Roze in Blauw
Text JF. Pierets Photos Myriam Missana
There are several networks that focus on specific groups within the Amsterdam police force. One of these networks is ‘Roze in Blauw’ (freely translated as ‘Pink in Blue’). It promotes the interests of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans genders in- and outside of the police force. The members of Roze in Blauw are there for people who need to report discrimination, insult, abuse or theft because of their sexual orientation. They offer a listening ear and can refer or mediate when necessary. Et Alors? Magazine talks to Ellie Lust, spokeswoman of the Amsterdam police and president of Roze in Blauw.
In the beginning
Roze in Blauw started in 1998, the year the gay games came to Amsterdam. The numerous participants arrived from different parts of the world. Parts where homosexuality was a criminal offence, or where the death penalty was still sentenced. We thought about how we, as a police force, could let those people know that they were safe with us. We are talking about people who were locked up in psychiatry for 5 years, just because they were kissing someone of the same sex. One of the stories we were told was that twenty people would be trapped in one room and food was shoved under the door, until one day the door would open and they’d be thrown out without a single word of apology, or an explanation for that matter. Because the police would not usually be on their side, we found it quite important to create a safe haven for them to turn to, as you can imagine. The theme of those years Gay Games bethought Friendship, so we invented a slogan that said ‘Proud To Be Your Friend’. We felt we had to let all the guests know that they were welcome here and that they were safe with us. After the festivities ended, we realized there was a great need for a reporting point where people could tell their stories. We tried a lot of things: from consultation times at the COC to pre-announced hours by phone. It was only when we created a separate Roze in Blauw number that it finally started to work, because when people want to report an insult they don’t want to have to wait until office hours to do so. Yet it took until the Chris Crane incident for them to find their way towards us. The American journalist was molested in 2005, when he and his boyfriend walked on the streets of Amsterdam holding hands. Crane wrote about the assault in The Washington Blade, the gay magazine of which he was the editor in chief. “I hope our gay friends in Holland realize that it’s a bit too soon to declare victory and go home, now that they’ve won their legal battles”, he wrote, referring to same sex marriage being legal in the Netherlands. This incident put everything on a roller coaster and soon we had to submit a press release in which we stated that people, faced with violence or behaviour focused against their sexuality, could contact us via that special phone number. Although we were already there for about 8 years, the media picked it up as ‘Amsterdam Police Founded A Special Team’. Suddenly there was a Roze in Blauw team and they started asking us for advice. East European countries and the police top all over the world invite us to inform them on how we make contact with the community. I sometimes proudly call us ‘world champion’.
Facts and numbers
As from 1997 we effectively started to submit the indictments. What we see is that from ‘97 until now there’s an ascending line in violent incidents and other issues that people encounter; threats, discrimination and so on. In 2007, for example, we counted 234 incidents. Those are incidents in the broadest sense of the word; people who were threatened, both physically and psychologically. People who got eggs thrown against their windows or who got beaten up, all kinds of harassments. In 2008 we counted 300 incidents, 371 in 2009 and 487 in 2010. So we register 1 or 2 incidents per day in Amsterdam. Nevertheless, those numbers remain difficult because we never know if those increasing numbers are a sign of the times or because we’re profiling ourselves at almost each event in order to lower that threshold. Two years ago, Dutch newspaper Het Parool and the local news channel AT5 had a research program and one of the questions was, “Do you call the police when something happens to you?” It turned out that only 9% did. But does that mean that the violence is 11 times as high? As you can see, those numbers stay very objective.
There are various reasons why people don’t report sexually oriented discrimination. For instance, quite some men meet at gay spots but live a heterosexual life in their everyday reality. They don’t go to the police when they are violated. The shame factor is not to be underestimated, either. When you take a man home from a club and you get beaten up, it’s quite likely that it will flash your mind that people will think it’s your own fault. Women experience a different kind of violence. More often they will encounter sexist comments, such as “surely you never met a real man before” or “can I join?”. There are a lot of cases where women get seriously beaten up but the assault remains mostly verbal. We also experience that women don’t think it’s a big enough deal to go to the police and that’s bad because if they don’t report it, it didn’t happen. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t make a fuss about violence when they are gay or trans and that really ought to change.
‘I dream about ending the Roze in Blauw team, because that would mean that we no longer experience violence against homosexuality.’
Research to perpetrators of gay violence shows that religion has less of an influence than everybody thinks. Macho behaviour, on the other hand, is a very big problem. Young men of between 15 and 25 years old often can’t stand seeing other men behave in a more female way so they want to teach them a lesson in how to be a real man. Not only coloured people are guilty of such behaviour, the Dutch men are also represented.
The roze in blauw team
When people call our team they talk to someone with the same sexual orientation. That helps a lot when it comes to overcoming shame. In order to make the entire force aware of the problem, we now organize – together with COC Amsterdam – sensitivity training days. Until now it’s been very useful and beautiful. And of course there are moments when things go wrong but it’s quite clear how all policemen and -women think about inequality. Police work in general is about 80% behind closed doors. Most people have no idea because the only thing that’s out in the open is when we write a parking violation ticket. We do a lot of social work and next to our Roze in Blauw team we also have – amongst others – a Turkish, Antillean, Jewish and even a Christian network. You name it, we have it. Every specific force can be deployed in a particular problem. In the end, it’s all about connection. People from the outside can only connect with the police when there is certain recognition. In my opinion every police force in the world should be a reflection of the people in the street. That’s the only way to find each other and that’s the only way we can do our jobs properly.
Here and after
The Roze in Blauw team gives lectures all over the world. It’s a process where we take steps forward and the occasional step back. It’s not always easy and it’s a lot of work because next to being part of Roze in Blauw we are also just normal cops. I’m the spokeswoman of the Amsterdam police and the president of this special network. That makes for pretty long days but I cannot tell you how proud I am. I’ve been part of the police for almost 25 years now and I witness progress every day. Nevertheless, I dream about ending the Roze in Blauw team, because that would mean that we no longer experience violence against homosexuality.
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