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Local pride: How Brussels has become a major gay-friendly destination
Brussels' two-week-long Pride party is drawing to a close, after countless parties and a colourful parade winding through the city centre at the weekend.
But aside from the busy Pride celebrations, Brussels is making progress in strengthening the city's reputation as a cosmopolitan and tolerant gay-friendly destination all year round, to rival the likes of Barcelona and Berlin.
"We want to convey a clear, inclusive message," says Rachael Moore, the co-ordinator of Brussels Rainbow House. "Everyone is unique and has the right to a place in society, without discrimination on any grounds whatsoever."
Visit.brussels describes the gay and lesbian scene as "discreet, varied and welcoming" - and of course multicultural and multilingual.
Frédéric Boutry, who is responsible within the Brussels Region for developing the LGBT market, says: "By supporting and developing different niches in the LGBT community, we are gradually putting Brussels on the map, among capitals like Madrid. Finally it's working."
He says Brussels is famous for its "kindness, its parties and its gastronomy which is not too expensive - so Brussels has a lot of assets.
Christophe Soret, editor-in-chief of Garçon magazine agrees, and estimates gay tourism's value to the Brussels economy at tens of millions of euros.
"When gay people come to Brussels, they stay in hotels, they go shopping," he says. "They eat out in restaurants and enjoy the bars. Brussels is full of gay-friendly places, which makes the city attractive.
Gay Brussels: some popular venues, parties and groups
The heart of the capital’s LGBT community can be found in the city centre, around the Grand Place, Rue du Marché au Charbon and Plattesteen. Popular hangouts include the cruising bar Stammbar, the stylish, retro-themed gay café-bar Station BXL, and late-night dance venue Amalgame, which has DJs at the weekend and a Monday morning after-party.
La Demence: The city's most famous international party night for gay men, every month in techno club Fuse. Other popular club nights include Revelation at Bazaar Club, the gay and lesbian-friendly electro and 90s nights at Catclub and women-only party Velvet Sixty Nine.
Mothers & Daughters: A relatively new pop-up lesbian bar in downtown Brussels, Mothers & Daughters had been organising pop-up events in Beursschouwburg for the past year and can now be found on Rue Haute, in the Marolles. The bar acts as a community space, organising workshops, discussions and exhibitions - and was financed through public donations.
Brussels Gay Sports: This group has been running for 25 years and offers sports such as futsal, hiking and volleyball. It also organises cultural activities including vegetarian cooking classes, a choir, theatre improvisation and dance. Potential members can try any of the activities for free; after that there’s a membership fee of €15 a year.
A lifestyle guide to gay-friendly Brussels, with address and tips, is available to buy on the Visit.brussels website.
Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga