Utrecht victims of 248bis
It is no longer possible to retrieve how many gay men and lesbian women in Utrecht have fallen victim to 248bis of the Criminal Code. Judging by the (incomplete) figures from the annual reports of the municipal police, there must have been several hundred. In the late 1930s and in the first ten years after the Second World War, detectives from the vice police in Utrecht actively searched for men who might be breaking the law. To this end, they posted at homosexual meeting places and checked the COC and a few bars for the presence of underage boys. Lesbian women only seemed to be targeted if they were reported.
Between 1946 and 1957, the Utrecht police drew up 111 official reports in connection with violations of Article 248bis, 60 percent of which occurred in the years 1946-1949. If no minors were involved, homosexual men could also be arrested for ‘public indecency’ (article 239) or violation of the ‘urinal ban’ from the general police regulation (staying longer than three minutes in a public urinal, of which there were still quite a few in the city at the time). The urinal ban was introduced after a municipal commission found in 1949 ‘that public urinals are being seriously abused in this municipality. Evil appears to occur, both on the surface and on the underground places. In one of these urinals, no fewer than 26 males were recently arrested over a period of 5 weeks.’ After the ban was introduced that same year (1949), 88 men were arrested in connection with ‘homosexual acts committed in those places’.
‘The Bowler Hats’
Ever since the 1930s, detectives from the Utrecht vice squad have been keeping a close eye on homosexual meeting places. Two of them, the gentlemen Vos and Duklo, were known as ‘the Bowler Hats’ and, according to a former colleague, ‘they really hunted gays’. They did this, among other things, from a window of a mustard factory and through a slit ‘at gulp height’ in the wall joints of the Irenehal of the Jaarbeurs. These observation posts provided a view of the urinal that was known among gays as ‘de Mosterd’ (on the Nieuwekade, barely 100 meters from the police headquarters) and the waterhole on the Vredenburg. Sometimes a detective would take himself into a piss box, relieve himself there and arrest a man who showed interest in his male member.
List of ‘2200 Gays’
Anyone who came into contact with the Utrecht vice police, even if no official report was drawn up, ended up in a registration system that, according to a head of department in a letter from 1967, contained the data of ‘approx. 2200 – suspected homosexuals’. The (very incomplete) police archive contains a single letter in which a police officer provides information from this to third parties. However, there is no indication that the registration was actively used to exclude homosexuals from government services, state-owned companies and large companies, as happened in Amsterdam.
Acquitted after five months in custody
The citizens of Utrecht accused of violating 248bis included the ex-reverend Hubertus Johannes Schouten (1865-1936), who had – previously been known as Mr. G. Helpman – had published some brochures against the new law and against the danger of blackmail. He knew from his own experience that sexual contacts with someone younger than 21 could be dangerous. In 1904 he terminated his membership of the Dutch Reformed Church after a conflict with the Utrecht church council. That revolved around his relationship with two soldiers from Harderwijk. Two years earlier he had already been suspended after an affair with a Betuwe gardener’s son.
In October 1911, Schouten was one of the first to be confronted with Article 248bis for committing ‘lewd acts’ with a 15-year-old boy. Panicked, he fled abroad and began a wandering existence. Back in the Netherlands, he was immediately arrested in October 1915 and taken into preventive custody. After five months in the Amsterdam House of Detention, he was released and acquitted a month later because the fornication committed could not be proven ‘conclusively’. Schouten could not claim compensation for the five months he spent in prison. A regulation for this was only introduced in 1926.
Student petition for gay professor
The Utrecht professor of Celtic languages Anton Gerard van Hamel (1886-1945) was more fortunate. After being blackmailed by a few underage boys at the end of 1928, he called the police himself. It came to a case, Van Hamel was sentenced to a fine but acquitted on appeal. For some members of the board of trustees of the Utrecht University (an executive council with non-university members) and the Minister of Education, this was not the end of the matter. As a gay lecturer, Van Hamel was seen as a danger to his male students and a disgrace to academic education. Their attempts failed to persuade him to resign after his acquittal. This was largely due to a petition signed by 45 arts students requesting that Van Hamel resume his lectures and to a unanimous statement to the same effect by the senate of the university.
The student petition was drawn up by Piet Meertens, then assistant at the university library, later a folklorist and director of the Institute for Dialectology, Folklore and Onomastics, which was founded in 1948. Most people now know him as the novel character Beerta from the novel cycle The Bureau (1996-2000) by J.J. Voskuil. Meertens himself was convicted in 1941 for violation of Article 248bis in a case that had occurred two years earlier. For the sexual contacts he had with a then 16-year-old from 1933 onward, he received a prison sentence of six months less pre-trial detention (which had lasted more than four months).
Utrecht Women’s Football Association
A remarkable case in which a resident of Utrecht was convicted of a violation of 248bis is that of a 31-year-old bookbinder from 1962-1963. She was a member of the Utrecht Women’s Football Association and would not be the only one there who was ‘affected with homosexual tendencies’. She came into contact with the police and the judiciary when a father reported that his 20-year-old daughter – also a member of the football club – had not come home on the evening of September 2, 1962. A day later, his daughter, who had now emerged, told the police that she had been having sexual contact with the bookbinder for about a year and a half. She confirmed this to the police and added that she had previously been friends with a then minor domestic help. That girl was also invited to the police station where she reluctantly admitted the sexual contact. The bookbinder was finally sentenced in September 1963 to a three-month suspended prison sentence with three years’ probation. The fact that she did not receive an unconditional sentence was probably due to reports from two psychiatrists and the Catholic Probation Association declaring her less responsible because of a ‘disorder in personality development’.
Maurice van Lieshout