Over the past year, there have been a number of cases reported in the Dutch media of gay couples being harassed to such an extent that they have sold up and moved elsewhere in The Netherlands. Such cases usually occur in the housing areas of the large cities, such as Utrecht and The Hague, where you can get very different cultural and ethnic communities living cheek-by-jowl.
The latest case was reported last Friday, and I was somewhat surprised to learn that it happened just eleven km. down the road in Ulft, a little town of about 11,000 people. We live in the same municipality, and I was pleased to read in the local paper today (and on the council’s website) a statement on the case from the Mayor. It’s worth quoting in full:
Perhaps you too have seen this on TV or read it in the newspaper in the last week. A homosexual couple will be moving out of our community. They have been harassed for years. Last Friday I spoke with one of them. He stated that he had repeatedly called the police and had also tried to pass their complaints about harassment to me. Only after four calls to the municipality’s office was an appointment made. By that time, they had already decided to move. Because they were so upset that they felt compelled to leave their beloved Ulft, they made the media aware of their displeasure.
Apparently their complaint over harassment was not taken seriously enough for a meeting with me or the police. I want this to occur in the future. Meanwhile, I have made an agreement with the police that they are more alert over bullying, and over cases reported. In the Municipal Office, we will also be more alert. The Police have found no reports and the complaint is not known to the police on the beat. It is not an unwillingness of the police or municipalities, but bullying can be underestimated.
The lesson for me is: when people call with complaints about bullying, then it deserves more attention than this couple has received. We shall be more alert. I find it too crazy for words that people were bullied out of their village because they are ‘different’. Let’s be on our guard about this, so that respect and tolerance are important values and remain so in our communities. We are jointly responsible for ensuring that everyone has a place, regardless of origin, race, orientation or religion. Everyone needs a safe place to live in and to live. If that is not the case then we must, depending on the specific conditions, get around the table and look together at what can be done. I want to know how many bullying problems there are. Therefore I make this appeal to you.
Are you being bullied or know of situations where something like this is happening? I hope that you will report this to me. Naturally I will respect your confidentiality.
I like the fact that the Mayor has looked beyond the fact that the trigger here was a case of harassment of a gay couple, and used it to assert that harassment of anyone ‘different’ in the community is unacceptable. Quite right too.