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2 août 2013 5 02 /08 /août /2013 18:50



Philip Heylen


In veel landen worden de mensenrechten van holebi’s nog altijd met voeten getreden. Lesbische vrouwen, homoseksuele mannen, biseksuelen en transgenders worden soms zo ernstig bedreigd dat hun leven gevaar loopt. Anno 2013 is homoseksualiteit nog in 76 landen strafbaar; in vijf landen staat er zelfs de doodstraf op. In aanloop van de WorldOutgames 2013 vond donderdag in Antwerpen de mensenrechtenconferentie van de WOGA plaats, in aanwezigheid van o.m. de befaamde mensenrechtenactiviste en advocate Alice Nkom uit het West-Afrikaanse Kameroen. Ik mocht mee in debat gaan, en mijn stelling is duidelijk: we mogen geen duimbreed toegeven wanneer de gelijkwaardigheid van holebi’s in het gedrang komt, maar we mogen tegelijk niet in de fout trappen van de landen die mensen uitsluiten omwille van hun seksuele geaardheid: uitsluiting bestrijdt je niet met uitsluiting. Integendeel, we moeten elke internationale meeting of conferentie aangrijpen om aan de discriminerende landen en regimes uit te leggen waar ze fout zitten, en dat de gelijkwaardigheid van alle mensen ons hoogste goed is.

Behalve Alice Nkom, zaten ook Phyll Opoku, Adebisi Alimi, Enrico Dos Santos en Bart Abeel in het panelgesprek o.l.v. Nathalie Delporte. Omwille van het internationale karakter van de WorldOutgames – meer dan 5.000 deelnemers uit 172 landen! – verliep de conferentie in het Engels. Ik zet hier enkele van de punten die ik heb aangeraakt op een rijtje, in het Engels weliswaar.

Dear friends,

I would like to begin with a strong quote.  Not by a politician.  Not by a philosopher.  Not by a writer but by Judy Garland:

Oh somewhere over the rainbow/ Bluebirds fly/ And the dreams that you dare to /Oh why, oh why can’t I?”.

The song tells it all: the desire to be elsewhere or even the desire to be someone else.  A bird for instance. A desire to escape implies that you perhaps don’t belong where you are.  Because who you are.  Because you feel different than the others.

The rainbow.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The rainbow has become a powerful symbol. The rainbow is a symbol of pacification. Let us not forget that there are countries where there is no peace at all for gay people. Violence rules there for those who are different. The rainbow is a symbol of colorfulness. Diversity is the visible part of tolerance and tolerance is the human part of mankind. The capability not to discriminate, discriminates us from all the other animals. The rainbow is a symbol of inclusiveness. The rainbow is a symbol of hope and yearning, of realizing a civilizationthat truly transforms civilized ideas in reality.  The rainbow, ladies and gentlemen, is the symbol of symbols and therefore…. it is not enough on its own, because it’s only a symbol.

This might surprise you.

This might shock you.

This will not surprise neither shock the people that know me already for a very long time.  Because I have been on the barricades for a very long time. The barricades against discrimination. The barricades against racism. The barricades that strongly condemn the bashing of gay people. The bashing of all kinds of people.

I honestly do not believe that using beautiful words or launching big statements is enough. I don’t believe that pinning the right symbols is enough. And yes, I do defend the values of the rainbow flag but I don’t think that it is enough to hang out a flag and sympathize.

What I really believe in is the old management wisdom: you ought to practice what you preach.

My dear friend Diane von Furstenberg told the world “Just be yourself, not an imitation”. This is an existential duty for each of us in general.

And for politicians in particular. Because true leaders create the circumstances in which people have the opportunity to be themselves.

What we need is inclusion! Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family”.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It should be our dream – no matter how difficult to realize – that sexual orientation should be explicitly mentioned be included in this human rights declaration.

What I believe in is that Belgium is one of the first countries that has allowed same sex marriages.

One of the first countries that allows same sex adoptions. Was that easy? No. But we achieved it. Is anyone questioning this in 2013? No. Few or none politicians on the right side or the left side, on the progressive side or the conservative side dare to question this. Because they know that it is widely accepted by our population.  It is something we can be really proud of.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

So being here and speaking to you about the World Outgames in Antwerp is in the first place a personal story. A story of someone, born in ’68, who studied law, has been happily married for almost 20 years with a fantastic women, who feels at home in New York and Berlin and is fascinated by culture, who believes in entrepreneurship, and sometimes feels the need to speak with God and who’s actually a politician. But also a personal story of someone who happens to have a lot of gay men and women among his best friends.  This is a coincidence. And sometimes it is just that little personal touch you need to get touched and to experience the good feeling of defending values that coincide with all the people who are important in your life.

Tom Robinson became world famous with his song ‘glad to be gay’. The city of Antwerp gladly invests in gay events. Why?

First because we truly believe our city has much to offer that isn’t directly gay related, but that will most likely appeal to most requirements of LGBT travellers. For us, being gay friendly is about attitude, a place that is open minded, and able to treat ALL of its visitors, as well as its citizens, with dignity and respect.

Secondly, because we are convinced that an LGBT citizen or visitor is above all a normal curious person, and when exploring Antwerp’s rich culture, history, architecture, gastronomyand art, sexual orientation plays no immediate role.

At the same time we are also convinced that there is much that LGBT citizens and travellers have to offer us in return. All our experiences have taught us that diversity really enlightens and enriches a city. Antwerp has been actively supporting and developing the gay communityfor quite some time, though we grew into it slowly through events as Navigaytion and Antwerp Pride.

This being said, Antwerp does have a thriving gay community to be proud of. The many gay bars, restaurants, clubs and shops that spread throughout the city may be considered as the icing on the cake for LGBT travellers that visit our city.

Antwerp pride is a kind of tautology: we are proud people and we are proud about EVERYONE  that visits our city and lives in it. Today we are proud to host the WorldOutgames.  But this is not the end. On the contrary, we will continue to see to it that Antwerp remains a city where the LGBT community feels at home, can relax and in this way continue to materialize the mission of our city as ‘cool capital’ and, indeed, as an open and international city. Equality is our most precious equity!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We should not forget in the north what happens in the south. And we should always be conscious in the west about what is happening in the east.  I condemn Russian legislation that punishes people and groups that distribute information considered “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. I condemn that gay teenagers are being tortured in homophobic attacks and forcibly outed on the internet. I condemn president Mugabe in Zimbabwe who told last week that gay people are ‘worse than pigs, goats and birds’. I condemn Iran where homosexuality is still punishable by death.

I condemn the murdering of gay rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe in Cameroon. In 76 countries all over the world, adult same-sex relationships are criminalized,  I condemn!

But, we should never make the same mistake as some of these countries do.  Exclusion should not be fought with exclusion.

There are also reasons to be hopeful. I truly welcome the new legislation in France. I strongly support President Barack Obama, who said “Our journey is not completed until our gay brother and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well”. And finally I was overwhelmed by Pope Francis, who said “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am perfectly aware that a lot of work still needs to be done, therefore I would like to emphasise the importance of the World Outgames and the Antwerp Guidelines who were adopted today at the third edition of the Conference on Human Rights of the WorldOutgames:  “From Safe Harbours to Equality”

I would like to express my great gratitude to GLISA, Bart Abeel and the organisation for working so hard on this marvellous event. I would like to thank them with a quote of Mahatma Ghandi when he wrote ‘tolerance is not about being different but about dealing with others being different’.

Philip Heylen

Vice Mayor for Culture, Economy, City Maintenance and Property Management

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