A gay couple was walking home in a provincial town, holding hands. They encountered a group of youths who started shouting homophobic slurs, then beat up the two men. One man was hit with a bolt cutter in the face and lost four teeth. Both received blows and were kicked while lying on the ground.
A rainbow over a typical Dutch shopping street in Amsterdam. © Boris Dittrich/Human Rights Watch
This happened Sunday in the Netherlands, a country known for its LGBT-friendly laws and policies. In 2001, Netherland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. The Netherlands has many openly lesbian, gay and bisexual role models in politics, business, religious denominations, sports, media, entertainment and other parts of society. And yet, violent incidents like this one occur on a regular basis - 1,574 reports of homophobic violence last year, compared to 428 in 2009.
After the media reported Sunday's violence, four suspects turned themselves in at a police station and were interrogated. Three of them are 16-years-old, one is 14.
Dutch authorities take homophobic violence seriously. The police have a special squad called "Pink Police Force" of LGBT police officers and allies who specialize in investigating these types of incidents. Politicians denounced Sunday's violence. Two heterosexual politicians from the social liberal party D66 walked to parliament holding hands while giving interviews to the media in support of an anti-violence campaign, launched by the Dutch LGBT group COC.
But in spite of all this, violent incidents and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity keep happening. It reminds us that emancipation of LGBT people and equal rights are not things that can be "achieved" and then forgotten. No, society needs to combat discrimination and violence and build tolerance on an ongoing basis - everyday.
Anti-discrimination courses in public and private schools in the country need to be intensified and special attention given to raising consciousness in migrant communities and empowering LGBT people from those communities. Surveys by the Dutch government suggest that acceptance of LGBT people in these communities is lower than in the Dutch population as a whole.
(c) 2017 Human Rights Watch