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Rainbow flags flying at NWO/NWO-I during Coming Out Day

Column David van Walderveen: ‘In the knowledge that we define what is normal’

Wednesday 11 October is Coming Out Day, a day for devoting attention to the moment that lesbian women, gay men, bisexuals, transgender, intersex, queer and asexual persons (LGBTIQA+) openly express their sexual orientation or gender identity: the coming out.
NWO/NWO-I celebrates Coming Out Day this year by flying the rainbow flag at all NWO Institutes and the offices in Utrecht and The Hague. This year, NWO-I colleague David van Walderveen (policy officer DIFFER) wrote a personal column about Coming Out Day.

When I was even younger and naiver than I am now, I used to think that LGBTIQA+ rights would automatically improve over time. A linear regression, diagonally upwards until the line ultimately reached the top right-hand corner of the graph and made this process superfluous. Yet that proved not to be the case. The Netherlands is no longer in the top 10 of European countries with legislation that has a positive effect for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and asexual persons [1]. Online and in-person violence is on the rise and emancipation is increasingly dismissed as the imposition of a woke agenda [2]. How come?

The collection of the Rijksmuseum reveals that people have had an inconsistent opinion about LGBTIQA+ rights for centuries [3]. The Ancient Greeks were not in the slightest bit interested in who you desired and the term homosexuality only came into use decades later. Apollo played around with a handsome Spartan prince, and the child of the Greek gods Hermes and Aphrodite had both male and female sexual characteristics. They called the child Hermaphroditus. If Apollo and Hermaphroditus had been born in the Southern Netherlands of the late Middle Ages, they would have had to prepare themselves for a one-way ticket to be burnt at the stake. Nowadays, after a brief identity crisis, Apollo and Hermaphroditus would come out as queer and non-binary, respectively.

Many sociologists have got their teeth into the question: 'Why do opinions about amorous relationships and gender fluctuate over the years?' My favourite sociologist, and I hope that he also identifies himself as such, taught me that it seems that European values – such as respect for the individual, freedom and tolerance - have acquired the status of an optional luxury[4]. As long as things are going well for Joe Public, then he couldn’t care less about what Jane and Jenny are getting up to in their apartment in the Amsterdam neighbourhood Rivierenbuurt. However, as soon as things are going less well - for example, due to a pandemic, war or rocketing inflation - then denouncing Jane and Jenny becomes a safety valve for his frustration.

There are more than enough developments that will give scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers and Joe Public a headache in the coming years. The pressure in our collective pressure cooker will only increase, as equally the need to pay attention to the pressure valve.

Tomorrow is Coming Out Day. The founders of this day held the view that visibility would increase both understanding and acceptance. This line of thought was supported by numerous scientific studies into the psychological phenomenon termed the 'Contact Hypothesis': personal contact between two different groups reduces the prejudices about the other group. Hurray! Personally, however, I have doubts about the effectiveness of days such as Coming Out Day. It feels contrived and slightly uncomfortable, especially a week after Animal Day and two days before World Egg Day. Yet, at the same time, I'd rather base my opinion on scientific research than on my own gut feelings.

Therefore, knowing that visibility increases acceptance and progress does not occur automatically, I am glad to work for an organisation committed to diversity and inclusion. An organisation where employees are compensated for the time that they invest in organising seminars about LGBTIQA+ related subjects, for example. An organisation where transgender leave has been included in the collective labour agreement for individuals whose gender does not agree with their genitalia and an organisation where the rainbow flag always flies.

History teaches that it is necessary to strongly anchor human rights in all possible institutions and instruments that we have for doing so. Dismissing the anchoring, expansion and celebration of acquired freedoms as irrelevant or a hassle is not just naive, it is also dangerous. Every day, we jointly determine what is and is not normal through what we say, do and write. Therefore, with this column, I'd like to make use of this podium to promote a world in which pride parties and boys with pearl necklaces and nail varnish are normal; but that could also be because I’m still single. The wish is the father of the ideas.

This column was written for Coming Out Day. David van Walderveen is a member of the Diversity and Inclusion team at DIFFER. NWO/NWO-I regularly devotes attention to meaningful days to increase awareness around diversity and inclusion. Would you like to know more about the initiatives taken in the area of diversity and inclusion at NWO/NWO-I, or do you have any suggestions? Then please contact Judith Kreukels (Project leader Diversity & Inclusion at NWO-I) or Anneke Bloemen (Project leader Diversity & Inclusion at NWO).

[1] ILGA-Europe. (2023).

[2] Van Dijk, R., Hofman, E., Ruiter, S., & Veerbeek, J. (2023, 6 September). 'Tijd voor geweld tegen deze lui' [Time to use violence against these people].

[3] Rijksmuseum. (n.d.).

[4] Ossewaarde, M. Theorizing European Societies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


Confidental Infomation