IDAHOT is just behind us, Pride month is coming. And traditionally, it’s high times for people who get off on LGBTI+ figures. We got a cartload of information in a few days. For example, the FRA, the independent documentation and knowledge centre for the promotion and protection of human rights in the EU, gave us the results of their second online survey on the well-being of LGBTI+ people in Europe. An impressive 140,000 people completed the survey.
They turned it into a great website, so on a beautiful spring day I dived into the figures from Belgium and the Netherlands. I wanted to see what all those Prides and years of campaigning have yielded. What if the people who claim every year that the Pride and all that rainbow stuff is no longer necessary because we’ve already got everything anyway, were right? My good mood didn’t last long. Because after looking at the results, I can only come to one conclusion: we haven’t come out of the closet at all in recent years, we’ve just opened our closet door a little more often.
Afraid of the family
It starts in the family. More than 1 in 5 Belgian LGBTI+ persons fear that they will be attacked, threatened or harassed if they decide to be openly themselves at home or within the family. This figure is just a little lower in the Netherlands, but we head towards 20 percent there as well. In the two countries that were the first to open up marriage and make adoption possible for same-sex couples, a fifth of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans and intersex people hide who they really are to their own family.
I’m not naive, I know that Mom and Dad don’t always cheer when a son/daughter comes home with the man/woman of his or her life. But one in five? 20 percent of our LGBTI+ friends feel so unsafe within their family that they want to wear a mask all their life? If this is the reality, then our closets are still pretty much sealed.
By the way, are you trying to imagine what things must be like with the lockdown measures? No wonder the Belgian LGBTI+ helpline Lumi now receives 50 percent more calls.
At school, the situation is even worse. Half of the LGBTI+ Belgians hide their sexual orientation, another 4 out of 10 are selective about who they tell it to. In the Netherlands, 40 percent don’t dare tell anyone and a little more than half of the young people think twice before trusting a classmate.
“Ah, that’s because those young people are still searching,” you hear. Still, according to the study, the vast majority of Belgian and Dutch youngsters know that they are LGBTI+ well before they turn 17. By their 24th birthday, this is true for 9 out of 10 cases. Anyway, when I think back to my own youth, I have to admit that I didn’t embrace my gayness from the first minute either.
Would we see a big difference at work? Unfortunately, even there the closet door usually stays closed. In Belgium, 19 percent of employees hide their sexual orientation because they fear that they will be bullied or that it will be bad for their careers. More than half of the rest choose carefully which colleagues they tell. In the Netherlands, 16 percent keep their lips sealed. In turn, 56 percent of Dutch employees are selective about who they inform at work. Out and proud at work? It’s only a minority who is lucky enough to do so.
On the street we seem to be completely restrained. Almost 7 out of 10 LGBTI+ Belgians never or rarely hold hands in public. More than 1 in 3 avoid certain neighbourhoods because they are afraid of negative consequences. The Dutch deal with this a little better. But even they never or almost never show their love in public. 57 percent refrain from holding hands, and 1 in 5 avoid some public places altogether.
We are in 2020. And yet we feel that we have to constantly hide: in our family, at school, at work and on the street. Whether that’s right or not, doesn’t matter. If we opt en masse for self-censorship and change our behaviour because we are afraid that something ‘might’ happen, then there is a big problem anyway.
Joan of Arc
So we’re forced to stay in the closet. We can open the door once in a while, some friends may come into the closet to set up a party, but when it comes down to it, the lock goes back on. I hope that it won’t just be the LGBTI+ community that is shocked by the harshness of these figures. Because we can’t do this alone.
It’s true, there are LGBTI+ people who always hold hands, wear a rainbow badge at school or take their partner to the staff party. But not everyone is Joan of Arc, not everyone wants or dares to stand on the barricades. Most people want to live peacefully with the person they love. It’s not fair that they have to take risks before they know if they can.
Tear down those closets
So it’s about time that all those school boards, employers and administrators openly say, “Of course, LGBTI+ people are welcome.” It’s time that they stop waiting for a problem, for someone to be beaten up or discriminated against before they show their respect for us. It’s also to their own advantage. Who will work and study better? Someone who is constantly living with the stress of being discovered? Or someone who can be openly himself/herself/themself?
On a legislative level, Belgium and the Netherlands are both doing well. We are among the world’s top countries with LGBTI+ friendly legislation. But laws are not enough. Spirits have to evolve along with them. I know that a lot of progress has already been made, that things used to be worse and that we may be experiencing the best times ever for LGBTI+ people in our regions. But “it used to be worse” doesn’t mean anything to someone who has problems now.
So where are all those heterosexuals who not only say “you can come out of your closet if you want”, but who also proclaim out loud “we’d like you to come out of your closet”? Make yourself known, because we need you to come out and tear down those closets together with us.
This text is a translation of a text originally written in Dutch. The original can be found here: http://brunodelille.eu/we-zitten-vast-in-de-kast-gaykrant-nl/