I came to Belgium with a very low self-esteem. I conflicted with myself and it was very difficult for me to accept myself, especially in the centre where I lived with communities that were very closed to gender issues. But now I know who I am and that is worth all the difficulties I had to go through. I am no longer afraid of people's judgments or fears; I don't question myself anymore. I do what makes me happy and I go for it without thinking. I am very proud to be as I am today.
That's the most important thing at the moment, to be able to and manage to love yourself first so that you can then be available to others and love them too. Love is taking care of yourself and others and being understanding. This is certainly the recipe for love: understanding.
For the moment, learning French is my priority. I know I will be so much freer afterwards. Then I would like to finish my chef training and work for a good restaurant and be able to mix the flavours of my country with those from elsewhere. I would like to be in the kitchen of a famous chef and be able to work with his team.
After that, I would love to be able to bring my family and friends here who I miss so much. But for them in Guatemala it's not as complicated as for me as a gay man. That's why I'm with them in my thoughts and send them my strength and love.
I always say: "There are two kinds of love, love for one's neighbour and love for one's partner" To me, the two loves are not defined in the same way. Loving your neighbour means doing for your neighbour what you would like your neighbour to do for you, avoiding creating situations for your neighbour that you yourself would not like to be created. For me, this is a bit like love for your neighbour, being attentive to your neighbour, that's how I define love for your neighbour. As far as love for your partner is concerned, I define it as respect, sacrifice, understanding and really a lot of communication.
I just want to live like any normal person. I want to be happy and simple, to be free and free of this label "migrant". To have all the normal things in life and that's why I came here, because it was impossible for me in Ethiopia. I would like to focus on my future, to study and learn what I like today. I would like to go to a school for higher education. I would like to be able to travel, to dream, ... I would like to visit Egypt (laughs). I know it's complicated to get there and not quite safe, but I would love to be in that desert of pyramids with that wind blowing in my face. I have been to Egypt but in a different context of course.
I never thought I would end up in Belgium and I thought that by being here I would never be confronted with discriminatory situations. I thought that everyone was open, at least that's the idea we have of Europe. In my head it was not possible, yet I was confronted with insults, threats, and it shows that discrimination is everywhere. In reality, I was wrong and disappointed. But as people are more open here, I hope that in the future there will be no discrimination at all.
I am a transgender asylum seeker. In Belgium, I live well at 80%, like everyone else, normally what. There are more freedoms in Belgium and I came here because in my country of origin and in the European countries where I was before, I had a lot of problems because of my nature, the threats and the aggressions I suffered. I was afraid, and I ran away to make a living. It's very hard to be threatened by your own community or your family. It's not just someone violent on the street that you don't know, but it's your family, your roots that you have to run away from. It's heartbreaking.
I am Gul Panra, a bisexual male to female transgender from Afghanistan. I love wearing makeup and cross-dressing. Since my childhood, I used to practice to dress like a girl and wear daily makeup. In my childhood, my family considered my gender expression’s acts as fun. It made them to laugh. After I grow up, they got sensitive and asked me to stop it. Sometimes, I received punishment.
As a custom in Afghanistan, I got married when I was too young at my 17-year age. Marring a girl gave me a chance to get access women's clothes and cosmetics. Secretly, I wore makeup and dressed my wife’s clothes when she was out. Someday, she found me accidentally in her dress with make-up. She got shocked and reported it to my father and uncle, although she admitted it afterwards in a year.
There were huge rumours among people of my village. They kept talking about me, my appearance and desire. They called me hijra (very offensive word means shemale and faggot in our language) which made me to be very upset. Being a hijra is not allowed in Islam (Haram) and according to Shariyat (Islamic laws), I should be killed. By circulating people’s talks, my life turned to be like a hell. One of my uncles was extremely furious hearing about me. He had sworn to God that would kill me.
I was under huge pressure and high danger. They could nothing do to change me, I tried as well but no success. It was my nature and reality, and I could not deny it. My father eventually decided to send me to Europe. I started my journey from Afghanistan to reach a safe place and after crossing nine countries with very harsh situation and extremely dangerous pathways experienced long-term hunger, pushed back and beat by police, utmost chill, sexual and verbal harassment and passing lots of hardships, finally I arrived in Belgium after a year and half and claimed asylum.
I have been sent to an asylum center and in a short time, I found that it impossible to live there. People residing in the center were verbally and physically insulting and teasing me. After being patient for a long time, I have been transferred getting aid by my social assistant to a social house. The danger of living in the asylum center was even more than the challenges that I faced in Afghanistan. I was threatened to be killed by knife only because I dressed different and wore make up.
Here in Belgium, I found hope to start a new free life in Belgium. I figured out here that I was a transgender and I found that I have right to change legally my gender. I started my transition process by only having access to hormonotherapy with no additional support. My asylum procedure is delayed, and I am waiting to receive an interview for a long time. I am hugely stressful having lots of physical and mental health problems. My family keep not accepting me and adding more stress and pressure on me. I cannot hide my gender transition and still receiving persecution and harassment by some people even in Belgium.
I wish I could explore my own world here in Europe. I am hopeful to breathe freedom and be myself someday.
I am a lesbian girl and I didn't choose this. It's natural, I can't help it. I'd like people to finally respect that. In a centre, there must also be a place for people who have not chosen. Creating a special centre for LGBTQIA+ people wouldn't solve all the problems but it would provide securitý not having to hide anymore, not having to fear reprisals for who you are. The present life is impossible, it has to change.
Here in Belgium there are laws that at least protect us. Even if there is still verbal violence and there is not a big association defending the rights of transgender people who are still very vulnerable even in Belgium. When I come to associations like the Rainbow House, I finally feel at home, in "our" world. This is what makes me happy. Today, I try to live normally, like everyone else, as I am, because it is my right. It's important for me today, like knowing that I am protected by the law and that I am legitimate in the country.
There are always people who are against homosexuality whether they are black or white. The problem is that it's difficult to mix people from LGBTQIA+ communities with people who are not in centres because they don't understand each other. It's not easy when I want to talk to men because I have to isolate myself from others to avoid suspicion and intimidation. Even when I come to the Rainbow House, I meet people from the centre and I have to go out of my way so that they don't understand that I'm coming to a Rainbow House. If I was in a centre for LGBTQIA+ people, I would feel safee and I could be quiet. It would be nice to finally be able to live in a place that doesn't force me to hide who I am.
I never had any intentions of coming to Belgium or leaving my country. I was fighting hard to improve my situation back home. I had my own shoe shop and a private life which was important to me.
Unfortunately, in June 2020, I had a heated argument with my boyfriend, Jeremy. The commotion caught the attention of our neighbour who barged into our living room, as I had forgotten to close the door. Jeremy and I were trying to reconcile and were sharing a kiss when the neighbour entered. He immediately shouted accusations of witchcraft, and without any hesitation, he physically attacked me.
The other neighbours joined in, dragging us out of the house and leaving me naked in the public square. Jeremy managed to escape, but I was subjected to more than an hour of brutal assault, with the attackers using burning objects. In my country, being gay can result in severe beatings or even death at the hands of the community. If one is lucky, someone might contact the police, and the individual would end up in prison. After enduring torture for over an hour, the police finally intervened. However, I was kept in the police station for three days without clothes.
Thankfully, with the help of a police contact, Jeremy managed to assist me in escaping. During a moment when I requested to use the restroom, the officer fired a warning shot, and I had to climb over a wall to flee the country.
I am a gay man from Iran, a country where sexual activity between members of the same sex is frequently punished by imprisonment, corporal punishment, or execution.
I was working for the Iranian government always expected to be religious, and compliant with Islam and official government policy. Being gay is a red line for the government and marriage is compulsory if you want to stay employed in governmental jobs. People will assume you are gay if you are not married. I refused for many years but aged forty the pressures were too much for me to bear.
In my case, the authorities kept inspecting me and kept reports labelled me as gay. The homophobic harassment started when I was about 30, causing issues in my job, sending threats and pressuring me to attend a ‘meeting’ at the Department of Security and Information. They wanted a written commitment that I would marry.
I was also a protestor against the Iranian Islamic regime. They knew about it by spying on my lectures, monitoring my online activity, and articles I had published in newspapers and websites, even ones when I had covered my tracks using a pseudonym.
I secretly collaborated with IRQR (Iranian LGBT organisation based in Canada) writing articles for their magazine as well; they knew this as well.
I was in danger of being dismissed from my job, imprisoned and even death. I did not want to leave my family and beloved country so hiding my sexuality was all I could think to do.
My situation was dire as the authorities knew my every move. I decided to get married with a lesbian or an asexual woman to live. To my surprise, one of my students proposed to me. I suggested a marriage without sex and she agreed. I was thinking she might be a queer or perhaps an asexual but I was wrong. She was just thinking to entrap me married. We got married, and the struggles started from the first day and got worse and worse every other day.
She demanded sex, and it was really impossible fighting with her every day; but I was obliged to go on with it. I was still regularly inspected and monitored by the government. It was really tough to remain silent, not be myself and have sex in a loveless marriage.
My marriage was one big psychological trauma. I made myself busy all day long. The only time I felt slightly relaxed was when I slept.
She opened our secret to some of her friends and her family so I pretended I was asexual. I tried to divorce her several times, but she wanted to keep me in any condition and this added more pressure. She even threatened to report me to the authorities.
Iran is a country where people just disappear, including many LGBTs. I knew I could have been snatched at work or even off the streets.
I had limited financial resources and did not know what to do. I was alive, but I did not live like a human being.
I contacted many LGBT organisations including the Peter Tatchell Foundation. I knew I needed to build a support network.
I decided to get out of Iran and seek asylum. However, all my attempts like job applications abroad and European visa applications failed. I even tried entering a human trafficking line to Turkey but even that didn’t work.
My wife and her family kept upon the threats and again refused my request for divorce and insisted to keep me in that terrible life even though they were suffering too.
Finally, getting help from some of my friends, I secretly got a visa for Europe and miraculously fled.
I have now been granted asylum and can really start to live. I feel so relieved. I never thought that one day I would be free. It is hard to express in words what it means to me. It is a new beginning, a new life for me.
So far, it is only within associations like Maison Arc-en-Ciel where we, the LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers, can freely affirm ourselves. My wish is that this spirit arrives in the reception centres because many residents and sometimes even the administrative staff need to be sensitised.
When you come from a country where being different allows others to hurt you and be illegal in the eyes of society, I can only feel the fact that we still have a lot to do as LGTBQIA+ people and that we should all be united to fight these societal discriminations. I really wish with all my heart that the future of the community in Ethiopia is better. That people can flourish there and no longer be in danger. I hope I can contribute one day with the help of other friends from my country. In fact, I often dream about it. One day I hope an LGBTQIA+ flag will fly in the Ethiopian sky.
In Ivory coast, I belonged to an LGBTQIA+ association; I was not an active member, but I supported them. In Abidjan, I was great; I felt very good in my country; I didn't see myself coming here at all. I had a very good job that allowed me to earn a very good living; I had no intention of coming to Europe. I was 12 years old when I was caught for the first time.
I was beaten and locked up for three days. So there was no doubt, I had three children with the same woman but we didn't live together. I went back and forth between my wife's flat and another small house that I kept and where I saw my companion. When people had doubts as to why I wasn't getting married, I had a second child. On the day my third child was born, my partner wanted to show our daughter to friends and thinking that I was renting the little house to friends, she surprised my partner and me. In shock, she called́ members of my family who immediately threatened me with death. I left for work; I was thinking a lot because I could no longer see myself staying in Côte d'Ivoire with everything that had happened. I wanted to live my life, to express myself as I wanted. I was not ready to face the entire world to be able to live my homosexuality.
So I spoke to a gay friend who worked with me in order to have all the papers I needed, he advised me to go to Europe.
I am 26 years old and of Ivorian origin. My story begins when I was 15 years old, precisely in 2010. I met Simon during my first year of computer science studies. He was older and came to help us study our courses as a volunteer. The feeling grew between us; we spent more and more time together, but without admitting our attraction to each other for three successive years. One day of revision just before the baccalaureate, he decided to confess his feelings for me, which was also shared on my side and from then on we began, but in secret our relationship.
Simon used to come and visit me at my house whenever he had the chance. But the more we enjoyed this game, the more people in the neighbourhood and elsewhere became very suspicious of us. Often they even refused to let us into their clothes shops. Then came the day when threatening words were left on my doorstep, asking me to stop my relationship with Simon. I was very afraid for my life, because during the post-election crisis of 2010, two known gay men from the neighbourhood were publicly tortured in front of our eyes as an example and we were left without news of their fate. I was afraid that this would happen to us too and so I decided to stop our relationship to calm the suspicion.
Two years later, Simon found himself in front of my family home and I went for a walk with him when in the evening we were surprised by a group of men who immediately denounced us in the neighbourhood. We managed to ̀ escape and the next day I called my sister who then explained to me that my family, disgraced by my behaviour, never wanted to see me again. Simon then convinced me to leave the country, and he put me up with a friend until the departure date.
My name is Mani an Iranian asylum-seeker man in Belgium. I felt confused and isolated when I realised I was different from my friends even prior to reaching adulthood. Their unmeaning discussions about my passion for girls made me question myself and feel like something was wrong with me. I struggled to suppress my unfamiliar feelings for other boys, hoping I would mature and desire girls eventually. I enrolled in university hoping to change my sexual orientation by interacting with girls, but it did not work. Discovering homosexuality online brought relief but also fear. I kept trying to deny my inclinations. A chance encounter with a girl named Sarvin in the University’s library gave me the opportunity to try changing my sexual orientation. Our relationship grew, but I still felt no attraction and carried a heavy burden.
I approached Parmis, a girl whom I heard roamers say had the same-gender attraction as me. It sparked curiosity in me. Breaking free from the painful relationship with Sarvin, I tried to reach out to Parmis. She accepted and understood me, and we shared our experiences. I confessed my interest in the same gender, and Parmis supported me to accept myself. She introduced me to a group of like-minded boys and girls, and together we formed a band. I found happiness in our shared experiences but still felt discontent, longing for deeper connections and genuine romantic relationships.
Our band was constantly monitored by the university security officer, and they looked for an excuse to reprimand us. Kasra, one of our bandmates was caught by the security officer kissing a friend, resulting in their suspension from the university. Our group fell apart after that incident, scattered and disheartened.
After completing my military service, I enrolled in a new university, and there I met Farshid, a childhood friend. Seeing him filled me with joy, and our friendship grew stronger. But my feelings for him went beyond friendship, and I yearned for more. I was scared he would find me out and our friendship would be ruined. After months of overwhelming emotions, I gathered the courage to reveal everything in a heartfelt message. His response was brimming with hatred, as he resorted to calling me derogatory names such as a filthy pig, sexually sick individual, and a pervert, choosing to block me. I was devastated and humiliated. Upon returning home, my father told me Farshid had forwarded all my messages to him. He unleashed his anger, physically assaulting me. Thankfully, my mother stepped in to protect me.
After a while, as I faced challenging times, I sought solace in Daneshju Park, connecting with other queer people who understood me. Suddenly, one fateful day, the morality police descended upon us, unleashing a wave of brutal beatings upon everyone present. I managed to escape the police beatings, but I was overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and self-hating. I could not return to the park, leaving me wandering the streets, consumed by tears and self-curses.
During this distressing time, a university friend called and invited me to his birthday party, promising the presence of our mutual friends. I had a glimmer of hope. But upon arriving, Farshid's enigmatic smile raised my suspicions. The atmosphere grew tense, leading to an orchestrated incident where they made me dance, mocking me. Farshid had betrayed my secret to everyone there. Their ill intentions turned into physical violence, striking me with a stick and forcing me to dance. They laughed heartlessly as they tore my clothes and intensified their assault. Overwhelmed by humiliation and pain, I screamed, fearing attention. In shock, I urgently called a taxi, to escape home. The torment continued at university, with constant teasing, body touching, and laughter.
For a long time, my father and I had no communication. One day, Parmis reached out and called me in tears. Her father forced her into marriage. After a lengthy conversation, she proposed that we marry each other to escape from our difficult circumstances. Reluctantly, after several days of internal struggle, I finally agreed to pursue our safety. We engaged in discussions to gather the necessary funds and plan our departure from Iran. I told my family I loved a girl, and we planned to marry. After overcoming numerous challenges, we became engaged. After two years, the pressure to marry and have children grew.
I and Parmis attended queer parties to embrace our true selves, but one night, we were attacked by the University Basij. They subjected us to brutal physical violence and threatened to expose our identities as homosexuals. Parmis and I fled in fear and sought refuge at my grandmother's house. We concocted a story about being involved in political activities and protests to our fathers to protect ourselves from their violations. The authorities continued to pursue us, delivering threats, and demanding our surrender. Finally, Parmis's father convinced everyone that we needed to leave Iran for our safety. After careful deliberation, we decided to embark on a risky journey to Europe via Turkey. We were smuggled in the back of a truck, given essential supplies, and made our way to Istanbul. The journey was filled with danger and uncertainty, but we were determined to escape Iran and find a safer life.
My situation as a lesbian person, I didn't expect it. I did not leave my country in the same way, in the same situation as others. I came here to study. I came to a land where people are free, free to live their lives. It is not just freedom it is a framed freedom. There are laws to accompany this freedom.
As an LGBTQIA+ person, I'm really not complaining. It's even more than my expectations. I didn't expect to have this kind of welcome and this legal basis regarding LGBTQIA+ people. It is possible to feel comfortable quickly. There is no insecurity. It is possible to walk down the street quietly at any time. I find that good, because personally I was not used to that.
I always felt good, comfortable, at ease with all the people from the LGBTQIA+ communities I met. On the one hand, coming from them, there was no rejection. I feel a fraternal warmth and mutual support within the communities. For me, this is a very good thing. But it's still difficult to meet people outside the LGBTQIA+ communities, meeting people of different nationalities is still rare and even meeting people from my own Cameroonian communitý who are safe is really not easy either.
Outside the centres, it's hard to meet "safe" people or people from LGBTQIA+ communities like me. The idea of having safe centres for LGBTQIA+ refugees sounds good to me, but I would especially like to do invitations to the centres with non-LGBTQIA+ people or homophobic and transphobic residents as well, to facilitate integration and contact. I would like them to understand that the LGBTQIA+ world is not isolated communities in society, on the contrary they are many to be active in the society of the world.
There are people who come from all over Belgium and it's great because it allows diversity and the fact of being welcomed all the same. I was able to meet some great people who support me today and who push me to move forward, to overcome my problems, to build myself. They accept me as I am and I am myself now thanks to them too. I have a new family, a family of the heart that I have chosen. Not like my family in Ethiopia who could not accept me. This is the most important thing for me today.
What I particularly appreciate here is the multicultural nature of Belgian cities. You feel good here and it's much easier to create links because you're all mixed up. Here in Brussels, I have friends from my country, Belgians, but also African and Arab friends. It's really nice to have friends in such difficult situations. It makes it possible to have good moments and good memories, even if you have been in a centre for several years.
All this is possible despite the language barrier which is certainly the most complicated for me, especially for the administrative process. I am often lost because I don't understand what is going on or what I am supposed́ to do. So I am always waiting without always understanding.
The hardest part is the waiting. I have registered in French schools and in a make-up school for next year because I want to study. I'm doing a lot of paperwork but I always have to wait for a paper, or an authorisation, ... I don't speak French perfectly yet and I feel that it complicates everything. To get into the school they ask me to have a high level of French for which I would like to take lessons, but how can I do that when I don't know where or how to get there. I think it's a shame that more opportunities are not given, French is not everything in life either, there are lots of other things I can do and would like to do in the future.
Laws punish homophobia but laws are useless if they are not applied, if there are no sanctions. Homophobia must be punished and in the centres there is only impunity. If this continues, there will be suicides. I'm not the only one who has thought about this. We need to give LGBTQIA+ people a peaceful and friendly environment. What's the point of being in Belgium in a centre if the centre doesn't provide security and promotes homophobes?
Another thing that is very complicated for me is the fact that in communities I feel like I am accepted as a non-binary person but no one really understands it, or tolerates it altogether. I am often told "No worries, I accept you as non-binary" but then people don't make an effort and try to understand it a bit better. I think it's very important that we all understand each other, that we are caring and respectful. If I take the time to explain to you how I identify, accept and respect it instead of discussing it and looking for an answer. The most important thing is to feel happy with others even if you don't always understand everything. It's to stop trying to put people in boxes in order to understand, but rather to accept the integrity of the person, even if it is complex.
My first aim after the right of protection and residence is to participate in the creation of an association and to be able to be active in this new country that I now live in. I would like to be able to work together, with the support of other Belgian associations such as the Maisons Arc-en-Ciel, and then to be able to act and raise awareness from a distance in my country of origin, in the Arab world. In any case, I'm going to try to make things change here and there. That's my dream now.
I fled from a religious country to the capital of Europe as supporter of the LGBT family - Belgium to save my life and achieve the basic rights of a human being, considering that I am gay.
Upon entering here, when I informed my Social Assistant that I was gay, her first sentence was "This must be a secret, otherwise it will be a big problem for you, and if extremists find out, they may hurt you"
I was very sad after hearing this sentence
I was sentenced to the same life in Iran for many years, and now in one of the most civilised countries in the world, I must be careful that no one in the refugee camp notices I am different.
The centre I am living in is in one of the most remote cities in Belgium and is far from Brussels and cities like Antwerp and Liege where most of LGBT organisations are active, holding festivals, important meetings and activities and supporting LGBT people.
Whenever I want to talk to new friends I met in cyberspace, because my roommates mostly understand English, I must leave there and go to a private place. I can never be comfortable in bed or in the room with my friends like other people talking on the phone.
I can't even talk comfortably in Farsi with my friends on the phone because there are many Persian-speakers here, from Iran and Afghanistan.
People who live in the centre have no information about LGBT issues with religious prejudices on them. If they accidentally find out about it, the centre will really become a real hell for me.
And in the end, these made me to be a distant and depressed human being.
I know that there are many people like me suffering in the same way.
I escaped from hell, and you put me in another hell.
For my country, I want everything to change for the LGBTQIA+ communities. I wish we would no longer be imprisoned for expressing ourselves differently, for being different, that our lives would no longer be threatened by religion and traditions, and that one day, even if it is very difficult in Arab societies, there would be an association that defends other worlds, such as the LGBTQIA+ communities. I hope I will no longer have to hide my true nature, that I will be able to expose my inner self to the light of day, as I have known since I was a child that I am a woman in a man's body. I hope that one day, in my country, they will stop judging us by our visible, external differences, but rather by what we think as a person.