Stop imposing your imperialist Western transphobia on my people … 20 years of marriage equality: how the Dutch inspired the world


Stop imposing your imperialist Western transphobia on my people

Societies across the world acknowledged and celebrated gender-diverse communities – until the British arrived to impose their Victorian values.

Trans rights activists at a protest on 6 March 2021 – Ibrahim Oner / SOPA Images / ZUMA Wire / Alamy Live News

“Trans people have always existed, everywhere,” writes Arya Karijo. 

“We were mudoko dako for the Lango in Uganda, yan daudu for the Hausa in Nigeria. We were priestesses and priests for the Bunyoro in Uganda, a third gender for the Teso in Kenya.

We were eunuchs with powerful court positions in the Dahomey kingdom in Benin, and concubines in the Ashanti kingdom in Ghana. Native Americans thought of us as “two-spirit” people. Records of our existence go back centuries in Afghanistan, and many other countries,” she adds.

These are some of the discoveries that Arya, a Kenyan trans woman, made while on a quest to talk to other transgender people from places that share her country’s colonial past.

She found that there is a rich heritage of transgender people across many cultures that was concealed and criminalised by British colonial rulers.

Arya spoke to Nayyab Ali and Saro Imran, who belong to a gender-diverse community in Pakistan which has existed for thousands of years but was blacklisted by the UK’s Criminal Tribes Act in 1871.   

She heard from Yahyia Al-Zindani, who fled his home in Yemen because Houthi militia believe his kind are a foreign concept and want to kill him. 

Transgender women in Kuwait told her how they have resigned themselves to a punitive law against “imitating the other gender”, a vestige of prohibitions enforced by colonial missionaries. 

In her conversations with trans and non-binary people in the former British colonies, one thing became clear: that the way trans people are treated in the UK continues to affect trans communities elsewhere.

“When the British media obsesses over trans people, when British politicians question our rights, when prominent authors try to discipline the gender-diverse community, they perpetuate this colonial cruelty against us,” she writes. “Our existence is our truth. For centuries, your people have tried to erase us. But we won’t let you.”

20 years of marriage equality: how the Dutch inspired the world

Two decades after fighting for marriage equality, veteran gay rights activist Henk Krol reflects on that struggle, and shares his own wedding news.

The Netherlands was the first country to legalise gay marriage, 20 years ago – Matthew Chattle / Alamy Stock Photo

When same-sex marriage was legalised in the Netherlands twenty years ago, on 1 April 2001 – a world first – Dutch journalists weren’t planning to cover the story. Until they found out that dozens of newsrooms from around the world were sending cameras to capture the first wedding ceremonies.

Henk Krol, a veteran gay rights activist who fought for this historic legal change two decades ago, remembers the contrast between how it was seen in the Netherlands compared to internationally.

“People here were already used to [same-sex] marriage,” he explained. LGBT couples had held ‘wedding’ ceremonies for years, and registered partnerships for same-sex people were legalised in 1998. “But the fact that we were the first country to [grant marriage equality] was news.”

I grew up in the Netherlands, and fondly remember the wedding day of my parent’s close friends in the late 1990s. The two men had lived together since I was little, and their celebration was no different to me than any other wedding. But it wasn’t officially a marriage, it was a registered partnership.

Henk Krol

“I thought it was very insulting,” said Krol, about how the 1998 introduction of registered partnerships was seen as a victory for LGBT equality.

I don’t want a ‘registered partnership party’ or a ‘registered partnership trip’, but a real honeymoon. And above all, I don’t want a ‘registered partnership night’, but a wedding night. Because the other doesn’t seem as romantic.”

This wasn’t the only reason that Krol and other activists continued to fight for equal marriage rights. Registered partnerships not only have a different name, but they also grant fewer rights to couples and their children.

Registered partnerships, Krol explained, are contracts between two people, while marriage is different – it places obligations on others too.

“If two people get married at the town hall, then your employer suddenly has to deal with it, then the tax authorities have to deal with it,” he gave as examples. “That is what makes marriage so special.”

In the 1970s, when the fight for marriage equality in the Netherlands first gathered steam, Krol was also in touch with gay rights activists in the US. He helped to raise money for pro-equality adverts in the Miami Herald and Time magazine to combat attacks from anti-rights campaigners.

Krol had worked as a journalist and as a press officer for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). He managed to secure Amsterdam’s famous Royal Concertgebouw for a fundraising concert, along with the country’s most famous TV presenter at the time, Mies Bouwman, as host.

“Mies agreed in an instant. That meant that all the well-known Dutch artists of the time were also eager to take part,” Krol remembers. The Miami Nightmare concert was a big success, raising more money than needed for the ads. The rest went into other work to promote marriage equality.

Krol believes his political and media connections also helped him “to lobby much better than anyone else. It wasn’t so much a tremendous effort on my part, but a coincidence that helped the fight enormously.”

His advice for equal marriage campaigns in other countries is to “make it a broad political battle. Do not allow only left or right parties to vote in favour, make sure it is widely accepted. Because the people involved [the same-sex couples who want to marry] are both left- and right-wing supporters.”

After same-sex couples in the Netherlands gained the right to registered partnerships, not everyone wanted to fight for marriage equality.

Some saw the institution of marriage as “outdated”. But for Krol the point was not whether gay couples should get married, but whether they have equal rights to be able to marry. “You must first ensure that you can get married. If you are allowed to marry, you can then refuse marriage,” he insisted.

He gave another example of the same principle. “I’ve been a pacifist my whole life. I didn’t want to join the military. But when I was rejected [by the military] because of my homosexuality, I requested a re-examination […] I wanted to be approved, because I wanted to be able to refuse service.” Now, two decades after the world’s first legalisation of same-sex marriage – the Dutch LGBT rights milestone that inspired the world – Krol is preparing for his own wedding. “Because it’s been 20 years, I asked my partner Aldo to marry me,” he said. “After 20 years, I’m finally going to use it myself.”

Someone is decorating postboxes in Manchester!

One thought on “Stop imposing your imperialist Western transphobia on my people … 20 years of marriage equality: how the Dutch inspired the world

  1. The first time I went to Amsterdam was in 1998. I just came from Cuba, a homophobic communist dictatorship. They talked me about the homo monument of Amsterdam, the pink triangle. I laughed with the idea of a “homo monument”. The Dutch I was taking with told me, quite serious, that it was not a laughing issue. The monument is dedicated to the thousands of Dutch gays who died in Hitler’s concentration camps. Extensively, it is dedicated to all the people who suffer repression due to their sexual condition. As a Cuban, I understood perfectly. I was so ashamed that I still remember that. I apologized. The Dutch told me that it is incredible that only Amsterdam has a monument dedicated to repressed gay people. He was absolutely right!.


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