Janherman Veenker (1950-2005) had a long career as a gay rights and AIDS activist. In 1967 at the age of 17 he became involved with his local gay community (COC). Legally seen this was forbidden since Dutch law had an article known as clause 248Bis, limiting the rights of young gay and lesbian people. The article was similar to clause 28 in the UK. Janherman joined the fight against clause 248Bis. It would take until 1971 before the Dutch government decided to withdraw the clause. Janherman became a board member of the local COC and not much later board member of the national COC. He was active as general secretary from 1975-1980. This was actually a full time job, which he combined with his study. In 1978 he played a key role in founding the International Gay Association, nowadays known as the International, Gay, Lesbian, Trans and Intersex Association. Janherman was not the standard roaring seventies and eighties activist. He preferred to be a Board member, work in the background and present long-term ideas and visions.
Through his work for the international association he met James Credle, a US citizen he married in 2003. During their long distance relationship they faced various struggles, for instance unfair immigration rules and US travel restrictions for people with HIV. Janherman became a board member of the Love Exiles Foundation, aiming to improve the position of other long distance gay and lesbian couples.
In 1987 he joined the governing board and eventually became the secretary of the Commission Aids-Bestrijding, a governmental advisory body that assists with the development of Dutch AIDS policy. In addition to working with a number of other organizations, he also served from 1992 to 2002 on the governing board member of AIDS Fonds, the Netherlands’ leading AIDS NGO. Janherman was also founder of HIV-net, today’s Dutch HIV Vereniging. Janherman recognized the need for people with HIV to be in contact and share information, ideas and experiences. Today this would be simple: but in those early HIV-Aids days, months before Internet, Janherman dived into the technology and created a bulletin board based system.
On 21 June 2003, Janherman received a Dutch Royal award (the Order of Oranje-Nassau) in recognition of his outstanding work in the fight against AIDS and for “the emancipation of homosexual men and women”.
Janherman had a strong and consistent support for collaborative efforts. He worked on a strategic, visionary level. His approach was based on mutual respect and understanding. To quote James Credle: “He was a great man, he really was, who did a lot. He was the person who was the voice of the International Lesbian & Gay Association for such a long time. He was such a gentle, caring man.“
His contribution to the gay and lesbian community and his work for those with HIV and AIDS continues to be important.