Floris Michiels van Kessenich

When you look at the short life of Floris Michiels van Kessenich (1957 – 1991) you may wonder how he was able to do all the things he did in such a short time. He was a fighter for gay rights, who had to overcome a privileged back ground to be able to love who he wanted to love. When he was hit by Aids, he kept on fighting until the disease with the little name took his live.

Floris came from a privileged background of catholic nobility. When he told his father he was gay (at the age of 13), his father told him that “that kind of thing doesn’t happened with our kind of people”. No surprise than, that Floris struggled with his sexuality. He even attempted suicide in 1978. That was also a turning point in his live. He wanted to fight for acceptance of gay people in society and he never looked back.

Gay rights within the privileged community

His fight started close at home. By this time the university city of Leiden. While member of a traditional student society, he founded a club for gay students at this society. This club got a lot of attention in the national press and Floris started to become a well-known and outspoken public activist for gay rights. Around the same time he started a social club for well-to-do gay men, called the Donderdagavond Eet Club (Thursday Night dinner club).

Gay rights within the catholic church

Floris stayed a catholic all his live, so it was no surprise that he also fought for a place of gay people within that church. He founded the Dutch branch of Dignity, the American-Canadian organisation for gay rights within the catholic church. When two Dutch bishops came into the news, that they refused communion to openly gay people, Floris got into action again. He organized a silent protest, where around 500 people went to a church service in one of the main cathedrals in The Netherlands. They all participated in the communion during the service while wearing a big, pink triangle with the text “having gay sex and being catholic” (in Dutch: praktizerend homoseksueel en katholiek).

Gay rights in politics

He was not only an activist for gay rights in The Netherlands. When protesting Clause 28 in the UK (a clause forbidding giving information about being gay), he dressed up as King William III of Orange (a supposedly gay royal, who ruled the UK in the late 17th century) when Queen Elisabeth II visited The Netherlands. And out of protest against anti-gay policies in Austria, he chained himself to the express-train to Vienna. Also in Dutch politics he tried to promote gay politicians and even shortly put himself up for political office (but withdrew).

Fighting for the right to live

Already in 1985 he found out he had hiv and from 1989 his health began to deteriorate. And again Floris stepped forward to fight, in this case for making experimental medicine available for Aids patient. He offered himself as a test case of still untested medicine and he was secretary of the activist group Fight for Life. As a last stand of activism and love, he had his relationship with his long time partner blessed in a church service three months before he died in 1991. That was 10 years before marriage between partners of the same sex became legal in The Netherlands.

Floris Michiels van Kessenich was a maybe unlikely fighter for the rights of gay people. He was privileged on the one hand, but did not seek the comfort of his privilege to live a sheltered life. He was instrumental as one of the people to get the fight for gay rights and aids activism in the public eye in The Netherlands.

Out of his estate a foundation was set up called De Rose Jo(n)ker (The Pink Nobleman or jester). This foundation still supports actions in “the spirit of Floris Michiels van Kessenich”.

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