A message from my sister. “Hey Wil, can you give a presentation in Enkhuizen? Please contact Lia Brouwer, she works for West-Friesland Libraries.” Sometime later, I speak to Lia on the phone and hear what they would like me to do if I’m interested in giving a presentation during the Pink Week West-Friesland. “We would like to have you represent the GLBT community as a gay author.”
I am taken aback, also because I never heard of this Pink Week, only to find out it has been organized since 2010. I am truly impressed when I look at their website. I immediately send an email to the board and offer my services as a volunteer.
The Pink Week is about acceptance and respect for the GLBTI community. The theme of this edition is “Liefde mag gezien worden!” (Love is allowed to be seen). The credo is: people cannot be categorized - love does not fit in a box and love is there for everyone. The program is versatile and colourful, with more than twenty activities during the week. It awakens the free spirit in me.
I meet people who are actively fighting against stigmatization. Stigmatization in the negative sense means: marking. I personally detest categorizations. In my opinion, every man is his or her own category. We are fighting against stigmatization, and that is why protest marches and meetings are organized to tackle inequality.
On Tuesday evening, I watch the documentary “Monument of Pride.” Many acquaintances make an appearance, and I also appear several times. There was the student protest resulting in the abolishment of article 248-bis of the Penal Code in 1971, cancelling the difference between the minimum age for homosexual contacts and that for heterosexual contacts. I did not know about this protest.
That there is stigmatization soon becomes clear to me. For example, one of the women present tells me that social acceptance and tolerance of sexual and gender diversity are not self-evident, even though we are legally protected. At the Clusius College I am a jury member at a debate, in which four groups of students discuss acceptance and the fight against bullying.
Alderwoman Kholoud al Mobayed is sitting next to me. She is the Diversity alderwoman and is one hundred percent committed to the fight against discrimination. After the debate, I have a brief conversation with a student. “To be called a dirty faggot hurts. All the boys and girls who are in the closet, remain there,” he says.
My thoughts go back to a conversation I overheard on the soccer pitch last weekend. Because of the Pink Week, all soccer clubs in West-Friesland play with a rainbow ball. The rainbow flag is also waving proudly. Some teams even wear pink shoes. A spectator thinks it is too much. “Why all that gay stuff?,” he calls out.
A woman answers him immediately: “I don’t know if you are aware of this, but gay youth suicide rates are five times as high as for heterosexual youth. The reason for this is discrimination and bullying. When they hear a remark similar to the one you just made, they go right back into the closet, and, who knows, might end their lives a few years later because of people like you.” There is a silence. The man looks at the woman. “Sorry, I did not know that. You have a point.”
In the evening I am present at the debate on religion and homosexuality. Mounir Samuel is hosting the evening. A wonderful man in both speaking and presentation. Two Muslim girls and a boy who is a Jehovah’s Witness tell about their battle with identity. “Faith brings uncertainty. I don’t know how to give my faith a place.” Kholoud sits next to me and raises her hand. “God is in you, accept it, because we are all a little piece of God. What religion does not matter. We all come from the same roots.”
I look at her. It is as if I’m listening to myself, coming from a catholic family. Kholoud is a Muslim woman, very beautiful and beaming. A moment later, Mounir tells me that he was Monique in the past. His latest book is called “God is Groot,” in which he also describes his transition. I immediately buy it. As far as identity is concerned, I see myself as multicultural and see humanity as one big puzzle, in which everyone is a piece of the puzzle.
The next day we hoist the rainbow flag in front of Hoorn’s city hall. It is National Coming Out Day. Of course, Kholoud is also present. I take a look at the waving flag. For this free spirit, the Pink Week West-Friesland was an instructive week, filled with diversity and identities that fight stigmatization. And that so close to home, to the place I was born.
About the author: Wil Groot has, after being diagnosed with HIV, completely changed his 'abundant lifestyle', and has been active in the fight against Hiv and Aids in South Africa since. Earlier this year he published his book 'Droom van een vrijbuiter' (Living A man's dream), where he wrote down his experiences in a country which differs from ours in nearly everything. For more information on Wil, his work and his book, please check www.willenendoen.com