First Gay Pride Parade in historic Bruges, Belgium
And proud they were! Smiles all over, hugs, kisses. Congratulations flying left and right. About 300 mainly young people gathered at 7 PM on May 8th 2009 in the central square in front of the world-famous belfry. The coming June General Elections made politicians scramble to be able to hold a piece of the ten meters long rainbow flag. The drum band led the way. Tourists flogged to see what was going on, and received a heart-shaped lollipop and flyers. The fleece is broken: next year bigger and louder!
The authorization for the parade was only obtained after 5 years’ lobbying, serving on emancipation and youth boards, and making gay presence known at every possible city council or political meeting in this rather conservative Flemish town. Gays made themselves so visible for politicians it was impossible to ignore them any longer, says Olivier Van Gierdeghom of www.gaybruges.be.
In 2002 Oliver and his friend Frederik De Schepper started putting the GLBT lifestyle on the map in Bruges. Literally: a map of Bruges with Gay friendly business was produced and distributed on the website and in print as a booklet titled ‘Gay in Bruges’. (Hot spots in 2009: Soulbar Parazzar and Barsalon as bistros, B&B Kwalito, and Fashion stores Leeloo and In Den Eenhoorn.) Find many more addresses on www.gaybruges.be, hit ‘in English’ on the left side bar.
Very soon a first group of friends founded a club, which got recognized by the city. The club cared for younger adults and teenagers to facilitate their ‘coming-out’. Oliver wrote a couple novels (‘Spinnertje’, ‘Mijn iks-ij doet koekoek’) on young people discovering their gayness. Thanks to his background as a teacher, Frederik was able to get these books accepted by the educational board of the Province! All schools received an educational map on gay lifestyle to be used in the classrooms.
Five gay groups are active in Bruges and are lined up along gender lines, with one group catering specifically to the transgender people. Offering a safe environment for like-minded individuals is the main purpose of these clubs. Parties and film-evenings are organized to build a close friendship among the members, who often visit clubs, parties and gatherings in other cities.
Although gays have full marriage laws in Belgium since 2003 and can adopt children, gays feel a renewed head wind coming from an aggressive youth culture (teenagers are more anti-gay), and the fast rising influence of Islam in Europe, says Tine Schoonbaert of www.venuz.org. Islam is the fastest-growing religious group in Belgium, holding already over 10 % of the population in submission. Muslim youths are the majority in the schools of the larger cities.
Bruges is the Venice of the North (canals and bridges!), and was the center of the world in medieval 13th- and 14th-century Europe. Best of all: everything is still there! Bruges languished from the 16th century on, and missed the industrial revolution.
You may know Bruges from the excellent 2008 dark comedy-thriller ‘In Bruges,’ but this movie only showed one percent of the city’s beauty and its romantic feel. Bruges is a fairy-tale city! To learn more about the awesome beauty of Bruges: www.brugge.be/internet/en/index.htm