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LGBT+ rights in Belgium

LGBT+ rights in Belgium

This is the third in my recent series on various aspects of human rights in Belgium. The first two looked at women’s rights in Belgium and the influence of religion on women’s rights. Here I provide a short overview of the historical development, key figures, and the current status of LGBT+ rights in Belgium.

Historical development of LGBT+ rights in Belgium

  • 18th century: Amazingly, sex between men was decriminalized in the area we now know as Belgium as far back as 1795. This was when France invaded the Austrian Low Countries and implemented its penal code, which did not criminalize sodomy. Not that homosexuals had an easy time. Legislation on acts of public indecency still existed – and what was a public space could be interpreted broadly if necessary. Moreover, the police could and did harass homosexuals and detain them at their pleasure.
  • 19th century: In the newly formed state of Belgium, conservative views on sexuality prevailed, with the values of the Roman Catholic church in Belgium holding sway.
  • Mid-20th century: Belgium saw some developments in activism and rights, particularly during the latter half of the century. The 1960s and 1970s marked the beginning of the modern LGBT+ rights movement globally, and Belgium saw the birth of its own movements during this time.
  • Late 20th century: Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Belgian LGBT+ activists campaigned for anti-discrimination laws and recognition of same-sex partnerships. In the next century, their work came to fruition …
  • 21st century: In 2000, Belgium granted same-sex couples domestic partnership benefits. This was extended in 2003 when Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands. In 2006, Belgium enacted laws allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, and lesbian couples were allowed to access IVF. Gender identity and expression protections were added to Belgium’s anti-discrimination laws in the early 2000s. Gay conversion therapy was banned in 2023.

Key people involved

Several figures have played significant roles in advancing LGBT+ rights in Belgium:

  • Suzan Daniel (1918-2007): An iconic Brussels-born gay-rights activist often credited with driving the gay and queer rights movement in Belgium, after she founded Centre Culturel de Belgique, the country’s first-ever LGBTQ association.
  • Eliane Morissens (1927-2006) was a Belgian teacher remembered for her activism and raising international awareness about employment discrimination against homosexuals. She was a catalyst for changing the laws regarding discrimination on the basis of sexuality in Belgium.
  • Elio Di Rupo: the former Prime Minister of Belgium (2011-2014) is an openly gay man and was one of the first heads of government in the world to openly identify as LGBT.
  • Petra De Sutter: her appointment as Minister of Civil Service in 2020 made Belgium one of the first countries in the world to have an openly transgender woman as a government minister.

LGBT+ rights organizations in Belgium

Belgian LGBT+ rights activists are grouped into several organizations. These include Çavaria and Wel Jong in Flanders and Brussels, and La Fédération Prisme in Wallonia and Brussels. The Rainbow House Brussels is home to various French and Dutch speaking LGBTQIA+ associations in the Brussels area. 

Current status of LGBT+ rights in Belgium

  • Belgium remains one of the most progressive countries in Europe regarding LGBT+ rights.
  • In 2023, ILGA-Europe (the European region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) ranked Belgium as second in the European Union for LGBT rights protection, behind Malta.
  • Same-sex marriage and adoption rights are legally recognized.
  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law.
  • Belgium has comprehensive anti-discrimination laws that cover employment, housing, and public accommodation.
  • Transgender individuals have the right to legally change their gender without undergoing surgery.
  • Conversion therapy is banned.

Where to report acts of homophobia

If you are the victim of a crime with a gay, lesbian or transphobic motive, or you witnessed such a crime, and would like further information about the possibility to report it, there are many avenues to pursue. For urgent cases, you can call 101 for the police or 112 for an ambulance (112 on your smartphone). UNIA (Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities) offers an online reporting form if you have seen, heard or personally experienced discrimination or hate speech. The Brussels Police provides an LGBTQI+ Reporting Point. So does the Rainbow House. You could also contact one of the other organizations I mention above.

Summary

Belgium is frequently referred to as one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in the world, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Belgians support same-sex marriage and adoption rights. However, challenges such as societal attitudes, occasional incidents of violence, and discrimination still persist, as they do in many countries. Furthermore, as with women’s rights, religion still has a strong negative influence on equality and acceptance for LGBT+ individuals in Belgian society. I’ll be covering that topic in my next post.

Brussels Pride 2024
The 2024 Brussels Pride March takes place on Saturday 18th May 2024

More information on this topic can be found here. I have also researched and listed LGBT+ friendly churches in Belgium. Thanks to Timothy from Trip By Trip for his helpful comments on a first draft.

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