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VPRO Radio Show for Gays and Lesbians ‘Ook zo – Mooi zo’ Thirty Years Ago

by Henk Harskamp in Media & entertainment , 26 mei 2011


In 1980, for the first time in Dutch history, gay men and women got their own radio show, the “VPRO’s Homo Nacht Show.” This radio night, the night before the annual Pink Saturday, was all about queers and lesbians. It was provocative, assertive radio. The present day “manifestations” on Pink Saturday in those days were announced as “demonstrations” and many political parties still had a specific and very active gay group. People were still fighting for the Homomonument on Westermarkt.

Cabaret reigned supreme with groups such as the Softies, Supertamp, Juffrouw Sonnica en Tante Gré (Miss Sonnica and Auntie Gré), Tedje en de Flikkers, and the Valsche Nichten Koor. In short, it was news by, from and for gays and lesbians on the air that night.



The same year, the VPRO gave the go-ahead for a weekly gay radio show hosted by the duo Diane de Coninck and Reijer Breed. It became an instant radio hit. Friday night, a few hundred thousands were eagerly listening to what Diane and Reijer would send into the air that night. Because the program would not only contain gay news coverage. The producers were not afraid to take matters into their own hands at times. Diane and Reijer, for example, visited questionable authorities, and came into action against America’s government policy that had made it possible to refuse admittance to gays and lesbians. That last operation made the national press.
The VPRO has made some of these historic radio shows available online, which now can be listened to (yet) again. Reason enough to have a talk about the olden days with one of the hosts, Reijer Breed.

‘In Fact, It All Started At Sonja’s TV Show’

It all started in 1980. With a majority of one vote, the plenary meeting of Dutch broadcaster VPRO decided to spend half an hour a week on gays and lesbians for a period of two years. The opposition at that particular meeting was substantial. The outcome was eight against and nine in favor. Despite the listening ratings, the show was to be cancelled after two years. The VPRO station manager Mr. Haasbroek was of the opinion that homosexuality should be integrated into all programs.


How did you then start your radio program Ook Zo?

“Actually, it all started at Sonja Barend. I was a gay activist for the [gay emancipation organization] COC, division Zaanstreek-Waterland. We organized meetings and gave education at secondary schools. At a certain point, I organized a protest against the Annual Season Family Ticket of the Dutch railway company. They were heavily advertising it at the time. Many gays felt left out and protested against the fact this discount was only for families. I called this protest in at the editorial staff of ‘Sonja’s Good News Show.’”

“In Sonja’s show, I called on gays to travel without a ticket out of protest for not getting the discount. As I expected to get a lot of publicity with this protest, I called COC headquarters. They told me I should do this on personal title. In those days, they were still afraid of escalation and their good reputation, still ‘fragile at the time.’ The day after Sonja’s Show, more than a hundred gays and lesbians traveled without a ticket from Amsterdam, Haarlem and Hoorn to Alkmaar, continuing to Den Helder.”
“On many of the train stations, railway police was present. Some of them even had dogs. Were we got on the train, at Zaandam, the train didn’t leave. I became extremely nervous and the railway police came toward me. At the same time, a camera team of NOS, the Dutch Broadcasting Cooperation, approached me. The camera man was aiming his bright lights at me and the railway police was afraid to intervene. And after a few minutes, the train left. The same night, we were on the eight o’clock news. My interview footage had read the words ‘COC spokesman.’ Never before had a protest by gays and lesbians made the news. And COC headquarters received a lot of favorable appreciation.”



“The second time, I was an actual guest at Sonja Barend’s interview table, together with dean Broersen of Zaandam’s Roman-Catholic church. We were taking open action against anti-gay statements from bishop Gijsen from Den Bosch. During that show, I was given the opportunity and time to explain the meaning of the pink triangle I was wearing. Sonja’s editorial staff, Ellen Blazer and Lida Yburg, informed me that I was the first gay activist to sit at Sonja’s table in that capacity. They wanted to turn me into the regular queen for socialist broadcaster VARA. But I didn’t want that, as I didn’t want to become the only face of the gay movement.”


I seem to remember that both you and Diane were guests at Sonja at one point.

“We were at Sonja for the first time after we were expelled by the USA. At the time, Sonja started our item with the following words: ‘These are the passports of VPRO radio producers Diane de Coninck and Reijer Breed.’ And she showed our passports with a large big line across our visa.”
“Because of my appearance at Sonja, I was approached by VPRO staff members Ineke van den Bergen and Peter Flik. This was the start of a friendship and collaboration. After collaborating in various radio projects, the ‘Homoshow’ (1979) was born, once every five weeks as a topical show on Friday mornings.”



[An interview with COC magazine “Sek” in 1982 reads: “Reijer and Diane appeared at Sonja and were then approached by VPRO member of staff Ineke van den Bergen, who saw to the realization of the ‘Homoshow.’ Reijer: ‘We wanted to move to the evening time and to Hilversum 3 and that was possible after one year.’” This suggests that Diane had been Sonja’s guest earlier on in 1978 or 1979, but we could not ascertain on what subject matter. Reijer started the ‘Homoshow’ by himself and later on, Diane joined him. Together, they made the first night show on June 28, 1980 and appeared at Sonja in April 1981 - Eds.]

“In the proposal I made for ‘Ook Zo’ I wrote that it should be a weekly radio show ‘made by and meant for gay men and lesbian women.’ Below that, I had jokingly written: ‘without straight jamming stations.’ A joke, right... But some of VPRO’s staff reacted very strongly to that. One of my colleagues even said: ‘Let them play concentration camp with their pink triangles.’ I was using the honorary nicknames ‘faggot and dike.’ I did that on purpose. We were also talking about ‘us’ and ‘them.’ meaning heterosexuals with ‘them’. There was a thought behind it. It really was dynamite.”

How did the listeners respond?

“In the beginning, many listeners were furious. They would call totally upset. ‘Are you one of those shitfuckers?’ You would let those people blow off steam for a while. And after a couple of minutes we would say: ‘You have made your point. We now need to clear the line for other reactions, good evening!’ And the women from our telephone team naturally were ‘cuntfaces.’ ‘What you need is a real man to change your tune!’”

“Once I got a call from a gentleman with a very civilized voice: ‘I just left the riding stable with my daughter, where I heard your program. We live in a very nice neighborhood. And next door to us lives a gentleman who has it as well. His house is very clean and tidy. And he arranges flowers beautifully. We treat him like any other. But I have to say that when I hear you, it becomes extremely difficult to tolerate you. Your language is horrible. You are bad publicity for gays. You are isolating yourself. You are discriminating yourself.’”



“After a while, the volley of curses decreased. And after every show, we spoke to gays and lesbians from all parts of the country, sometimes even Belgium and Germany. Often, those were good and touching conversations with people who spoke to a gay or lesbian person for the first time. We listened, gave advice and information about possibilities and activities in their area. It may all sound a bit soft now, but in those years, help and information was hard to get. You couldn’t Google what was happening in the neighborhood and meet other gays and lesbians, the internet didn’t exist yet.”

How did you meet Diane?

“I saw Diane de Coninck at a COC convention. She was giving an official farewell to a colleague in a funny way. Diane was then working at the administrative department of the COC on Frederiksplein. I contacted her and that is how our collaboration started.”

The Immigration Policy of the USA and How the Country Tried to Keep Gays Out With an Act From 1911

“Being gay, you needed a waver, a separate kind of visa, to enter the United States. We didn’t agree with that, it was a kind of branding. All of a sudden you needed the waver as they had reinstated an act from 1911. That act made it possible to refuse admittance based on ‘sexual abnormality.’ A group of women (including many lesbians) traveled by bus to a women’s festival from Canada to America. Those women were all treated outrageously because of this stupid little act.”

I can clearly remember that radio show in which you flew to America and confronted customs as obvious homosexuals.

“We were traveling to the States for radio ‘Ook Zo’ to interview gay and lesbian authors. This is what we placed before the VPRO: ‘Do you agree that we as VPRO gay journalists will risk deportation in protest against this law?’”


And so, Diane and Reijer flew to the USA on March 31, 1981. With buttons that were very clear about their sexual preference (one of the two reasons in the act for immigration officials to detain them as sexual deviants. The other reason being that someone from the plain would point you out as being gay.) Diane and Reijer pointed each other out as homosexuals and were referred to the department for problematic cases, the deportation room.

They could choose whether to go back to The Netherlands immediately or appear at a hearing of the American immigration service. They chose the hearing and were released on parole. They were not allowed to enter the USA officially, if they promised to appear at the hearing, which would take place four days later.

During the hearing, the appointed judge was smart enough to keep the nasty anti-gay stipulations of the act under wraps because of all the media attention. Diane and Reijer came to the USA as journalists and because of this, they needed a work permit. Which they didn’t have. Immediately after the hearing, they were expelled from the country on those grounds. (All Dutch journalists were flying to the USA to do their work on a tourist visa.)

Did you ever get into trouble trying to revisit the USA?

“After that business in America, Diane and I were on a ‘blacklist’ for five years. That was the penalty imposed on us.”


In January of the same year, Wim Claassen, Elvira Polak, Diane and Reijer had already protested at Schiphol Airport against the immigration policy of the USA by waiting for American tourists (in official police uniforms) and asking them questions about their sexual orientation. Because if they were straight, unfortunately they had to be send back to the US, as The Netherlands would only allow gays. A unique protest that received a lot of media attention, in America as well.



In The Netherlands, members of parliament Ed Nijpels, Frits Bolkenstein and Harry van den Bergh addressed the issue in the Dutch Lower House. They drew up a letter in which they protested against this form of discrimination, signed by almost all members of the Lower House, and offered the letter to the American ambassador with the request to send it to Congress.

Because of this immigration law, the cabaret duo Juffrouw Sonnica en Tante Gré performed the following song: “Daar heb je weer zo’n enge pot, Amerika doet zijn deur op slot. [Another scary dyke in sight, America closes its doors] “Daar heb je weer zo’n zo’n vieze nicht, Amerika doet zijn deur gauw dicht. [Another dirty faggot in sight, America quickly closes its doors] Amerika, Amerika, jij walgelijk stuk hysterica, met jouw verdomde homohaat, jij stomme puriteinse staat.” [America, America, disgustingly hysterical, with your damned hatred of gays, you silly puritan state.]

A lot has changed over the last thirty years. What’s your view on those changes?

“The issues with certain criminal Moroccan rascals did not exist, but on the other hand, there was no internet and gay marriage wasn’t yet possible. At the time, we thought gay marriage was idiotic; it was copying the straight world. We didn’t want that, thought from the individual; women and men should have their own income independently.”

And what are your thoughts now?

“Err... despite all the hoo-ha (weddings with horse and carriage) I think it’s a good idea the civil code is now open to everyone. At the time, we came with the story of a couple of which one of them died and nothing had been arranged. And there he was, a widower, left empty-handed. He had never been in contact with his friend’s relatives. And all of a sudden, they were in front of his door to collect the antique closets.””



In those years, there was more readiness to take action. People have become more afraid. Is that fear justified, you think?

“In certain neighborhoods, I will not walk hand in hand with a friend either. On Leidsestraat at the McDonalds... No way! On the other hand, I do not think we should let past incidents scare us, even though... they cannot be seen as incidents anymore, I sometimes make that mistake.”

Homosexuality On Television

In an interview from 1982 for COC magazine ‘Sek,’ you call on people to make homosexuality more visible. You say: ‘Participate in all those telephone games and clearly let people hear you are gay or lesbian.’ Are you happy with the current number of people that are openly gay on television and how they manifest themselves?

“Even though often it is not the way I would do it, I am quite happy with the gay supply nowadays. I think it is great that they (Gordon, Joling, Carlo, Paul de Leeuw, etc...) are so clearly visible, young people can relate to that. And Jamai coming out of the closet so quickly. Still so young. I thought that was very well done.”
“And when Erwin Olaf was getting worked up on the television program Zomergasten (Summer Guests) about diminished tolerance and increased violence against gays, I was shaking on the cough. He was wonderful! Those kinds of statements are lacking from all those well-known TV queens. Even though Paul de Leeuw does do that on occasion. He makes it political with a joke, or shows the sharp edge of his tongue.”

Reijer does have his doubts about the KRO program “Uit de Kast” (Out of the Closet):
“I feel conflicted about programs such as ‘Uit de Kast.’ I would never visit the parents with cameras. That Arie Boomsma should have visited his parents with a camera team a long time ago...”



One of the role models in my teenage years was Robert Long, who was yours?

“Ronny Tober!”

What did you do after Radio Ook Zo?

“After ‘Ook Zo’ I made some theme broadcasts for the Dutch Humanist League. From a squat, I made some local radio with Radio Master. Those were good rioting times, and at MVS I presented the chat program ‘Babbels’ for a while. Eventually, I ended up at the communication department of Amsterdam’s city hall.”

Diane de Coninck appears to have emigrated, we weren’t able to find anything on her.

“I completely lost sight of Diane, and I have no idea where she lives or what she is doing either.”
“Something else. Lesbian women have always been a part of my social life, I have always been extremely fond of lesbians, and still am. Even though their battle is totally different, I have always felt a connection. And it may sound old-fashioned nowadays, I am and will always be a feminist.”

In “Ook Zo” the section “Op visite bij...” was very popular. In this section, the hosts went to visit questionable characters or authorities. In one of the shows, Diane and Reijer visited Major Bosshardt of the Salvation Army. This interview became controversial, as the Major informed them she probably was bisexual. Not everyone appreciated this...
Reijer: “Everyone told us: ‘This cannot be true.’ but she said so herself?!”

These and other broadcasts of “Radio Ook Zo” (including the entire gay night show of June 28, 1980) can be listened to and downloaded from VPRO’s website. Nienke Feis has published a good overview on the site, making it very easy to quickly find a particular subject of interest to you. Please visit: http://weblogs.vpro.nl/radioarchief/category/ook-zo/



Reijer: “In preparation of this interview on ‘Ook Zo: thirty years later’ I have listened to several old episodes of our program, for the first time in years. What has struck me are their humor, cheek, and readiness to take action. It was a good time, and I sometimes do miss it. Especially because I see and notice that so much is still not right when it comes to gay emancipation.


Radio now has a totally different function and is no longer the appropriate medium. The internet now offers so many possibilities. But as long as education on homosexuality still is not possible on every school, as long as gays are beaten up, as long as boys and girls with gay feelings start leading a double life because of pressure from their surroundings, as long as there is not enough attention for that grey area from gay to straight (bisexuals are now busily catching up) there is still a lot of work to be done.”

“Now, I am a senior queen of sixty. And I still get very worked up about the fact that I cannot walk arm-in-arm with friends or kiss on the streets as straight couples can. Because the street also belongs to me!”

Because my conversation with Reijer was so impressive, we have asked him if he would like to write a monthly column for “Gay News.” And we are happy to report he has agreed to this and will be starting next month.



 







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