COC Nederland (officially: Federation COC Netherlands) or COC for short, is a Dutch interest organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and Intersex individuals. By 2020, the federative association COC Netherlands included twenty local COC associations, which together have approximately 8,000 members.
The COC Netherlands federation is active in many areas, with an emphasis on young adults, elders, political advocacy, safety, culture and faith, and international advocacy. The practical implementation of this is also achieved by the local associations, which also function as meeting places for the local LGBTI community. It is the oldest existing LGBTQIA+ organization in the world.
The COC can be seen as the successor to the Nederlandsch Wetenschappelijk Humanitair Komitee (NWHK), which was founded in 1912 by Jacob Schorer. The purpose of this committee was to combat legal inequalities between heterosexual and homosexual peoples and to inform them about the nature of love from man to man or woman to woman. The NWHK was disbanded during the German invasion on 10 May 1940.
Closely involved with the NWHK was Jaap van Leeuwen, who, together with Nico Engelschman and Hann Diekmann, had founded his own magazine for homosexual men in 1939 under the name Levensrecht. The first issue appeared in March 1940, but shortly after the appearance of the third issue, the German invasion took place and contacts between the members of the fledgling movement were broken.
After the end of the Second World War, in September 1946, the monthly magazine started to appear again. From the circle of readers, the Shakespeare Club was founded on December 7, 1946. This happened with a meeting in café "De la Paix" at Leidsestraat 67–71 in Amsterdam, where about 150 people were present, the largest number of gays that had gathered in the Netherlands until then.
The initiators of the Shakespeare Club were the aforementioned Nico Engelschman and Jaap van Leeuwen, supplemented by Jo van Dijk, who acted as treasurer. Nico Engelschman became the first chairman under the pseudonym Bob Angelo. The Shakespeare Club was renamed "Cultuur en ontspanningscentrum" (COC for short) in February 1949, which was intended as a "cover" name for its real purpose. At that time, the association had about 1000 members, making it the largest gay organization in the world both in absolute and relative terms.
The objectives of the COC were twofold: on the one hand, the movement wanted to contribute to social emancipation, on the other hand, it wanted to offer culture and relaxation to gay men and lesbians.
Social emancipation focused on abolishing Article 248bis of the Criminal Code. This article was introduced in 1911 and punished same-sex sexual contacts between the ages of 16 and 21 with a maximum imprisonment of four years. In the early years, the authorities kept the activities of the Shakespeare Club and the COC keep a close eye on it: the association constantly felt the hot breath of Article 248bis on its neck. Most of the gatherings were spied on by plainclothes agents. Nevertheless, the COC expanded to The Hague and Rotterdam, and later also to Utrecht and Arnhem. In other cities, such as Groningen, Leeuwarden and Eindhoven, attempts by homosexuals to organize themselves initially met with opposition from the local authorities.
In 1951 an international conference of European gay organizations was organized at the initiative of the chairman of the COC in Amsterdam. This resulted in the establishment of the International Committee for Sexual Equality (ICSE).
An important consequence of the activities of the COC in the 50s and 60s a subculture with bars and dance halls emerged, in contrast to the situation before the Second World War, where homosexuals had to meet each other mainly in parks, on the street and in urinals. In 1962 Benno Premsela - who emphatically did not want to use a pseudonym - took the torch from Bob Angelo as chairman of the COC about. Premsela was also the first homosexual in the Netherlands to be recognizable in newspapers, magazines and on television, so without a bar over his eyes, or filmed from the back, as was customary. Under his leadership, the organization became increasingly prominent. This became apparent, among other things, from the name change that took place in 1964: the Cultuur en ontspanningscentrum became the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Homofielen COC, which clearly shows for the first time that it is an association for homosexuals. The well-known name COC remained.
|Please take note:|
|Though used as a way of reclamation, this section contains derogatory terms for homosexuals. Reader discretion is advised.|
In the 1970s, homosexuality became more widely accepted. In the churches, the medical world and society as a whole, opposition waned. This led to the abolition of Article 248bis (a controversial law discriminating against the LGBTQIA+ community) in 1971 and the official recognition of the COC in 1973: after previous rejections in 1963 and 1967, the COC acquired legal personality, so that subsidies could also be applied for. Since 1971, the COC has been known in full as the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Integratie van Homoseksualiteit COC (N.V.I.H.-COC).
The 1970s were also a period of radicalization. Until then, the COC had mainly focused on the adaptation of homosexuals to a heterosexual environment, but more and more voices were raised that demanded a place for homosexuals in society, alongside heterosexuals and while retaining their own identity.
Organizations that emphasized the development of their own homosexual identity included the Studenten Werkgroepen Homoseksualiteit in the late 1960s and the radical lesbian and gay groups founded in the mid-1970s, such as the Lesbische Beweging, the Rooie Flikkers (located in Nijmegen), the Roze Driehoek (located in Eindhoven) and the Flikkerfront (located in Amsterdam).
1980s and 1990s
In the 1980s – the years in which AIDS made its appearance worldwide – the Dutch government accepted the COC as a discussion partner in the field of gay affairs. After a long struggle, the Algemene Wet Gelijke Behandeling was passed in 1993, in which, among other things, discrimination on the basis of sexual preference was banned.
Nevertheless, one of the greatest achievements of gay emancipation, the opening up of civil marriage to same-sex couples in 2001, must be mainly attributed to the Gay Krant.
The current focus of the COC is best described in their own words: "From the first years of the 21st century, the COC has been pushing for a third phase in LGBTI emancipation. After the end of the criminalization (Article 248-bis, first phase) and the largely achievement of equal rights (opening marriage, second phase), the COC advocates the pursuit of social acceptance (third phase). The non-discrimination norms enshrined in law must now also be reflected in the very capillaries of society. The highlight for the time being in this endeavor is that information about LGBTI people has been compulsory at every school in the Netherlands since 2012, after years of pleading by the COC. At the insistence of the COC, the government also developed a strong LGBTI emancipation policy".
On November 22, 2016, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands paid a visit to the COC. According to chairwoman Tanja Ineke, it was "the first time in the world that a crowned head of state has visited the LGBTQIA+ community."
Below is a list of websites belonging to the COC and its work groups.