For the third year in a row, we have been ranked Europe’s second LGBTI+ friendliest country in terms of legislation. Let’s have a party!?!
On the occasion of the International Day against Homo-, Bi-, Intersex- and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), ILGA Europe – the European umbrella of LGBTI+ associations – published its annual Rainbow Index. This is a ranking that examines how legislation guarantees equal rights for LGBTI+ persons. Malta has been number one for the past few years, and Belgium number two.
So we have our business pretty much in order. Don’t we? Well, I’m afraid it’s more nuanced and unfortunately more negative than that.
Of course we can be proud of the 73 percent we have achieved. Politicians across almost all parties have worked on anti-discrimination laws, opened up marriage and facilitated adoption by same-sex couples, and allowed transpersons to adapt their first names and official sex to their gender. We can rightly call ourselves a frontrunner.
But we have to admit that we are far behind the number one: Malta has achieved an average of 90 percent over the last three years. In the meantime, we have to share our second place with Luxembourg. Moreover, five years ago we were still over 80 percent. And lastly, we could have achieved a higher score.
In the past year, a number of discriminations relating to a person’s sexual characteristics have been eliminated. We’ve done well, and have been rewarded by ILGA Europe with extra points. Points that we immediately lost again because our governments didn’t feel the need to produce another National Action Plan against Homo- and Transphobia.
If your child works hard to get 7 out of 10 at school, you’re happy. If you know that your child could easily have scored an 8 or a 9, then a lecture will follow. Well, our governments deserve a reprimand. They’re very proud of themselves when, in fact, they should admit that they could have done much better.
Because such a National Action Plan is very important. It’s the way to ensure that your laws also change mindsets. Ask any LGBTI+ Belgian whether she/he/they feels sufficiently protected and the answer will probably be a loud ‘no’. Of course it’s necessary to adopt the right laws, but you can’t stop there. You also have to ensure that it becomes self-evident that LGBTI+ people are to be treated right. Such a National Action Plan is especially necessary in a fragmented country like Belgium. Because, spoiler alert, that mentality does not evolve by itself. When everyone is improvising in his/her/their corner, things don’t progress.
This is also abundantly clear from the results of a major European research on the well-being of LGBTI+ citizens. 140,000 Europeans were surveyed online and the results are not nice. Not even for Belgium. Newspaper articles about the research mainly focus on holding hands in the street (7 out of 10 Belgian LGBTI+ people avoid this). But the other figures are also disappointing. 21 percent of LGBTI+ Belgians are not even open to their families because they fear negative consequences. At work, 19 percent keep their sexual orientation completely hidden and 52 percent are selective about who they dare tell it to. Out and proud? Forget it.
The worst thing is that everything required to make a good LGBTI+ equal opportunities plan is already available. The civil society has provided background information, priorities are known, and all our governments have indicated that they want to develop an efficient LGBTI+ policy. And yet there is no plan. The sense of urgency is missing.
Is it because of the COVID-19 crisis? Do our policymakers have something else on their minds than yet another plan for that LGBTI+ group? Unfortunately, this ignores the fact that many LGBTI+ people are fragile – because they cannot (or dare not) count on their families, need specific medical care that is now being postponed, are more often single and have a limited network of friends, and so on. It’s no surprise that the LGBTI+ helpline Lumi now receives 50 percent more calls. People who see this as a luxury problem that can wait until everything is ‘normal’ again, are terribly mistaken.
With a pat on the back
By the way, the LGBTI+ initiatives that take care of our most vulnerable friends are struggling. Lumi, the Brussels Shelter, Genres Pluriels which takes care of trans and intersex people, and the Transgender Info-Point, are all doing an extremely useful job in these difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, their resources are very limited. So a suggestion for all those political parties that join the Pride every year: give the money you would normally have spent on your Pride wagon and communication to one of these causes. This way you show that your Pride participation is not just pinkwashing, but proof that you really are on our side.
In parliament you can push our governments. Because they urgently need to draw up a new National Action Plan against Homo- and Transphobia. They should refrain from announcing it. During the previous legislature we were entitled to promises from the competent ministers and state secretaries every year, but it took four years to get the text ready. Do it the other way around this time: first draft a plan and then we’ll shout hurray. In the meantime, so as to not lose another minute, the previous plan can be extended. That plan had arrived so late during the previous tenure that it was immediately rendered obsolete by the elections, and has therefore led to little or nothing. Don’t make that mistake again. Then next year there won’t be a sermon but a pat on the back. And we’ll have a party (because we’re really good at that, of course).
This text is a translation of a text originally written in Dutch. The original can be found here: http://brunodelille.eu/leven-met-een-zeven-zizomag-be/