Loving whoever you want to love, it seems such a simple concept, but hardly anywhere in our beloved Europe is this concept fully accepted. In a lot of places taboos, restrictions or normative heterosexual laws are still in place. In our diverse AEGEE, lots of people feel the burden of that reality, and that is what motivated the organisers of “Colours without Borders” to organise their LGBT+ themed event. With a new Focus Area on Equal Rights, these kinds of events are becoming more and more important in AEGEE!
The idea for this event came from Carina van Hoof, at the time a board member of AEGEE-Utrecht. She put out an open call for members who were interested in organising such an event. Kiki, one of the organisers, told us: “Our event focused on a theme and a group of people that in my opinion deserves more attention and acceptation.”
The first day started with a city tour to get to know the city of Utrecht better. Highlighted in this tour where the LGBT+ facts and sights, like the rainbow pedestrian cross-over. The informative and social activities that followed over the following days were all related to the LGBT+ topic in one way or another. Some highlights from the programme were the lectures about sexual diversity, a LGBT+ crazy88 [a city quest, ed.] in Amsterdam, an awareness-workshop, and going to the biggest LGBT+ student party in the Netherlands.
The participants formed a rainbow of nationalities and diversity among themselves: they came from Italy, Belgium, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey, Spain, Ukraine and Germany. Seven of them were men and six were women. Some participants personally connected to the LGBT+ community, some were just interested in the topic. With this wide range of countries, every participant brought their own experiences with them. In the Netherlands people take pride in being one of the first progressive countries to legalise gay marriage. However, the reality sometimes doesn’t reflect this reputation. The word ‘homo’ is still often used as a swearword, and same-sex couples still feel uncomfortable walking hand-in-hand down the street.
The organisers deliberately planned their event during the 20th edition of the ‘Midzomergracht festival’, during which the city of Utrecht celebrates sexual and gender diversity. For this festival the event organised a lecture on the same topic and a ‘gender in the blender’ themed party, both open for anyone who wanted to attend. Besides this, the participants got acquainted with students from the Utrecht Gay Student Association ‘Anteros’ during a LGBT+ themed pub quiz. Lucia Conde of AEGEE-Bilbao said: “The workshop’s approach was great: before the group discussion, the room was divided into ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ areas and we had to personally answer to LGBT related questions and statements by physically moving to one of them. It was a very visual (and sometimes shocking) way of seeing the reality of the LGBT situation socially and personally for each of us.”
Some participants had a happy message about the situation in their country, others not so much. But all found an event like this to be a safe place to discuss these topics . “Safe clubs can be found, safe parties can be set everywhere. The feeling of being free to be as I am that was supplied by the safe atmosphere of Utrecht and the Netherlands was the best feeling. Of course the parties and the activities were so great, but I didn’t feel as free as I felt in Utrecht in my country”, explained a participant from Turkey. The atmosphere meant a lot to everyone, because they were able to talk freely about their daily struggles regarding this subject. Bali, from AEGEE-Debrecen and AEGEE-Budapest said: “Being able to compare the LGBT+ situation and some of its matters of my home country with several others at one single international event is a special opportunity.”
When asked about the future of the LGTB+ topic in AEGEE-Europe, everyone agreed on one thing: there needs to be more attention to it and more events like this. Anastasia from AEGEE-Bruxelles agreed that we should discuss more about this topic in AEGEE: “It would be great if events like these were organised in different countries. I can’t imagine what would it be like if there is an event like this in Ukraine”. A few weeks after the event, the official LGBT+ Interest Group was created. Others added that a Focus Area on equality or love would be great (and apparently the Agora agreed, since Equal Rights ranked number one on the Focus Area list)!
The organisers loved the chill and informal atmosphere of the group. One of the yells during the event was ”GAAAAAYYYYYY”, which showed everyone was poking fun at each other. Whoever spent time at the event noticed what it meant to each of the participants and the organisers. A quote from Julia (AEGEE-Frankfurt) uses exactly the right words to reflect on this event: “If you arrive at an event and immediately feel like you have been with these people all your life, then that’s a good sign. This group turned out as one of the safest and joyful groups I have ever had an event with and I think this was partly because of the honesty and authenticity of each individual” .
Just a small note to end this article:
A week ago, when writing this article, the world celebrated ‘International Coming Out day’. A day to speak out your support for people who feel like they have to hide their sexual orientation. These kind of events could contribute to prevent anyone in AEGEE to ever feel marginalised. This event has already found a successor. It has been announced that AEGEE-Amsterdam will organise a similar but more informative event on the subject, called “Whatever Floats Your Rainboat!”.
Read more about it in the upcoming interview with Romy Cartiere, organiser of this event, and stay updated on the LGBT+ topic within AEGEE-Europe by becoming part of the Interest Group’s Facebook group.
Written by Mireille Voorendt, AEGEE-Utrecht