Dutch lawmakers concerned by rejection of gay brochure

Stephanie van den Berg | October 12, 2004

THE HAGUE — Dutch lawmakers called Monday for more money to promote gay emancipation, after reports that dozens of schools in the famously liberal Netherlands refused to accept a glossy brochure on homosexuality.

While Clemence Ross, the junior minister of welfare who is due Tuesday to present a report on gay emancipation, maintained that the process was very successful, a majority of parliament took the schools' refusal to be a sign that more still needs to be done.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriages in 2001 and has long been seen as a beacon of tolerance.

The government is proposing to reduce funding for gay emancipation, but in the wake of the row over the brochures, a majority of political parties in the parliament now say more money should be set aside.

"It is ridiculous that school management decides for their students that it is bad to read about homosexuality," a spokesman for the opposition Labour party told the ANP news agency.

"The Netherlands is not tolerant enough by far to cut back on funding for (gay) emancipation," said Ruud Luchtenveld of the parliamentary faction of the Liberals, part of the ruling coalition.

The parliament will debate with Ross about gay emancipation and funding on Tuesday after she presents her report.

The controversy began in October when the gay youth magazine Expreszo sent a special issue, financed in part by the Dutch ministry of education, to almost every Dutch secondary school.

Expreszo's editor in chief Merijn Henfling said Monday that dozens of schools had refused to take it.

"Mostly Christian schools or schools with a large population of students of foreign descent refused. They either said they did not want to discuss homosexuality in this way or expressed fear about a possible negative reaction from students and parents," Henfling said.

Expreszo published a reaction from one Rotterdam school on its website which read: "I do not appreciate receiving your magazine without asking for it. I can only imagine the reactions of most of the parents of our students of foreign descent."

A Protestant school said the magazine was not in line with its "Protestant character" and that it did not want its students to be informed about homosexuality "in such a casual manner".

According to Expreszo publishers, the magazine was deliberately toned down for the school campaign and focused on heterosexual attitudes towards gays.

Although the magazine received 20 angry responses, Henfling said it was likely that many more schools had discarded the magazine without contacting him.

He said it showed that the Netherlands still has a long way to go on the subject of gay emancipation, especially among young people.

"The Netherlands is not the gay paradise everybody thinks. Just because we have laws allowing same sex marriages and all that doesn't mean that people's moral principles have adapted," Henfling added.

"Everywhere in the world it is the same: if you're young and gay while everyone around you is heterosexual it is very difficult to come out. In school the universal rule is: if you don't fit in, you get picked on."

A study carried out by Expreszo – which in Dutch roughly translates as 'On Purpose' – 40 percent of gay students polled said they felt discriminated against. – Sapa-AFP

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