The way he says it, I hear the activist in him, as if he is tapping me on my shoulders and triggering the activist in me. I look him in the eye and say, “No, I don’t.” “There are three thousand homeless GLBT+ youngsters in the Netherlands, of which six hundred are currently residing in Amsterdam. In cooperation with gay interest group COC Netherlands and the Dutch Salvation Army, we are organizing a Christmas concert in the Westerkerk to give this problem the attention it deserves. Are you willing to write an article on that?” Of course, I immediately said “yes,” even though at home I was told that my agenda is pretty full and that next week, I am going to South Africa. Yet, this is really important!
Homeless GLBTI+ youth. This group is twice as vulnerable because they are GLBTI+. The reason for this is their parents not accepting and rejecting their coming out. They end up on the streets, where aid workers hardly pay any attention to this specific group.
I have worked with young homeless people, nationally and internationally. When I asked one of them in Cape Town where he was born, he answered with a serious face, “The landfill.”
A few days later I meet Hans. He tells me about this group of GLBTI+ youth. “It is a very young age group, from thirteen, fourteen years old to eighteen years old. There is no specific relief program for them.
They can report to a homeless shelter or home care, but in most places, nobody is familiar with this specific problem. In shelters, they often have to deal with violence, discrimination and sexual assault, which means they quickly leave.”
“Many young people come from Orthodox religious families, both Islamic and Christian. In Amsterdam it is mainly young people with an Islamic background, outside of Amsterdam it is mostly from a Christian background. Homeless youth from smaller municipalities often go to the big city, but are told there that the aid is ‘regionally bound,’ so that they are not eligible for care,” says Hans. I was aware of this, as I had a Muslim friend from Rotterdam. In his hometown he was straight.
What is known about this target group? Very little in fact. It is well-known that in Antwerp, the shelters are bursting out of their seams. In Amsterdam there are three beds available for this target group, which is very little indeed. A study was carried out by the Netherlands Centre for Social Development Movisie in 2017 and published in 2018, confirming this.
When I receive the report a moment later, I dive into it. It is clear that there is not enough attention being paid to GLBTI+ issues among professionals. Yet, I keep wondering why it does not seem to get any priority. While googling, I found a 2014 article about “Golden Girls” actress Bea Arthur, who had left 300,000 dollars for shelters for homeless GLBTI youth, and which also inspired business woman and singer Irene Hemelaar. It intrigued her and stayed on her mind. It was the reason for the study carried out by Movisie.
Currently, there is still little action taken on this front. The Movisie study provides a methodology for healthcare, but this is not sufficiently taken up. There are different ways to tackle this, but then action must first be taken to open the eyes of politicians to release budgets in order to provide this group with the help they need. That is why COC Netherlands and the Salvation Army are organizing the Christmas concert in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, to bring the problem to the attention of a wider audience.
The concert marks the unique collaboration between COC Netherlands and the Salvation Army on this issue and is held on Saturday, December 14, in the Westerkerk. It is a collaboration that is reflected in the programming through the participation of artists and musicians from both the GLBTI+ community and Salvation Army supporters. A talk by Wielie Elhorst (pastor at the Protestant church for the GLBTI community), in which Christmas, GLBTIs, homelessness, and religion come together, runs as a common thread throughout the program. The musical direction is in the hands of Dirk Metzlar-Rudolph, and Hans Verhoeven organizes the concert with volunteers from the Homomonument Foundation, among others.
The program starts at 7:00 p.m. with well-known choral and Christmas music on the Homomonument, which, for the occasion, will be attractively lit with candles and braziers. A brass ensemble accompanies the part-song. The (free) outdoor concert ends at 7:45 p.m. The program inside the church starts at 8:00 p.m. in two parts of forty-five minutes each with a thirty-minute break.
During the program, homeless GLBTI+ youngsters read a testimonial, and there will be a short speech before the break, explaining the reason and purpose of the concert.
Rainbow Concert: Saturday, December 14, 2019
7:00 p.m., Part-song at the Homomonument, Westermarkt;
8:00 p.m., Christmas concert in the Westerkerk, Prinsengracht 279, (door open 7:45 p.m.).
Ticket sales and more information via www.coc.nl/kerstconcert. If you are unable to attend, you can also donate via this link.
In my opinion, it is time for us to encourage our entire community to follow the example of “Golden Girl” Bea Arthur. So, to each and every one: “Make sure you’re there!”