Dear Neighbors to the North, The first Belgian refuge centre for GLBT people in Brussels has to look for new accommodation. With only room for the reception of eight people, the refuge centre cannot accommodate all emergency requests.
A larger refuge centre is the only possible solution. In an ideal world, such a refuge centre should not be necessary, but reality is much more harrowing. It is not just GLBT asylum seekers who don’t feel safe, even Belgian GLBT youth sometimes cannot help but look for a safe haven to escape abuse and intimidation at home. Testimonials show that unfortunately not every parent likes his or her child. In some families, this love is not unconditional. If a son, for instance, prefers other men, the worst may come out in some parents.
The refugee centre therefore is a great initiative. When I came out of the closet about thirty years ago, my parents’ unconditional love was not impaired. At that age, I was convinced of that unconditional love, just like most of my gay friends were. But I soon found out that this did not hold true for some of my gay friends. Fortunately, these periods would usually only represent a phase in the life of these parents. However, some gays were asked to leave the house immediately. The difference with the present day is that there was no refuge centre at the time.
But there was such a thing as a social safety net within the relatively closed, yet close-knit gay community. Not so much in the small city I grew up in, but rather in the larger cities. For a friend, who, at the age of sixteen, was given exactly five minutes to leave the house by his mother’s new partner after being beaten, we found shelter with a family who lived a stone’s throw from our school. At the time, both he and I realized that he had been lucky.
However, the fact that a refuge centre is needed at all also shows that the social safety net within the GLBT community may not be that effective any more. Or perhaps those youngsters feel too much embarrassment to enlist the help of friends. Scientific research should ideally map out the entire problem, but there are no exact numbers available. If the number of domestic problems with homosexuality would rise all of a sudden, we would have known about it through the internet and social media.
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that a social safety net or a refuge centre will not prevent parents from throwing their GLBT children out of the house. The problem is of all times and there is no indication that this will suddenly change. In certain social environments, parents often find it more difficult to accept the “different” nature of their children. And we must not forget that in order to avoid problems at home, young GLBT people sometimes prefer not to leave the proverbial closet until they stand on their own two feet. Perhaps a lot of young people have that scenario in mind, but that doesn’t mean their troubles are over. Expensive rents, minimum wages and rising inflation can push young adults into poverty. In that respect, my generation was lucky. We did not have to rely on social security as much.
The refuge centre for GLBT people is an initiative from within the GLBT community, not from the government. However, it does not look like the government will support it financially. Alternative funding is difficult to raise, but I can see that both through social media and through charities, such as the Mister elections in Belgium, money is being raised for this project. Let’s end on that positive note.