COC works on a world in which everyone can fulfill their full potential, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics.
Founded in 1946, COC Netherlands is the world’s oldest still operating LGBTI organisation. As a federation of 20 local associations, we have over 30 staff members and hundreds of volunteers.
We support the LGBTI movement at the national and international levels, working to make its voice heard and get organised and bring about change. COC supports community-based groups tackle their issues in the way they think works best in their context. We provide support through funding, coaching, training and giving access to international networks and intergovernmental bodies. COC is one of the few LGBTI organisations in the world that has a special consultative status with the United Nations.
Team COC 2017
COC Netherlands defines its working method as inside-out: we support coalitions of LGBTI people in their efforts to bring about change from within their own community. We do not believe in top-down assistance programmes. There is a lot of power within communities. They are in the lead; our role is to offer support. Communities themselves are best equipped to determine their own future and promote social change based on the principle of self-determination. LGBTI people can empower themselves, build strong communities and organisations, and work together in lobbying and advocacy. This inside-out approach has made COC what it is today. It is our mode of operation in both our domestic and international work.
Front liners: A world full of hope
Front liners play a key role in our inside-out approach. They are driven and motivated activists on the front line in the fight for social equality and acceptance. Here are a few examples of such individuals:
- a lesbian pupil who started a Gender-Sexuality Alliance at her school with our support.
- a man from a cultural, ethnic or religious minority whom we helped start a discussion within his community about what it means to be gay.
- a transwoman from Uganda for whom we provided a platform to address violations of LGBTI human rights at a United Nations conference.
- a non-binary volunteer who outed themselves on national television and reacted with patience to challenging questions from people.
- a queer lesbian activist who successfully persuaded the Vietnamese authorities to allow the first ever LGBTI film week in Hanoi.
Front liners speak on this website
This international website gives LGBTI front liners and LGBTI community-based groups a platform to tell about their successes in bringing about change and to share their lessons learned. This way we hope to contribute to a more LGBTI-inclusive world where LGBTI people can live to their full potential. Have a look at the Stories of Change and get inspired.
A short history of COC
COC Netherlands is the oldest still operating LGBTI organisation in the world. Since its start in 1946, COC has evolved into a strong, internationally active organisation with thousands of members, hundreds of volunteers, 20 regional associations, and international programmes with partners in over 35 countries around the world.
COC was founded in Amsterdam on 7 December 1946 as the Shakespeare Club. The organisation emerged from the group of subscribers to the magazine Levensrecht. Appearing for the first time in March 1940, this magazine for homosexuals soon went underground at the start of the Second World War. In 1949, the Shakespeare Club was renamed the Cultuur en Onstpannings Centrum [Culture and Recreation Center], or C.O.C. for short. Our history from that point on, including the changes that we have achieved, can be divided into three periods:
In the first decades of its existence, COC focused on organising social activities for lesbian women, gay men and bisexuals – first in Amsterdam and later throughout the Netherlands. In those years, the organisation was truly committed to abolishing the discriminatory Article 248-bis of the Dutch Criminal Code. That article criminalised same-sex sexual acts between people between the ages of 16 and 21. Our struggle was successful: the article was abolished in 1971. Official recognition of COC Netherlands as a legal organisation followed in 1973. This marked the end of the period of decriminalisation.
Legal steps forward: towards legal equality
In the ’80s and ’90s of the 20th century and into the early 21st century, COC focused on combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We also launched targeted HIV-prevention campaigns and offered specific assistance to the communities that were most effected.
In the same period, COC also addressed the discrimination and violence against LG people in the Netherlands and abroad. COC successfully pursued legislative change, leading to the Equal Treatment Act (1994), which prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, the possibility of same-sex civil partnerships (1995) and marriage equality (2001), among other things. Besides bringing about changes in legislation and offering direct assistance programmes, COC works consistently on social change through awareness and education campaigns.
From the early days of the 21st century, COC has been working to bring about a third phase in the emancipation of LGBTI people, focusing on social acceptance. The same standards regarding non-discrimination that have become anchored in Dutch legislation now need to fully take root in all parts of the Dutch society. The highlight of these efforts so far, after years of advocacy by COC, is the fact that – since 2012 – every school in the Netherlands is required to provide information about LGBTI people and sexuality. At the request of COC, the Dutch government has developed a strong policy on LGBTI emancipation. In addition, there are now also groups – known as Gender Sexuality Alliances – at secondary schools throughout the country that offer discussions, information and events revolving around sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sexual characteristics (SOGIESC). COC is also actively engaged in improving the position of elderly LGBTI people (e.g. in nursing homes), of LGBTI with a bi-cultural or bi-religious background, and of LGBTI asylum seekers.
COC continues to advocate equal rights. Among other things, our work has led to the possibility for same-sex couples to adopt children from foreign countries, but also to a better legal position for lesbian parent couples and their children. In our national advocacy prior to elections we commit political parties to Pink Ballet Agreements, a list of LGBTI-friendly measures we keep them accountable for after the elections when in government.
COC is became an important player in the arena of international LGBTI emancipation.
International cooperation and support
From the very start, COC has worked together with other LGBTI organisations throughout Europe and with other allies to fight discrimination and criminalisation. Early on, we realised – and we experienced – the added value of working together at both the national and international levels.
In recent decades we started supporting LGBTI groups in other countries, as well as engaging in international advocacy work, all of which led to our special consultative status with the United Nations and the various long-term programmes that COC funded by the Dutch government.
We continue to successfully advocate for a strong LGBTI human rights priority within Dutch foreign policy and development cooperation policy. With support and funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, our international work has expanded from one partnership with ACCEPT in Romania in 1997 to supporting community-based organisations in over 35 countries in different regions of the world and facilitating participation of activists in regional and international human rights bodies from many more countries. The vision underlying our international work is based on the Theory of Change. You can see the results of the work that we have supported in the Stories of Change on this website.