The Gay Humanist

Summer 1985

Gay Humanists at the Seaside

Gay Humanist Group members were joined by five gay humanists from the Netherlands when they all but took over the Beacon Royal Hotel – which claims to be the biggest gay hotel in the country – for their late spring ‘Weekend Break’ in May.

The visit to Brighton was a welcome return for the group which had its inaugural meeting in the town during the CHE Conference of 1979, and they were welcomed to Brighton by Joan Wimble, Secretary of the Brighton Humanist Society. Joan reminded them that her group had sent a message of support to the CHE delegates at that 1979 conference, in stark contrast to the hostility shown then by Brighton religionists who had taken a half-page advertisement in the local paper condemning the conference and homosexuality in general.

The weather was kind to the group, who were able to enjoy all the delights of this popular holiday resort – including the Beacon Royal’s own disco and bar, the beautiful Preston Park Gardens, and a very entertaining, if somewhat weird, seaside performance given by a “musical” who used pots, pans, fireworks and other assorted objects to provide a spectacular free show.

A video put together by Jonathan Sanders was shown and Bill McIlroy, Editor of The Freethinker magazine, gave a talk on the freethought traditions of Brighton.

On Sunday the party gathered for a semi-formal meeting with the five visitors from the Netherlands. Cees van Leeuwen was given the task of introducing his colleagues and said that they were all very glad to be in Brighton with friends in GHG with whom they had had a long and warm relationship since the Netherlands group first made contact with their British counterparts in 1981.

He then introduced Mike Verduijn who has been a member of the Dutch Humanist League for about 30 years. Mike used to be a full-time worker for the organisation and was one of the founder members of the gay group formed within that organisation.

Mike said the group started at about the same time as the British group in 1979 as a result of an article written by Bert Boelaars in the national magazine of the Dutch Humanist League. The article was about homosexuality and it ended with an invitation for readers to contact the writer if they were interested in discussing the subject. This led to the formation of a Gay Working Party under the chairmanship of Dr Tielman who was also chairman of the Dutch Humanist League and a well-known opinion leader on homosexual matters. Mike explained that the group is not autonomous like GHG but is a working party within the Dutch Humanist League. Among its activities the working party advises the board of the national organisation on questions directly or indirectly concerned with homosexuality.

The humanist movement in the Netherlands has its own counsellors in the army, prisons and hospitals in much the same way as the churches have their army chaplains. The working party started training the counsellors on how to cope with gay people’s problems. They soon found that the first thing they had to do was to help the counsellors to understand their own sexuality. “Once they can manage their own sexuality”, said Mike, “they are more open and more able to understand the problems that gays may have”. For the time being this training is not open to all the counsellors but is being given to a small group of counsellors in the army.

Cees next introduced Ben van Hoey who is on the board of the Dutch Humanist League and at the time of the meeting was thought very likely soon to be elected as General Secretary of the organisation. He said that humanism had a long history in his country but only got properly organised after World War II. Prior to the war the churches enjoyed control of almost all vital positions in public life and they wanted to restore this position when the war ended. It was in order to oppose this that the Dutch Humanist League was founded and about the same time a community welfare and development organisation, Humanitas, was also formed. These two are still the most important humanist organisations in the Netherlands.

Ben pointed out that the churches had managed to segregate the country to such an extent that when he was a boy in a Roman Catholic village he was not allowed to associate with Protestant boys – though he liked them very much! But all that has changed and the recent tour of Holland by the Pope was a bad experience for the church and showed how far secularisation of the country had gone. In spite of this the humanist movement had only 15,000 members, whereas Ben felt they should have many more, and recruiting new members was one of their first priorities at the moment. (One of his British listeners pointed out that allowing for the difference in populations the British Humanist Association would need a membership of 60,000 in order to match their Dutch counterparts!)

Ben said that religious groups in the country had much more power that was merited by the percentage of the population they represent. The Dutch Humanist League represented the voice of non-religious people in the Netherlands and was an important factor in public life.

Bert Boelaars was described by Cees as a full-time professional worker for the Dutch Humanist League – working four days a week on humanistic conventions, etc., and one day a week for the gay group. Bert chose to speak about the view that the gay humanists in the Netherlands were developing about AIDS. He said that AIDS represented an enormous disaster to the people involved and though others, including heterosexuals, were affected, the principal victims were gay men, so it was in our own interests to think about the solving of this problem.

The humanist view of life gives us two important principles, Bert said: reasonableness and self-determination. Reasonableness asks of people that in discussing AIDS they should confine themselves to the facts. And the fact is that though most AIDS victims are gay men this doesn’t mean it is a gay disease. Reasonableness would suggest that attempts to get the government to ban gay saunas were wrong. When you have safe sex you run no risk – not even in a sauna!

“And where would such bans stop? It could be argued that films, books, or even talks about sex should be banned because they might incite the lust to fuck!” said Bert. “The only measures the government might reasonably take would be to stimulate research and issue guidance. Also we may say that the media are behaving unreasonably when they publish sensational stories and attempt to incite hatred of a section of the community. As humanists we reject this.

“As regards self-determination, humanists believe we are responsible for our own lives – and sex-lives. The situation dictates that people who know they run risks reflect carefully on the consequences. The humanist view is that freedom is strictly linked with responsibility and we can appeal to people on those grounds. We have a lot of objective information and it must be possible to decide what we can or cannot do. A main consideration must be how our freedom affects the freedom of other people. It will not be easy to adjust sexual behaviour to objective demands which are now urgent – but we can take practical measures on an ethical basis, and for humanists the most central values are freedom and with it responsibility and respect for each other.”

The last member of the party – Ferry van der Zant – invited members of GHG to join their friends in the Netherlands at one of their weekend events. They will be holding their eleventh in September of this year. Participants are split up into various discussion groups. There are also theatre and music groups, and a non-verbal group! The weekend events are organised by the gay group but are open to anyone interested and people wanting to attend are issued with a programme showing the various groups to be organised. GHG members were asked to express their interests as soon as possible so that English language groups could be arranged.

After the talks there was a question-and-answer session – the most interesting question coming from Barry Duke who wanted to know if Dutch humanists had had anything to do with the protests over the Pope’s visit to the Netherlands. Ben van Hoey said that the board of the Dutch Humanist League had decided that the visit was a matter for the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands and that they would not intervene unless he decided to interfere in things that were a matter of public concern – as he did on the last day of his visit when he condemned homosexuals. The Pope also claimed “authentic humanism” for the Roman Catholics! It was clear that this was an attack by the Roman Catholics against us and in the coming months we surely will react to both these points, Ben promised.

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Created : Sunday, 2000-04-02 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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