On the day the Netherlands commemorates those who died in World War II, Boris Dittrich remembers a gay member of the Dutch resistance, shot dead 70 years ago.
In the night of March 27, 1943 a group of brave men and women in the Dutch Resistance, blew up part of the Register’s Office in Amsterdam.
They wanted to make it impossible for the German occupier to use the personal data from the register. They wanted to stop the hunt for Jews and the identification of political opponents. And they wanted to protect those Dutchmen who tried to defy German orders for mandatory work in Germany.
In history books the attack on the Register’s office has been contributed to Gerrit van der Veen’s leadership. Little known are the names of two people from the Resistance group who joined him: Frieda Belinfante and Willem Arondéus.
Frieda was a lesbian woman, Willem a gay man. Someone betrayed Willem and the Germans arrested him. Moments before they executed him, he spoke his last words to his lawyer, Lau Mazirel. She had to promise him ‘to tell people after the War that homosexual people are not less courageous than others.’
Willem Arondéus. Openly gay in a time where his sexual orientation was frowned upon even in artist circles. He gave his life fighting for his ideals. In July 1943 he was executed.
From Willem Arondéus to our time, 70 years later. In the Netherlands much has changed for the better. But from the 193 members states of the United Nations there are still more than 76 that criminalize homosexual conduct.
Although no pogroms of gays and lesbians take place – their situation is absolutely not comparable with the ordeal Jewish people had to undergo during the 2nd World War, gay men and lesbian women in those countries live under constant pressure.
Often I need to think about Willem Arondéus last words: homosexual people are not less courageous than others.
In Uganda I met David Kato, the leader of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement. He protested a new law proposal, the anti-Homosexuality Bill, which includes the death penalty.
David’s picture was printed on the cover of a trashy magazine under the caption: hang them! David showed courage. He sued the magazine, won the Court case, but was murdered soon after.
In Cameroon where homosexual conduct is criminalized, a young student sent a text message to a man: I have fallen in love with you. Someone betrayed him, he was arrested and received a prison sentence of 3 years.
His lawyer, a straight man with wife and kids, received death threats. The police looked the other way: don’t defend gays and you will be fine, was their advice. So a message of love gets you in prison, death threats go unpunished.
In Russia and Ukraine parliaments are discussing a propaganda bill. It is not allowed to publicly express a favorable opinion about homosexuality.
This speech would be illegal. I can be arrested, and you too, because you are listening to me. But also in these countries there are brave gay men and lesbian women. They show courage by defying these laws. They demonstrate against this violation of freedom of expression, like recently in St. Petersburg or in a few weeks time in Kiev.
Thinking about Willem Arondéus we respect his last words most by showing courage. By resisting injustice.
Every person can be courageous in his or her own way. When you hear discriminatory remarks, say something. It starts with saying no. No to injustice, no to homophobia. In that way we can build the future for which Willem Arondéus gave his life.
The future is not in front of us, it is inside of us.
This speech was made at the Gay Monument in Amsterdam on Remembrance Day, May 4.
Boris Dittrich is a former Dutch MP who initiated the country’s ground-breaking same sex marriage and adoption laws. Since 2007 he has worked as advocacy director for Human Rights’ Watch’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights programme.
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