Visible in the city
In 1979, COC Utrecht moved into its own building at 221 Oudegracht. For years, it was buzzing with activities (mixed and separate for women) and the meeting center evenings were well attended. In the nineties, COC ran into financial problems and had to sell its building in 2007. From 2012, COC Midden-Nederland is again a stable organization that focuses mainly on advocacy and support for vulnerable LGBTIQ+.
Opening with demonstration
After an extensive renovation – based on a design by the well-known Utrecht architect Mart van Schijndel – Mayor Vonhoff (VVD) opened COC’s new home on Saturday, March 31, 1979. The Oudegracht 221 building had a spacious entrance with a counter and a quiet sitting area, a large wharf cellar with bar and dance floor and a separate meeting room on the first floor.
During the festive week, COC organized the first gay demonstration in Utrecht (past the Saturday shoppers in the city center to Domplein (cathedral square). Other notable program elements included a football match (with drinks afterwards) against the nearby Center for Working Youth (to build a good relationship with potential troublemakers), an evening about gay history, a reception for welfare workers and a book exhibition in the public library. After almost 30 years, COC Utrecht was above ground for the first time. It took some getting used to for some Utrecht residents. In the first year, the windows were smashed several times and replaced by artificial glass.
Dozens of active members
COC Utrecht flourished in the early 1980s like never before. Dozens of members were active in working groups that kept the meeting center running four evenings a week. The working group members introduced new COC members and guided them in discussion groups (men and women separately). Others provided assistance or filled up its magazine Seku (later Pension Parkzicht (‘Boarding House Park View’). A working group provided information to various groups (from students and housewives to police officers and psychology students). Others represented the regional department at national COC conferences. Every month, representatives of all those groups met in the working group council, where sometimes fierce discussions took place about whether or not to take action, how to deal with aggressive visitors and the right to exist of a working group for atheist faggots ‘BARK’ (Werkgroep Atheïstische Flikkers / WAF).
Saturday Women’s Night
More than ever before, women literally and figuratively requested and were given space within COC, although this was not without a struggle. After fierce debates and an extra members’ meeting, Saturday evening became women’s night. It was initially a success, which was not true of the barely used ‘darkroom’ for women on the first floor. In addition to a mixed board, COC Utrecht department was given a women’s consultation from 1982, a structure that would last for ten years.
The eighties were also characterized by the many actions that took place. Utrecht fags and pots were present in large numbers during the Pink Saturday in 1982 in Amersfoort. There, the demonstrators were harassed by aggressive young people, while many elderly people were verbally abusive. The events in Amersfoort led to new political awareness and ultimately to a broad government policy against discrimination and violence. The first Pink Saturday took place in Utrecht in 1986, while a year later, on the initiative of the COC women’s group ‘Pot op’ (an alliteration for dike, fuck off and hoard) and others, a torchlight procession was organized to the palace of Roman Catholic Cardinal Simonis on the Maliebaan. He had said in an interview that a Catholic landlord was allowed to evict a homosexual tenant.
In the nineties, COC Utrecht ran into financial problems due to declining bar income – there was now a lot of competition from De Roze Wolk, Pann and other gay bars – rising rent debts and financial mismanagement. The purchase of another, less expensive property failed and the plan to set up a Pink House in collaboration with the municipality and other organizations also failed. The Oudegracht 221 building was sold in 2007 and since then COC activities have taken place at various locations.
Meanwhile, in 2000, the national COC had changed from an association into a federation of autonomous local and regional groups. COC Utrecht merged with COC ‘t Gooi to COC Midden-Nederland. In 2020, the thriving organization celebrated its 70th anniversary. She nowadays focuses on advocacy and support for vulnerable LHBTI, e.g. young people, the over-50s, women, refugees and people with a disability.
Maurice van Lieshout