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Gay Politician in Uncertain Times

by Martin Maassen in Films & Books , 27 september 2016


Just as God created Adam and Eve, there must have been a parliamentarian who was the first ever to “come out of the closet.” According to American political scientist Andrew Reynolds, that was Coos Huijsen (1939), who briefly was an MP for the Christelijk-Historische Unie (Christian Historical Union; CHU). This partly consisted of the mostly Dutch-reformed branch of what became CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) in 1980. Huijsen wrote the autobiography “Homo politicus” about his life, being gay (and practicing it), and especially his role as a gay activist.

A Traveled Stone With Some Sensitivity to Male Eroticism

Huijsen was born in Oude Tonge on the “strict protestant” island of Goeree-Overflakkee in the province South-Holland. “They all know each other,” and according to Huijsen “hypocrisy is the lubricant of these kinds of societies.” His parents divorced in 1941, and in those times, they looked at divorced women “with suspicion.” The social environment Huijsen grew up in was “simple, enlightened, Protestant (reformed)” - a “broad-minded climate,” although his grandmother was orthodox, but blessed with a good sense of reality. Coos has a German soldier to thank for his first “somewhat erotic sensation”: “Sitting on his knee, I felt his thigh through his uniform and I liked the feeling.”

Coos discovered at the age of six “some sensitivity to male eroticism” when the tight buttocks of a young Canadian officer drew his attention. Because his mother accepted work at various places in the country, Coos moved several times during his primary school period. He felt like a “traveled stone” that would always stay an outsider. Although homosexuality in the 1940s was still taboo, it did exist. They spoke while sniggering and with condescension and mockery about Gerrit Breur, the shoemaker (“a most amiable man with a somewhat feminine manner and talk”), and “Koosje Patat,” a local chips stand owner.

Fight the Homosexual Slick

In the 1950s, there was “a very negative atmosphere around homosexuality.” In the Netherlands, there was the infamous article of law 248bis, introduced by a denominational government in 1911. It penalized adults who engaged in sexual contact with a minor under twenty-one years “when it concerns same-sex partners.” (According to Huijsen a similar “Section 175” was abolished in Germany, but he is mistaken. This criminal law article in the German Penal Code was only abolished in 1994, thanks to the liberal legislation in the former G.D.R.).

In 1948, the Amsterdam public prosecutor Wassenberg argued in favor of the criminalization of homosexuality: “Homosexual intercourse acts as a slick, one homosexual often succeeds in contaminating a large number of people.” In France, the right-wing government of President de Gaulle stuck to the anti-gay actions of the Vichy government and in America, Senator McCarthy saw “communism and homosexuality as equally corrosive to society.” The British mathematician Alan Turing was convicted in 1952 for “overt homosexuality.” He chose involuntary chemical castration and committed suicide in 1954.

Brave Men

In the Netherlands Jacob Anton Schorer early on initiated a form of gay emancipation through the creation of the “Wetenschappelijk Humanitair Komitee” (Scientific Humanitarian Committee). The magazine “Levensrecht” was published, also because of author and resistance fighter Niek Engelschman. He saw the rights of homosexuals in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Somewhat camouflaged gay entertainment venues (including café ’t Mandje on the Zeedijk and the Odeon Kring on the Singel) appeared.

“Homophile” was used as a term to remove the sexual overtones from the discussions about same-sex love, and in the world of literature, there was the “moral wrenching” of Gerard van het Reve. Benno Premsela became president of the gay rights organization COC in 1962. He was “the first homosexual to openly appear on television without a bar before his eyes, or any camouflage whatsoever.” The Protestant minister Alje Klamer was the first to pray for homosexuals on the radio.

From Severely Depressed to Christian Politician

Nearing his eighteenth birthday, Huijsen gets “severely depressed, nearly suicidal.” He had no structure in his life and decided to go to catechism with a Protestant minister from Amsterdam. He was confirmed in 1958: “To me, neither individual man nor society, culture and art could exist without religious inspiration.” After Reformed Teacher Training College (led by the eminent CHU politician Johan van Hulst) and compulsory military service (where he met the late gay activist Walter Camp) Huijsen eventually studied Historical Science. Coos Huijsen ultimately chose membership of the CHU because “the Christian concept of solidarity in a people’s party” appealed to him. In retrospect he labels his political choice “rather theoretical.” He became president of the Christelijk-Historische Jongeren Organisatie (CHJO) and by doing so an outsider in Amsterdam standards. “I sublimated my ass off.” He did not know of the existence of homosexuals in his own circles, but as it turned out later, all presidents of the three confessional youth organizations were gay.

‘Wrong Koos’

The higher Huijsen rose in the hierarchy of the party, the more personal it got. “There was an unprecedented flow of gossip and slander.” Following the rumors, the “Haagse Post” published an article in 1971 entitled “Wrong Koos.” In June 1972 he joined the House of Representatives through interim succession, only to lose his seat in the 1973 elections. As a homosexual, Huijsen remained in the closed (“I nearly suffocated”). After his first experiences as an MP, his life took a dramatic turn.

A friend from the CHJO brought him into contact with a student who talked candidly about his coming out. It was the last needed push, and Huijsen started visiting gay venues. “All of them gay men... There were so many, and they seemed so happy.” On tram 24, he noticed a “beautiful young man in his early twenties,” and when he met him later on at a party, both of them were sold. Lank would become his life partner. He experienced his coming out at age thirty-three “as a second birth.”

With the CHU not being a part of the progressive Den Uyl government in 1973, Huijsen broke the ties with his party. But because he was still on the list of potential MPs, he briefly re-entered parliament as an MP (up to 1977) as a one-man fraction, seated next to the reactionary Catholic Klaas Beuker (Roman Catholic Party of the Netherlands; RKPN), who strongly opposed “the sin of homosexuality.” After his second, again brief period as a Member of Parliament Huijsen became a history teacher and eventually the headmaster of the comprehensive school Gerrit van der Veen in Amsterdam South.

Gay Activist

In 1977, Huijsen was one of the founders of Stichting Vrije Relatierechten (Free Relationship Rights Foundation; SVR), which only existed briefly as a “supplement” to the COC. He became chairman of the board, which also includes Henk Krol and Walter Kamp. Huijsen also became a member of the board of the Schorerstichting and president of the Municipal Working Group Gay Emancipation in Amsterdam.

With many examples he describes how the climate regarding homosexuality changed completely, and the role he played in this. In 1987, the Homomonument was unveiled at the Amsterdam Westermarkt, and in 1995 the Dutch parliament accepted the Equal Treatment Act. In this act, the prohibition of discrimination under Article 1 of the Constitution is worked out in articles which explicitly prohibit discrimination on grounds of homosexuality. In 2001, gay marriage was finally realized.

Free-Thinking Democracy in Danger

Through experiencing in the world around him, Huijsen increasingly realized that the free-thinking democracy of the Netherlands has come under pressure over the last decades. The atmosphere on the streets has become more rough, and there are more cases of acts of physical violence against gay people. “The demographic changes in recent decades have failed to strengthen a democratic and free-thinking sense of life.” This refers mainly to the arrival of many immigrants from Muslim countries.

At a certain time, Huijsen had to flee into a taxi after being chased by a group of Moroccan boys, but “ultra-homophobes” are also found elsewhere. And because gay emancipation demands “constant vigilance” while “a certain capriciousness in the public mood” is undeniable, Huijsen and life partner Lank Bos decided to start the foundation Het Blauwe Fonds in 2007. In the past “amour bleu” would have been a common term for homosexuality in France. Coos Huijsen is president of The Blue Fund because he is “worried about social developments.” Het Blauwe Fonds supports gay emancipatory organizations where there are “gaps.” The values of the free-thinking democracy need to be defended.
 








 
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