Amsterdam’s special homosexual police unit is set to don frocks, leather and rubber gear in the fight against homophobic attacks, it has been revealed.

Lesbian officers will be sent undercover to infiltrate anti-gay gangs and gay activists are calling for judges to ban known gay-bashers from gay areas and pick-up spots.

The plans are part of a concerted effort by the authorities to retain Amsterdam’s image as the gay capital of the world following a spate of homophobic attacks and widespread concern in the gay community of increased violence.

But the all-gay unit – ‘Pink in Blue’ – are concerned many victims are left too frightened to report intimidation.

The Netherlands has long basked in its reputation as a peaceful and tolerant country. It was the first country in the world to recognise civil marriage for homosexuals. Every major political party – right or left – has strong gay representation in Parliament.

But a survey released last week revealed a rising ground-swell of homophobic sentiment and violent attacks.

Half of Amsterdam’s gays now claim to feel less safe on the street, and 38 percent say they have been the victim of anti-gay sentiments. One in three claim they would be nervous about walking down the street hand in hand.

Violent incidents this year stand at 24 – a comparatively low figure but already more than for the whole of 2006.

Immigration has been touted as one possible reason for the change.

Inspector Elly Lust, from ‘Pink in Blue’, told the Irish Paper many attacks were perpetrated by people of Dutch background but most involved men of Moroccan descent, usually young, unemployed and ill-educated.

“As society has become more diverse, with different religions and cultures, the levels of tolerance towards homosexuality have also become more diverse,” she said.

But in a country adopting an increasingly anti-immigrant mentality, gay activists have been quick to defend Muslim immigrants against attack.

Many gay Arabs have been the victims of attacks, and in Amsterdam’s Habibi Ana, said to be the world’s first Arab gay bar, stories of violent assault are on the increase.

In an interview with Radio Netherlands gay author Rauf Moussaud argued young Muslim immigrants were increasingly excluded from Dutch society and directed their anger towards homosexuals as a symbol of western culture.

Of attacks on gay Arabs, he said: “They represent western values. Furthermore, they are defenceless. They keep their sexual orientation hidden from their families so they are unlikely to report an assault to the police.”

Amsterdam’s mayor, Job Cohen, maintains strong links with local imams in an effort to address the problem.

“Homosexuals must not be insulted. I am against discrimination, period,” he said.

Civic leaders are desperate to do something about the situation for financial as well as moral reasons.

Gay tourists bring serious money to the Dutch capital and if their trips become less frequent the authorities could be looking at a substantial loss of revenue.