On Friday, VRT journalist Riadh Bahri was the victim of homophobic violence. ” Walking the dog. Man asks for directions. I am kind and naive enough to answer. Getting hit. Getting kicked. Chain ripped off and stolen. Hearing dirty faggot. Crying a little in the street. Being angry. And already downhearted. Typical morning in Brussels. #TGIF or something I guess.” That’s how he put it on Twitter.

Reactions came from everywhere, often including political figures, supporting Riadh and hopefully helping him to deal with this trauma. Because it is not just a slap he received, it is an attack on who he is and you don’t just forget about that.

In the same support tweets, the disgust for the ‘again’, the anger at the fact that this is yet another homophobic attack, was also heard. That the LGBTI+ community still cannot safely be themselves everywhere is a disgrace that rightly results in anger.

A Brussels problem?

A constant in the responses? The fulminating against Brussels. On newspaper forums, on Facebook and on Twitter, it was “Brussels=shithole” or “it’s about time they cleaned up Brussels” or “this is the result of Brussels policy” … Sammy Mahdi, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, was also on that track with his tweet “With the greatest love for my hometown, but sometimes it’s a shitty city. Homophobic attack on @Riadh_B is symptomatic and the truth is we have been doing too little to address homophobia in certain neighborhoods for decades.”

This kind of reaction makes it seem that it is a matter of going through those ‘certain neighbourhoods’ with the big broom and that our capital – and by extension our country – will then be a rainbow paradise.

To be clear: there is a problem with hate and violence against the LGBTI+ community in Brussels. Too often LGBTI, trans and intersex people are attacked for being who they are. Some actions have been set up and there is certainly evolution in e.g. the way the police receives the victims and tries to hear them, but it is clearly not enough.

But if we try to get away with saying ‘it is a Brussels problem’ or even ‘it is a problem of ‘certain neighbourhoods’ in Brussels’, we are wrong. Holebi and transphobia is still deeply rooted throughout the whole of our society.

Hidden violence

Don’t get me wrong: I would love to see us vigorously crack down on people who openly spew hate against LGBTI+ people, I would love nothing more than to take down the macho culture that certain groups glorify. However, I do want us to treat everyone the same while doing so. And I certainly want us to then tackle the sneaky, hidden and hypocritical discrimination as well. Because this makes far more victims than the overt violence in the streets.

As long as a gay man or a lesbian woman hesitates to mention their sexuality when applying for a job or renting a store should a question arise about it, as long as trans persons feel they have to wait to transition because they fear being fired or missing out on a promotion… something is profoundly wrong. These are issues that rarely make it into the newspaper because they are often difficult to prove. Because there will always be some ‘other’ reason why the promotion, the job or the house just went to someone else. It does cause many LGBTI+ individuals to engage in self-censorship in one way or another.

Unia received no less than 406 reports of sexual orientation discrimination last year and assumes that those figures show only a piece of the reality “because a lot of homophobia, transphobia and anti-homosexual or anti-trans violence goes unreported.” So this discrimination is also violence against LGBTI+ persons. Moreover, it is widespread and it has at least as big an impact on our lives as direct aggression.

Basic conditions

Vitit Muntarbhorn, former UN independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, talked about three basic conditions to achieve a society where LGBTI+ persons could live well.

First comes decriminalization and depathologization. As long as you are dismissed as a criminal or a mental patient, it is impossible to be seen as a full member of society or to stand up for your rights.

Then there are the measures governments must take to protect their LGBTI+ population from discrimination and violence. After all, it is not enough of saying that you can openly be an LGBTI+ person if at the same time you would see that those persons, because of their orientation, are excluded. A democracy protects its minorities and governments have an active role to play here.

And finally, we need to work on socio-cultural and economic-political integration: street and workplace integration in other words.

National Action Plan Against Homo- and Transphobia

The first step, decriminalization and depathologization, is as good as acquired in Belgium. However, the next stages are far from finished.

For example, we are still waiting for a National Action Plan against Homo- and Transphobia. The Flemish, Walloon, Brussels and federal governments all have a minister for Equal Opportunities. Almost all democratic parties are in at least one of those governments. All have indicated that they consider the fight against hate and violence against LGBTI+ persons important. And yet… once again, we are still disappointed.

Each of those governments does, of course, pursue equal opportunity policies that also take into account their rainbow populations. But an effective policy against discrimination and violence in Belgium can only be pursued together. The first plan from 2013 had six priorities: more research into homo- and transphobic violence, improved legislation, improved prevention, awareness-raising, expansion of victim support and an efficient follow-up and prosecution policy by the police and the public prosecutor’s office.

Looking at this list, we must unfortunately conclude that these actions should still be a priority.

Staying alert

Perhaps more than ever, the trend seems less certain today than it did a while ago. The macho culture that is very much alive within some groups, the growing populism, the fact that a number of young, popular politicians are also seeking to connect with the ideas of, for example, an Orbán or that they do not feel inhibited to openly call trans people sick and abnormal, shows that we must remain on our qui-vive. Not only in those “certain neighborhoods” but everywhere. Because yes, most Belgians “have nothing against LGBTI+ persons” but whether that conviction really is deep, we as a rainbow community are not always convinced of that yet.

So the need for this National Action Plan is as great as it was in 2013. If our governments do not tackle this together, then we will not be able to fully take the next step towards integration on the streets and in the workplace either. We have already lost too much time. If our politicians really want to support Riadh Bahri and the many other victims of LGBTI+ phobia, they need to make this a priority at the start of the parliamentary year.

>> Please note that this is a machine generated translation. A more correct version is coming soon.