmitted to others through ‘at risk’ behaviour between consenting adults. No distinction is made between ‘guilty’ and ‘innocent’ victims because everyone is responsible for the risks taken.

The Netherlands has a long tradition of integration policy towards minorities. Integration means the development of minority identities and institutions being treated on an equal level compared with other minorities. In general, societies try to impose heterosexuality upon their members. By this they force homosexuals to hide their sexual preferences (creating double-life hypocrites) or to segregate to be able to develop their own lifestyle. Leaders of segregated minorities tend to have vested interests between police authorities and gay bar owners. By organising raids against gays in public, society forces gays to visit the segregated bars. The history of the Dutch gay and lesbian movement shows that assimilation strategies stimulate segregation, whereas integration strategies prevent segregation.

The Dutch gay and lesbian movement started in 1911 and is now the oldest such existing movement in the world. In the 1911-1940 period many attempts were made by the Roman Catholics and Dutch Nazis to stop the movement, without success, due to the minority tolerance tradition. During World War II the German Nazis terminated the organisation and tried to persecute homosexuals (1940-1945). Thanks to the ‘live and let live’ attitude of the vast majority of the Dutch, the persecution of homosexuals was unsuccessful. The religious Jewish community (like other religious groups) was registered completely and therefore very susceptible to persecution by the Nazis, while the homosexuals were not registered in such a way that the Nazis could use the information without support of the Dutch – a support they did not receive.

After World War II the movement resurfaced, and was able to develop its community organisation thanks to the minority-friendly structure of Dutch society.

By persecuting feelings that damage nobody, we create monsters that might destroy us. By making homosexuality illegal, and by trying to prevent gays and lesbians from entering the army or secret services, we create security risks where they could have been avoided by not discriminating against homosexuals. That’s one of the reasons why the Dutch government doesn’t discriminate against gays and lesbians in the police, army, foreign and secret services. No-one can blackmail an open homosexual with his or her sexual orientation. It is not homosexuality that creates security risks, but the security service discriminating against homosexuals. It is not HIV/AIDS in itself that produces the spread, but human behaviour that can be changed.

Many people know the nature versus nurture debate. Intelligence, gender, sexual preferences: are they determined by genetic or environmental influences? There is not enough evidence for an exclusive nature or nurture position. The real question is: so what? What does it mean if the biological or environmental origin of sexual orientation could be proved? Neither nurture nor nature is an excuse for behaviour we are ultimately responsible for. Justifications for our behaviour should not be based upon fact or assumption of its biological or environmental character. Biological and social factors can help us to understand how some things happen, but science can never replace ethical judgment.

Imagine that intelligence is hereditary and women and blacks turned out to be less intelligent than men and whites. Those stating that less educational support should be given to women and blacks make no scientific statement but a political one. In Dutch education, more attention is paid to less intelligent persons than bright ones. The latter are supposed to be able to educate themselves better anyway, whereas the less intelligent need extra support to learn to co-operate with more intelligent people. Moreover, differences between people do not give reasons to discriminate against them.

Homosexual parenthood is more widely accepted in the Netherlands than in most other countries. Although closeted homosexuals have always been parenting children, it is only recently that some of them came out openly as gay or lesbian couples raising children. No evidence exists that homosexuals are better or worse parents. Nevertheless, some oppose gay and lesbian parenthood because they fear their children are more likely to become homosexual (which isn’t the case), or to be sexually abused (ibid), or to be discriminated against. Discrimination is never a valid reason to continue to discriminate; otherwise no category of people being discriminated against should be allowed to have children.

No-one defends the idea of making heterosexual parenthood illegal because of child abuse by their biological parents. Many try to make homosexual parenthood illegal even before any proof of child abuse could have been given. Others propose parenthood exams for homosexuals who want to bring up foster children without demanding the same of heterosexuals. The assumption that biological parenthood is a guarantee for excellent bringing up of children is a clear prejudgment. If the interests of children are the real determining factor, then the pedagogic qualities of potential parents should count and not the gender or sexual orientation. Research among Dutch lesbian and gay couples with children shows that there is no reason to discriminate against homosexual parents. Neither nature nor nurture determines people in such a way as to make them the victims of the circumstances they live in: even under the worst conditions humane people can be found, and under the best conditions inhumane ones. We are responsible, not nature or nurture. By looking at AIDS as a purely bio-medical phenomenon we ignore the psycho-social context which is essential.

Dutch Christian fundamentalists have a state-paid radio and television station (as the humanists have) but only 5% of the population support their views. More than 50% of the Dutch are non-believers, half of them identifying themselves with the humanist movement. The humanist part of the population is about as large as each of the Catholic and Protestant parts.

By organising society that way, the Dutch created a very pluralistic system with ten political parties being represented in parliament, and a comparable number of broadcasting companies, dailies, weeklies, school systems, housing associations, etc. This system of minority rights and duties deters fundamentalism and intolerance, due to its flexibility in adapting to new developments.

As human beings we should know how the reality we live in functions. But unfortunately many scientists assume that science is ethically neutral. In the choice of the topics to be studied and in the application of the results, science can never be neutral. Even in the process of studying, scientists have to be as neutral as possible but can never achieve this.

The scientific study of homosexuality is an enlightening example of the ethical bias of scientists. In fact Christian judgments of homosexuality were introduced into medical and psychological secularised forms. This illustrates that technocratic theories use neutrality to hide moral judgments to protect vested interests or culturally biased views. Another example is the way in which AIDS research was developed and applied. Many people with HIV/AIDS have been participating in drug experiments without being aware of potential alternatives. By doing so, human beings become instruments used by others instead of being individuals who are making their own decisions. This explains why ethical committees have become essential in the development of Dutch AIDS research.

By respecting individual and minority rights, democracy is strengthened, not weakened as many people assume.

The oppression of homosexuality can lead to both anti-homosexual and homosexual violence, even by the same people. Many oppressed homosexuals fight their sexual orientation by oppressing others.

When people become aware of a sexual preference rejected by (as it seems) everybody, it looks rational to hide this preference as much as possible. Due to the fact that about 10% of the population with the same sexual preference does the same, nobody will be aware of the internalised oppression going on. What people will see are unexplained suicides, sexual crimes, blackmail, disappearances, robberies and violence not reported to the police. And when some of this comes to the surface, it will ‘prove’ the necessity to oppress the sexual preference considered to be the ‘cause’ of it all. But in fact it is not the sexual preference in itself causing all the problems but the societal incapability to give shape and meaning to self-determination. The dream of democracy prevents many from seeing how undemocratically some societies actually function. Homosexuality is not a threat to society but to the dream of a heterosexual heaven for all. But what is a heaven to many is a hell to some others. And when a so-called heaven is imposed on others it will become a hell.

Since abortion became legal in the Netherlands, the number of abortions has gone down. This was due not only to the legalisation but also to the more explicit sexual education in schools and in the media caused by the abortion debate. The common misunderstanding is to assume that people in favour of making abortion legal are in favour of abortion itself. In fact pro-choice activists are against abortion as a birth control method, but they defend the right to self-determination of women and the right to be wanted by one’s parents. Pro-life activists also often ignore the conditions under which people have to live after birth. If anti-abortion was the real issue for them, they should support legalisation combined with explicit sexual education in schools and in the media, because this will bring the abortion figures down. The mere fact they do not proves that the so-called pro-life position is in fact an anti-sexual agenda.

This is also illustrated by the fact that the so-called pro-life groups are at the same time opposed to homosexual parenthood. So they prefer children to be brought up by parents not really wanting them or in institutions where they have a higher chance of becoming unhappy than by loving and caring homosexual couples.

The socio-cultural history of the Netherlands shows how the human right to self-determination has profoundly influenced Dutch society in many aspects. A comparison between the drug policies in the Netherlands and the USA can illustrate this. In the Netherlands the emphasis is on education and improvement of the social conditions stimulating freedom and responsibility. The consequences are a decline of drug use and low degrees of organised crime and violence associated with drug addiction. In the USA, the ‘war on drugs’ has proved to be counterproductive. Unfortunately, the awareness in the USA of foreign experiences with more successful drug policies is almost non-existent. Of course there are differences between cultures, but that is no reason to re-invent the wheel in each country.

Excerpted from the Truth Seeker.
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