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Illustration by Sarah Fay

Culture

The History Of Sexuality : LGBT Rights in 21st Century Netherlands

By Sarah Fay

1 April 2001 marked one of the most important milestones in LGBT+ rights history, with the Netherlands becoming the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. As the clocks struck midnight in Amsterdam the then Mayor, Job Cohen, officiated the marriages of four couples in the city hall. Twenty years later, the city of Amsterdam has swapped out the traditional anniversary gift of china and instead has celebrated with a large inflated pink cake topped with rainbow lit candles, set sail down the city’s canals. 

But what has changed in the last twenty years? In legislation there have been moves towards more rights for Transgender people. In 2013 a law was approved to allow transgender people to change their gender on their identity papers without having to undergo steralisation nor surgery and taking hormones. The Dutch government in 2020 apologised and made plans to compensate those that underwent surgery due to the 1985 rules which the Human Rights Watch described as a violation of transgender people’s human rights. The Dutch government further announced that by 2025 all gender markers will be removed from national IDs. 

Nonetheless, there have been more complex issues raised in Dutch discourse around LGBT+ asylum seekers. Under a 2011 directive by the EU it is stated that persecution due to a person’s sexuality or gender identity is valid grounds to be granted asylum. However, actually being given asylum is far from a simple process. After a Dutch court denied three men asylum when they were unable to prove their sexuality, the top EU court in 2014 ruled that refugees should not be made to undertake tests to prove their sexuality. Yet, according to Humanity In Action refugees need to make their sexuality believable, complying to a specific code created in a limited western hetero-normative space. Moreover LGBT Asylum Support, a Dutch NGO, remarks upon the issue of LGBT asylum seekers being placed in lodgings in accordance to their nationality and consequently living with people that they have fled from – leading to a necessary hiding of their sexuality. 

The future of LGBT+ rights in the Netherlands forecasts itself to be one of progress, but many argue much is still needed to be done. Human Rights Watch write that homophobic violence is still happening and John de Witt, Professor of Social and Behavioural Sciences, writes that the Netherlands are particularly failing in protecting people from such verbal and physical attacks. The position of LGBT+ rights at the end of the next twenty years is far from certain. 

Important Dates Prior to 2000

1811 – Same-sex sexual activity is decriminalised 

1911 – Age of consent for homosexuality raised to 21 versus 16 for heterosexual couples

1927 – Cafe ‘t Mandje is opened by Bet Van Beereen, thought to be one of the first gay bars 

in Amsterdam

1932 – Wij, first gay magazine, published

1946 – COC is founded, the oldest operating LGBT+ organisation in the world 

1971 –  Repeal of the 1911 article, allowing for the same age of consent for both homosexual 

and heterosexual couples

1973 – Homosexuality is no longer treated as an illness by mental health insitutuons

1985 – Transgender people are allowed to change their gender on their indentity papers, 

however on the condition of undergoing surgery, including sterilization, and hormone 

replacement.

1987 – The Homomonument is opened to commemorate all LGBT+ people who lost their 

lives in World War II and have been persecuted due to their sexuality 

1993 – Dutch parliament enacts the Equal Treatment Act, preventing discrimation based on 

sexual orientation

1996 – First Amsterdam Gay Pride event

1998 – Amsterdam hosts the Gay Games, the first city outside of North America to do so

1998 domestic partnerships benefits

N.B. This article focuses on The Netherlands rather than The Kingdom of the Netherlands which would also include Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten – each constituent country having their own dominant ideas around the LGBT+ Community.