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Exclusive | The Dutch Paradox

Exclusive | The Dutch Paradox

Gay bashings and sons of Arab immigrants -- as Jurriaan Teulings investigates, Dutch gays are caught in the middle of a cultural clash. And that's not all bad news.

Amsterdam has always been a city of good news. The world's oldest extant gay rights group -- the COC, for Cultuur en Ontspannings-Centrum, now more commonly known as the Center for Culture and Leisure -- was founded here in 1946. In 1952 the COC opened a booming gay dance hall in the center of town, making the Dutch capital an important travel destination for queer Brits, Germans, and Frenchmen. The world's first leather bar and first gay sauna soon followed.

Add national antidiscrimination and hate-crimes laws and the 1987 unveiling of The Homomonument, remembering those persecuted because of their sexuality, another world first, and Amsterdam's reputation as a free and liberal city, the "gay capital of the world," was all but cemented.

In 1998, the first Gay Games were held in the city. In 2001, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen became a part of gay rights history by personally officiating at the first four same-sex marriages performed under the Netherlands' groundbreaking marriage equality law.

Four years later, some bad news came. Chris Crain, then the executive editor of the LGBT newspaper the Washington Blade, was severely beaten by a group of young Arabs ("with Moroccan features," he said) on a visit to Amsterdam.

There had been reports of antigay violence in the city before, but those were widely considered to be mere incidents. "Now," says Dennis Boutkan, the chairman of COC Amsterdam, "everyone recognized that there was a rise in antigay violence and something needed to be done about it."

The problem, many said, was with immigrants from conservative Islamic cultures. "Despite the fact that about 50% of antigay violence in the Netherlands is attributed to [ethnically] Dutch perpetrators, the fact that Moroccan men [instigate] the better part of the rest of the offenses means they're hugely overrepresented," says Boutkan.

But the explanation that their tempers are ignited by public displays of homosexuality, simply because these are an affront to their religious beliefs, is not sufficient. For one thing, the other large group of Muslim immigrants, the Turkish-Dutch, do not show up much in hate-crime statistics, argues Boutkan.

Part One | Part Two

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