APG wants to be an organization where everyone can be themselves. Always, all year round. But on occasion, like around Pride Amsterdam, we like to give it some extra attention. Our coworker Edith talks about being accepted and belonging. She feels that these are primary needs that every human being has. But instead, she herself has been fighting against rejection for almost her whole life. “My parents have never accepted that I am a lesbian.”
Anyone booking a vacation right now is looking at the world map that is showing red, orange, yellow and green. What rules do we have to comply with? Where are Dutch citizens welcome? For APG employee Edith*, finding out which vacation country she is welcome in is routine. Because even before the outbreak of Covid-19, she could not simply cross the border for a well-deserved vacation. Seventy countries that are members of the United Nations prohibit same-sex marriage, in at least eleven countries you can even be sentenced to death and in only eleven countries, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) are included in the constitution. Edith: “I can’t take it for granted that I will be welcome anywhere. Not even in the times we live in now. As an almost sixty-year-old, this still astonishes me almost daily.” She tells her story now during Pride Amsterdam to bring a bit of awareness. “It’s important to realize what it’s like for someone to be different.”
Edith was born in South Limburg. She grew up in a Catholic family as the sixth of seven children. Anything that was different was problematic at home. Especially when Edith told them she was a lesbian. "I finally came out of the closet when I was 21. But my parents never accepted it. They kept asking me when I was going to bring a man home, and on the day that I told them I was going to marry my current wife, they said, 'Do you really have to do that?'"
Her father thought a psychologist could figure out how serious Edith’s “deviant” orientation was. To please her parents, and just to be accepted, she agreed to go to the session. The psychologist quickly saw that “a 21-year-old woman is certainly capable of making her own choices” and tried to help them see that too. But her parent’s acceptance never came. Edith will never forget the last comment she heard from her dad. “When I was fourteen, I was in a bad accident. I came very close to death. When my father heard I was a lesbian, he literally said, ‘if I had known then, what I know now, I would have wished you had remained dead’.”
Edith hopes with all her heart that today’s parents don’t have that kind of reaction. But even in these times, that is not something that can be taken for granted. “Tolerance has peaks and valleys,” she says. “There are still so many gay people who get beat up in the street. And look at Arie Boomsma’s TV program where he helps young people come out of the closet. The fact that such a program is needed in this day and age is astounding to me.” And closer to home: her own sister votes for the Christian Union, which is known for excluding homosexuality. “There is still too little acceptance, and I’m afraid it will never completely come.” Why is that? Edith, who has since deregistered herself from the church, attributes it to the mix of cultures we live in. “A lot is destroyed by faith and ancestry. But because different cultures, each with their own standards and values, are continually getting closer to each other, we must learn to accept each other as we are.”
Wanting to belong, to be part of something is a primary need that is impaired by rejection, Edith stresses. “When you are looked down upon, for whatever reason, it is palpable. That scars you and creates an inner struggle. It is a struggle I have been dealing with all my life; to show who I am and to be allowed to be who I am. When I’m walking down the street holding my wife’s hand, I let go as soon as I see someone. You don’t know when you’ll come across someone who is against it, who will beat you up for being who you are.” The days of being angry at having to be on guard all the time are behind her, though. “It is what it is. I've risen above it and made my peace with it. And it’s now my choice not to advertise it.”
At work, however, Edith does not experience this kind of discrimination; at APG she does feel accepted. “I think it’s really fantastic that people can share their stories, for example on the intranet. Even five years ago, that was very different. Is that because diversity and inclusion are a hype now? Even if that is the case, that can only be good. We should keep focusing our attention on that, with the result that I can be myself, working for this employer.” But there is still a lot of work to do, at APG as well as in society all around us. “When I mention my partner, for example, in most situations, people will automatically assume I’m talking about a man. And mail addressed to “the ladies”, is not happening yet. So, we’re certainly still behind the times in the Netherlands.”
And then her eyes light up, because Edith has a positive attitude despite the obstacles she has faced in her life (“without darkness, you can’t see the light”), and she is proud of who she is and of her wife. The two of them will be going on a “safe” vacation this summer and stay with an aunt and uncle in Austria.
* For privacy reasons, the name Edith is fictitious.