Preliminary Programme

Wed 18 March
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Fri 20 March
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Sat 21 March
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Wednesday 18 March 2020 11.00 - 13.00
W-2 SEX02 Transnational LGBTI Activism, 1950s-1980s: Northwest Europe and Global Networks
Matthias de Vrieshof 2, 004
Network: Sexuality Chair: Alessio Ponzio
Organizer: Andrew DJ Shield Discussant: Alessio Ponzio
Peter Edelberg : Interrogating the Scandinavian LGBT+ Movement: Trans-National and Comparative Perspectives 1948-2018
A small group of homosexual men created a national organization in 1948 in Denmark, taking its inspiration from the C.O.C. in Holland and Der Kreis in Switzerland. The organization quickly grew due to its publishing a magazine that became popular among homosexual men and women, not least due to its ... (Show more)
A small group of homosexual men created a national organization in 1948 in Denmark, taking its inspiration from the C.O.C. in Holland and Der Kreis in Switzerland. The organization quickly grew due to its publishing a magazine that became popular among homosexual men and women, not least due to its contact ad section and list of addresses for homosexual clubs and organization in Denmark and across Europe. Within a couple of years, the organization had ‘local branches’ across Denmark, and even in Norway and Sweden (the latter of which soon became independent organizations).

The Danish, Norwegian and Swedish organizations left extensive archives; using these archives, this presentation traces the construction of such movements, and emphasizes the importance of transnational inspiration, cooperation, and conflict. Rather than understanding each national movement as a separate entity, the project imagines how transnational bonds and cooperation shaped the European homosexual movement.

Furthermore, the research investigates the nature of the homosexual movement in Scandinavia along two main lines: How did the movements handle internal diversity? Which groups, such as women, transvestites, transpersons, ethnic minorities, pedophiles, etc., were problematized and when? How did, indeed, a homosexual/homophile movement develop into an LGBT+ movement, as all three Scandinavian organizations claim to be today?

The other line of investigation deals with the cooperation with authorities. When did the national, law-making authorities start to listen to the homosexual organizations? And, importantly, what were the explicit and implicit premises for that conversation? My hypothesis is that the Scandinavian governments and politicians accepted homosexuals as a conversation partner, and a group deserving respect and rights, long before this group could be instrumentalized for homonationalist purposes. I argue that we cannot use an American historiographical framework for understanding Scandinavian, or by extension European, LGBT+ history. However, any argument one way or the other needs to be tested on the empirical evidence, as this research does. (Show less)

Jens Rydstrom : A Nordic Queer Revolution? LGBTQI Activism in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, 1948-2018
This paper overviews the preliminary findings of a group project that investigates the complex historical-social reasons why considerable inequality remains – and to some extent is reported to grow – for Scandinavian queer communities. Queer (LGBTQI) rights are a matter of pride for many Western countries, including in Scandinavia. Currently, ... (Show more)
This paper overviews the preliminary findings of a group project that investigates the complex historical-social reasons why considerable inequality remains – and to some extent is reported to grow – for Scandinavian queer communities. Queer (LGBTQI) rights are a matter of pride for many Western countries, including in Scandinavia. Currently, however, contemporary landscapes of gender norms are becoming more diversified, as transgender and intersex identities increasingly demand formal recognition, equality and visibility. Inspired by recent transnational anthologies of gender experiences and activism (Evans & Cook 2014; Hekma & Giami 2014) the research is a transnational study of LGBTQI activism in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

How, when, and to what degree have Scandinavian welfare states cooperated with LGBTQI movements? What place did women have in activist work and how did lesbian feminists interact with mainstream feminist movements? What role did trans activists play in the formation of Scandinavian LGBTQI activism? And how did LGBTQI activists handle tensions between respectability and diversity?

Aside from identifying the core concepts of the group project, this presentation will overview the preliminary findings of two sub-projects on lesbian and trans activism (conducted by Elisabeth Lund Engebretsen, Stavanger, Norway, and Signe Bremer Gagnesjö, Lund, Sweden). The first investigates lesbian activism and gender politics within the national organisations as well as in separatist groups. Using a combination of archival studies and interviews, it examines cooperation and conflicts between differently situated men and women.

The second investigates trans activism from the 1970s and onwards. Using multi-sited ethnography, it examines historical and contemporary expressions of transgendered subjectivities within the three nations. What role did interactions between trans, queer, lesbian and gay activists across and within national borders play in the growth of an independent trans rights movement? What are the historic and present tensions within and between these movements in the area of trans activisms?

Following this presentation, group member Peter Edelberg provides a detailed look into his sub-project (detailed next, on the Scandinavian national organisations that were founded 1948-50 and still dominate Scandinavian LGBTQI activist politics).

The originality of the research resides in three different aspects. It provides a trans-Scandinavian comparative approach, which is especially fruitful in a region characterised by cooperation and dialogue, both between governments and between social movements and activists. Secondly, the project empirically probes recent criticisms of queer movements, notably Lisa Duggan’s (2004) concept of homonormativity, Jasbir Puar’s (2007) description of homonationalism (2007), and Jin Haritaworn’s (2014) concept of necropolitics. Finally, a third original aspect of the project is its combined analysis of gender and sexuality (via its look at gay, lesbian and transgender movements) in the historical context of the inclusion or exclusion of minorities in the Scandinavian welfare state.

Duggan, L. (2004). The twilight of equality. Beacon.
Evans, J. V. & Cook, M. (2014). Queer cities, queer cultures. Bloomsbury Press.
Haritaworn, J. et al. (eds., 2014). Queer necropolitics. Routledge.
Hekma, G. & Giami, A. (ed., 2014). Sexual revolutions. Palgrave Macmillan.
Puar J. K. (2013). Rethinking homonationalism. International Journal of Middle East Studies 45:2. (Show less)

Andrew DJ Shield : “The Dutch and Danish Model”: Transnational Gay/Lesbian Activism, 1950s-60s
In 1967, Great Britain stuck down its law prohibiting consensual same-sex relations between (non-enlisted) adults, allowing new possibilities for homosexual self-organization, such as through social clubs. Yet a year later, most Brits were unaware of the spaces where homosexuals could meet and socialize, prompting British activist Ray Gosling (1939-2013) to ... (Show more)
In 1967, Great Britain stuck down its law prohibiting consensual same-sex relations between (non-enlisted) adults, allowing new possibilities for homosexual self-organization, such as through social clubs. Yet a year later, most Brits were unaware of the spaces where homosexuals could meet and socialize, prompting British activist Ray Gosling (1939-2013) to demand something “more sophisticated than cruising the public urinals” for British homosexuals. Gosling desired meeting-spaces and pubs to go “with your friends.” In clarifying his utopia, Gosling made the observation, “Why are we not like the Netherlands, or like Denmark, where… [non-profit] organizations sponsor properly run social clubs?” Gosling’s statement suggests a particular “Dutch and Danish model” for homosexual self-organization based on (e.g. individual) support for bottom-up organizations that promoted social and cultural activities and network-building.

What was the “Dutch and Danish model” for homo-emancipation and how did this model influence Western European, North American, and later worldwide movements for LGBTQ rights? What connections did Dutch and Danish homosexuals forge with activists in countries struggling to form their first organizations? How did the Dutch and Danish models influence each other, and how did they differ? In what ways did Dutch and Danish activism influence what is commonly understood as “LGBTQ rights” today?

Historiographically, this research addresses a transnational gap in the historiography of gay/lesbian activism, namely by addressing the flows of ideas across borders. Furthermore, this research on the Dutch and Danish models for activism (somewhat) challenge an accepted timeline of postwar homosexual movements in the “West” in which 1969 represents a radical break in activist strategies. In short, the accepted historiography demarcates early activism (1945-1969) as “assimilationalist” in its approach (i.e. “you don’t bother us, we won’t bother you), in contrast the “liberationist” ethos of the long 1970s (i.e. “mainstream society is the one with the problem; society must change, not us”). The working hypothesis is that the Dutch and Danish models for homosexual emancipation—such as those espoused by COC chair Benno Premsela already in 1962—sought (radical) societal change via “coming out” publicly about one’s sexual orientation and participating in identity-based social networks. This research is based on sources gathered from the International Institute of Social History, IHLIA LGBT Heritage, LGBT Denmark Library, and The Danish Royal Library.


Peter Edelberg, “The Long Sexual Revolution: The Police and the New Gay Man,” in Sexual Revolutions, eds. Gert Hekma and Alain Giami (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

Peter Edelberg, Storbyen trækker: homoseksualitet, prostitution og pornografi i Danmark 1945-1976 (Copenhagen: Djøf, 2012)

Ray Gosling, “Homosexuals Now,” New Society (29 August 1968), pp. 293-294.

Gert Hekma and Theo van der Meer (eds.), “Bewaar me voor de waanzin van het recht”: Homoseksualiteit en strafrecht in Nederland” (Diemen: AMB, 2011)

Gert Hekma, “Amsterdam,” in Queer Sites: Gay Urban Histories Since 1600, ed. David Higgs (New York: Routledge, 1999),

Frerik Kampman, “Charter Flights Full of Homosexuals: Policy making on homosexual men in Dutch immigration and asylum procedures 1945-2001” (MA Thesis, Leiden University, 2014). (Show less)

Ann Wilson : The Challenge of Transnational Organizing: the Case of the International Lesbian Information Service, 1980-1998
Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of new scholarship about the history of transnational organizing to advance sexual freedom. Thanks to recent studies of the World League for Sexual Reform (founded 1928), the International Committee for Sexual Equality (founded 1951), and the International Gay and Lesbian Association ... (Show more)
Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of new scholarship about the history of transnational organizing to advance sexual freedom. Thanks to recent studies of the World League for Sexual Reform (founded 1928), the International Committee for Sexual Equality (founded 1951), and the International Gay and Lesbian Association (founded 1978), we now know much more about the people and organizations that made up this lively international movement. But as this panel makes clear, this research is still in its early stages: much remains to be learned about international and regional interactions among activists, states, and intergovernmental bodies.

This paper focuses on an aspect of this history that has not yet received sustained attention from scholars: the role of women in transnational networks and organizations devoted to gay and lesbian rights. It takes as its case study the International Lesbian Information Service (ILIS), a group that began in 1980 as the “women’s secretariat” of the International Gay Association (later ILGA), but broke away soon thereafter to form an autonomous transnational network uniting lesbian separatists and lesbian-identified women who also choose to work in coalition with gay men.

After explaining the emergence of the organization out of the women’s and gay-liberation movements of the 1970s, the paper examines ILIS activities from the early 1980s—when the organization primarily linked women across Western Europe, North America and Australasia—through the 1990s, when the network fanned out across Asia and Latin America. But along with this new global reach came internal fragmentation, particularly within Western Europe, due to persistent conflicts around the problem of racism. Indeed, these disputes—and the burnouts that came with them—were an important factor in ILIS’s eventual demise.

Similar to the other papers in this panel, this one highlights the unique contributions of activists from Northwest Europe. Dutch women, in particular, played a crucial role in founding ILIS and in guaranteeing its early stability, thanks in no small part to the unique resources at their disposal: namely, access to the institutional clout of the Dutch COC (the oldest postwar gay and lesbian rights organization) and the financial assistance of the Dutch government. But if Dutch women were able to help ILIS weather the early storms related to lesbian separatism and coalition-building with gay men, the challenge of racism proved to be far more difficult to resolve. By studying these dynamics, we can gain insights not only into the challenges of transnational organizing, but also into a significant chapter in the history of Dutch sexual nationalism.

• Henny Brandhorst, "From Neo-Malthusianism to Sexual Reform: The Dutch Section of the World League for Sexual Reform," Journal of the History of Sexuality (2003)
• David S. Churchill, “Transnationalism and Homophile Political Culture in the Postwar Decades,” GLQ (2009).
• David Paternotte, “The NGOization of LGBT activism: ILGA-Europe and the Treaty of Amsterdam,” Social Movement Studies (2016).
• Leila J. Rupp, “The Persistence of Transnational Organizing: The Case of the Homophile Movement,” American Historical Review (2011). (Show less)



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