Police get homosexuals out of the bushes
The most beautiful park in the centre of Amsterdam has a colourful mixture of visitors. But that includes gay men hiding in the bushes, and the police want them to come out into the open. By Willemien Groot
The most beautiful park in the centre of Amsterdam has a colourful mixture of visitors, especially in the summer. Parents with children, inline skaters who display their tricks in front of the film museum, joggers, couples walking hand in hand and ... gay men cruising in the rose garden.
As dusk falls, the Vondelpark has been a regular meeting place for men looking for a short and uncomplicated sexual encounter since time immemorial. Now the Amsterdam police are causing commotion because they want gay men to stop hiding in the bushes and come out into the open.
Gay sex in public is nothing new, but no-one wants to know about it. The popular singer George Michael made front-page news when he was arrested after making 'sexual advances' towards a police officer in plain clothes in a Los Angeles public toilet. And if sex in public is just going a step too far, there are always the "pink" neighbourhoods where gays and lesbians meet. Even the Catholic Mexico City has a Zona Rosa, with bars and discos for gays and lesbians. The Mexican police regularly raid them, but mainly because of under-age drinking and prostitution.
Out of sight
The Netherlands has dozens of parks and woodlands where homosexuals are "at large" looking for a bit of hanky panky. Amsterdam's Vondelpark is one of the best known locations. Randy men meet in the park's rose garden. Most Dutch people don't care, as long as the condoms are thrown away in the rubbish bin and the sexual activities stay out of the sight of the children in the playground opposite. Up to now, the police would only intervene if gays were found cruising outside the rose garden, but even that did not have priority.
However, in the last three years violence against homosexuals has increased. Gay bashing has become a growing problem, especially in Amsterdam. Teachers who are known to be gay are terrorised at schools. Gays and lesbians who walk hand in hand down the street can expect verbal or even physical abuse. In 2007, 20 homosexuals were beaten up so badly that they had to go to hospital.
The Amsterdam police are taking the increasing violence seriously, and have turned to unorthodox methods to catch the perpetrators. One such measure is gay bait - a police officer pretending to be a gay man. The method is a success. Another is the proposal not to fine people having sex in public in the Vondelpark. The police say it would be easier to protect gays if they cuddle in public. A quickie in the bushes, for fear of being fined, makes them easy prey for their attackers.
The Amsterdam proposal has been met with mixed reactions. Even parliament has got something to say about the issue. The leader of the parliamentary faction of the Christian Democrats, Pieter van Geel, fiercely opposes the plan. He is backed by the conservative Christian Union, which is totally against gay sex anyway, never mind in public. The Labour Party faction thinks it is mainly a problem for Amsterdam and is saying nothing. Opposition party VVD is irritated by the Christian Democrats' tendency to interfere in private matters. It thinks the Christian Democrats should stick to the issues they understand.
But if cruising is to be allowed in the Vondelpark, there are other park users with a different wish. One of the main annoyances of dog owners is that their pet has to be kept on a leash in that beautiful park, while our four-footed friends could have a great run around. Why should gays be let loose if dogs can't be? In other words, as one angry dog owner put it on television:
"If they can drop their trousers, why can't I let my dog loose?"
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]