248bis Protest

The student protest that brought down a homophobic law

248bis passed:
May 20, 1911
248bis protest:
January 21, 1969
Demonstrators in the Hague disputing the 248bis laws
Jac. de Nijs, Nationaal Archief / Anefo

248bis Protest

The student protest that brought down a homophobic law

248bis passed:
May 20, 1911
248bis protest:
January 21, 1969
Demonstrators in the Hague disputing the 248bis laws
Jac. de Nijs, Nationaal Archief / Anefo

248bis Protest's Connection to this Location

Provo Statue located on western end of Spui

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The Spui

For much of the 20th century, the Spui was a place for young people to protest. The statue in front of the Athenaeum Bookstore was where a hippie performance art/protest group held mock rituals. The Maagdenhuis, that big red brick building across the square, has been occupied several times by students protesting fees and conditions at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), with the first in May of 1969. In January of that year, Amsterdam students were some of the 100 who made up the first gay public protest in the Netherlands. Perhaps some UvA students participated in both.

The Story

There had been anti-gay laws during the medieval period and for most the Dutch Republic. When the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established after Napoleon’s invasion, all of the preexisting laws were swept away, including the anti-gay laws. In 1911, the Dutch Christian cabinet passed a Morality Act criminalizing prostitution, gambling, abortion, openly selling contraceptives, and making or distributing pornography, though owning it remained legal. One provision also made the age of consent 16 for heterosexual contact and 21 for homosexual contact.

This provision, called 248bis, had several implications beyond criminalizing teenage relationships. Police used enforcement of 248bis to break up gay gatherings and harass patrons at gay bars, under the guise of searching for minors. More than 5,000 people were arrested this way. Vice squads kept photo books of suspected LGBT+ people, which were sometimes used to out them to landlords and employers. Teens and university students were not allowed to join the COC, the world’s longest-standing gay rights group.

Throughout the 1960s, the gay rights movement was starting to gain momentum. In 1967, Amsterdam LGBT+ youths founded a group called Zoos, which was then copied in cities like Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague. The following year, students in the 12 major university towns, including Amsterdam, founded the Federation of Gay Student Work Groups (FSWH) whose goal was: “To break through the existing (false) tolerance towards homosexuality, and to make way for the actual integration of homosexuality in society.” They rejected their elders’ belief in gaining equality by staying in line, believing that they would get equal rights only if they openly demanded them.

The FSWH believed in integration through confrontation. That meant organizing public kiss-ins and same-sex couples dancing together at clubs. It also meant organizing the country’s first public gay rights protest. Over 100 students gathered at the Binnenhof, the heart of the Dutch government in The Hague, to publicly call for the end of the article. They were led by a lesbian named Joke Swiebel who had herself been turned away by the COC when she reached out to them when she was 19. 248bis was removed in 1971, and the FSWH was eventually absorbed into a more activist COC.

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