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Belgium ranks second in Europe for LGBT rights
Belgium comes second in Europe when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights, according to the annual Rainbow Map of ILGA-Europe, the umbrella of European LGBTI+ organisations.
A recent amendment of the criminal law to include discrimination against gender and sexual diversity as an aggravating factor earned Belgium four extra points this year.
“Despite the fact that public polarisation around gender and sexual diversity is increasing, we see that a lot of politicians remain committed to equal rights for LGBTI+ persons,” said Eef Heylighen of advocacy group Çavaria.
“That is heartening for LGBTI+ activists, volunteer groups and advocacy groups.”
The rankings come amid Brussels Pride Week, which started last Wednesday and runs until 19 May.
ILGA-Europe has put out the rankings since 2009, using it to illustrate the legal and policy situation of LGBTI+ people in Europe.
After years at number two, Belgium dropped one place in the ranking to third in 2022, with 72%, but has now returned to its second place spot with 76% after Malta (89%) and above Denmark (75.5%).
The index ranks 49 European countries on their respective legal and policy practices for LGBTI+ people, from 0-100%, on the basis of laws and policies.
There are 74 criteria divided between seven themed categories: equality and non-discrimination; family; hate crime and hate speech; legal gender recognition; intersex bodily integrity; civil society space; and asylum.
While advocacy group Çavaria celebrated Belgium’s second place, Heylighen said that there was still much work to be done and that the new legislation that bumped Belgium back into its second place spot is still “too vaguely worded and arbitrary”.
Çavaria is arguing for a guarantee in the penal code so that any LGBT-phobic crime will attract a harsher punishment and ILGA-Europe pointed out that people who identify as non-binary still have no options when it comes to changing gender on their Belgian identity card.
Moreover, there is no ban on gender surgery on intersex minors who do not consent to it.
And although Brussels Pride is in full swing, not all are as happy to celebrate.
Woluwe-Saint-Pierre mayor Benoît Cerexhe (Les Engagés) reiterated his opposition to rainbow-coloured pedestrian crossings.
“It is with surprise that I discovered that on my commune, at Montgomery Square, a zebra crossing was painted with rainbow colours,” Cerexhe told La Dernière Heure.
The mayor has always been opposed to rainbow zebra crossings, telling Bruzz back in February that “a zebra crossing should not be a carrier of a message, but should ensure traffic safety”.
The mayor denounced the appearance of a rainbow crossing in his commune, which he said was done at the behest of Brussels’ mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt (Groen).
“It is unacceptable for the region's administration to impose things that a mayor has refused,” Cerexhe said. “This type of practice is a scandal.”
Several zebra crossings are painted over with the rainbow colours every year on the occasion of Brussels Pride, and Van den Brandt tweeted that she “will not compromise on inclusivity in our city”.
“Everyone is welcome, everyone can be themselves,” Van den Brandt said.
“Every year we paint a number of zebra crossings in rainbow colours, in honour of Pride. And we are going to keep doing that.”
A spokesperson for Van den Brandt also pointed out that the zebra crossing in question was painted on a regional road, not a municipal one, meaning it was within the region’s authority to make the call and not the mayor’s.
“Every year, some are painted over in the city centre, and in other places,” spokesperson Pieterjan Desmet said.
“That varies every year to spread it out a bit as well. We try to paint them in more well-known places where many people pass, so that it has its effect. That it is now in [Cerexhe’s] municipality is a coincidence.”
Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga