As if nothing has changed, I thought when I read Aleid Truijens’ column on Tuesday de Volkskrant had read. She signaled the problems at the Gerrit Komrijcollege in Winterswijk, where disagreement arose about the construction of a second rainbow staircase in the building.

    The first rainbow stairs arose in June of this year in this school named after Komrij; Komrij was born in 1944 in Winterswijk. Spread over the stairs, the lines could be read: I am who I am and you can be who you want to be. Winterswijk is a so-called rainbow municipality and has a gay mayor. There is no school in the Netherlands where such a rainbow staircase fits better than in a school named after Komrij. After all, Komrij has always expressed his sexual orientation with great self-confidence after his youth.

    But in 2022, they are not yet fully accustomed to the rainbow symbolism in Winterswijk. A large part of the students did not take the rainbow staircase, but another staircase painted in neutral colours. Was it the fear of bullying or was it their own disgust? Be that as it may, the school decided to give the other staircase the colors of the rainbow as well.

    One of the parents protested with a petition (“Give us back the neutral kick”) which quickly acquired over 400 signatures. Would Komrij still want to be named after such a school? Unfortunately, he is no longer in charge.

    My thoughts went back to the 1970s when discrimination against homosexuals was increasingly challenged. The rainbow flag as a symbol of the gay movement dates back to those years and was subsequently adopted by other sexual minorities.

    During those years I met a slightly younger colleague, also a sports reporter, whom I occasionally met at tournaments. We got to know each other better at Wimbledon, where as a reporter you hang out together for two weeks. You made long days there, which you ended with a dinner at an Indian in the center of London. We shared some interests outside of sports, especially politics and literature. We rarely talked about our private life. He knew I had a family and I knew he still lived with his parents.

    “I have something to tell you,” he said one evening. He explained that he was gay, that hardly anyone knew, least of all his parents. He got into tears. He was at his wit’s end, because he was convinced that he would only face misunderstanding and rejection in those around him if he came out. I tried to reassure him, to no avail.

    At the time I lived in the north of the Netherlands, he in the west and we hardly saw each other anymore. He wrote to me that he would come by when he was on holiday in Friesland. But he didn’t come. One day I received a message that he had drowned in a Frisian lake.

    It was a warm summer day when he was buried in the presence of many family and colleagues. His personal problems were not mentioned, I never knew who else knew about them.

    When Gerrit Komrij, as a 22-year-old, told his home that he was homosexual, his father looked at him in bewilderment and took him to the doctor. If only my colleague had the courage of Komrij.

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