Even though Belgium ranks second on this year’s Rainbow Map, which shows acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in Europe, experts and activists stress that Pride is still necessary and important.
The map, published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), takes into account the legal and policy situation of LGBTQ+ people in Europe. According to Rainbow Europe, the map is ranked based on six categories: equality and non-discrimination; family; hate crime and hate speech; legal gender recognition and bodily integrity; civil society space; and asylum.
Despite Belgium’s high ranking, Leopold Lindelauff, chair person of Rainbowhouse Limburg, mentions that policies and reality for LGBTQ+ appreciation are two totally different things.
"Unfortunately, the map says nothing about the opinions of the citizens in a particular country, neither does it say something about anti-gay attacks. When you look at the LGBTQ+ laws in Belgium, I can conclude that we can be very happy about that," he said. "However, it can also be used as a weapon for people to say that members of the LGBTQ+ community have all their rights, including marriage or adoption."
“At our rainbow house, I asked the gay young men whether they walk hand in hand with their partner, and they all answered that they are too scared to do so. If you’re too afraid to show love for your partner, because there is a chance that people will call you names or that you will be beaten up, then that means something, right? Straight people don’t experience this. They go outside and kiss each other without a problem," said Lindelauff.
This proves that there is still a lot of work to do, according to him. Not only in June, which is seen as Pride Month by many countries, but also during the rest of the year.
"We definitely earned our second position, especially when you look at the work we have been doing in the last 20 years," mentions Ghyslaine El Moutaani, spokesperson of Rainbowhouse Brussels. "We worked with important partners, like politicians and rainbow associations. We are fighting every single day for the community in order to promote diversity and equality, because if we stop, we will only go backwards."
The goal of the Belgian rainbow houses is to create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, but at the start of the pandemic, their doors were closed, and pride wasn’t happening. "This has had a tremendous impact on our community," mentions El Moutaani. "The LGBTQ+ community is still a minority that needs physical safe spaces to exist and interact, spaces they couldn’t access during the pandemic. We organized online activities, but it’s definitely not the same."
Lindelauff agrees: "People of our community didn’t know what to do with themselves, which affected their mental health and even ended up in a depression. Others said that they were happy with the lockdown, since they aren’t being assaulted in the streets or offended at work, which obviously says a lot too."
Including gay couples in math problems
Normalization and education on LGBTQ+ starts with kids at school. Rainbow House Limburg offers different kinds of education at schools, but only if managing staff and teachers are enthusiastic to have it included. "However, it happens that teachers want to get the matter to class, but aren’t confident enough to teach it. Our dream at Rainbow House Limburg is to organize a full day with teachers and managers, and to offer a map with documents of information on how they can introduce LGBTQ+ related content to their curriculum. Besides, we want to offer tips and tricks for them to have full confidence when teaching the matter."
Lindelauff emphasizes that there are other ways to include the normalization of LGBTQ+ at school. "When teaching geography, for example, teachers can show the ILGA map to their class. When teaching math, they can use a gay couple instead of a man and a woman to go to the market when solving a math problem. It’s so easy, but educators have to be inventive to look for this inclusion, since they won’t find it in standard curriculums."
Additionally, a recent incident in which Eddy Demarez, a Flemish sports journalist for VRT’s ‘Sporza’, made degrading comments and jokes about the sexual orientation of several players of the women's basketball team at the Olympic Games during a live broadcast not realising that his mic was still on, underlined once again the fact that homophobia is still present throughout society.
Lisa Boyon, member of COMAC, youth organization of the labour party and LGBTQ+ activist, mentions that this proves such comments are still normalized.
"Especially in the sports world, which is still a heteronormative male world. But the saddest thing about this incident, is that if it wouldn’t have been broadcasted, nobody wouldn’t have known about the existence of these comments," she said. "Besides, Eddy didn’t even know anything about their sexualities, which is an added layer to his already degrading words."
Another incident that led to noise in Belgium happened when the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) didn’t want to light up the Allianz Arena in Rainbow colours to make a statement towards the anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Hungary. Other European cities reacted by lighting up their arenas in rainbow colours.
Boyon: "Queer people are everywhere, even in the fanbase of the UEFA. However, even if they would have done it, you can ask yourself the question of whether it’s a marketing stunt or genuine support. It says a lot about the UEFA’s mindset that they didn’t even do this as a marketing stunt."
Ban on LGBTQ+ promotion in Hungary
In Hungary, the “ban on LGBTQ+ promotion” got implemented at the beginning of July, despite all EU warnings. For COMAC, the youth organization of PVDA, this was the ultimate motive to organise a pride protest in Brussels. "We wanted to take action long before that, but the Hungarian laws made it clear for us: the same laws can’t go through here in Belgium," says Boyon.
"People need to be reminded that we’ve also had anti-gay attacks here in Belgium, and that we have an extreme right-wing party that is winning votes and supporting discriminatory laws like that. Right-wing politicians like Dries Van Langenhove and Theo Francken love to speak about how abnormal the LGBTQ+ community is. We have to be careful."
Lindelauff: "Polarization in Flanders is quite heavily present, and even more so because of social media. Far right-wing politicians are especially good at influencing people. If you keep seeing the same messages on your Facebook timeline, you will not see or hear other thinking patterns that don’t match yours, leading to extreme opinions. If you don’t choose to actively and independently search for qualitative and in-depth content, but let social media choose for you by these different algorithms, then the opinion you already had will only be strengthened. I’m worried about this anti-LGBTQ group that is small but loud."
‘It’s great to be straight’
Straight Pride is a term that is being used by conservatives and right-wing activists. The first actual straight pride parade was approved in Boston, USA in 2019, organized by Super Happy Fun America (SHFA). John Hugo, straight pride co-organizer, told Vox that "Perhaps one day straights will be honored with inclusion and the acronym will be LGBTQS. Until that time, we have no other choice but to host our own events.” During the actual parade, protesters used signs like “It’s great to be straight”, and “straight lives matter.”
El Moutaani believes that such homophobes find the LGBTQ+ community a threat to our society. "Homophobic people are terrified that our society will look totally different, and that they will lose their privileges as straight people. That is not true, in fact, we all want to win together, and that is what we want to achieve through having agendas and being visible."
According to Leopold Lindelauff, a straight parade is the last thing we need in Belgium right now. “They have their straight pride 364 days in a year, the only thing that currently still exists is a heteronormative society,” he says.