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Rainbow House cancels debate after backlash for allowing N-VA to participate

12:33 27/04/2024

LGBTQ+ organisation Rainbow House in Brussels has cancelled an election debate after receiving dozens of comments from francophones about N-VA's participation. 

In an announcement on Instagram, the organisation said it was “deeply saddened” that there would be any expectation they’d “normalise” extremism and discrimination, Bruzz reports.

The decision to cancel has sparked retaliations from parties due to take part in the debate, defending the principle of free debate.

Rainbow House planned its debate – titled ‘Is the future queer?’ – ahead of the elections on 9 June, hoping to engage young people. 

“Studies show that a growing number of gen-Z people identify as LGBTQ+,” it announced. “Will the queer voices of tomorrow be heard louder by the politicians in power?”

The debate was to take place at the Molenbeek cultural hub LaVallée with six major Flemish parties: PVDA, Groen, Vooruit, Open VLD, CD&V and N-VA. Vlaams Belang was not invited, but the presence of N-VA appeared to antagonise a lot of French-speaking people in the queer community.

“Giving the floor to N-VA is breaking the cordon sanitaire, and coming from this association, that is scandalous,” one commenter replied in French to the Dutch-language announcement. “By inviting them, you are also endangering the public with their violent and racist remarks.”

Another francophone commenter agreed, posting: “Since when do we invite the extreme right? What kind of signal do you think this sends to the community?”

Similarly concerned, one poster said: “N-VA? So as soon as they pretend to open up on LGBTQ+ issues we ignore institutional racism, xenophobic migration discourse and decades of homophobic views?”

There were around 50 such comments on the announcement, prompting Rainbow House to cancel all three debates planned. In an extensive post on Instagram, the organisation explained that they “could not remain indifferent” and that they “regret that people were hurt”.

The reactions are said to have had an impact on staff and partner organisations who no longer wanted to cooperate in the face of such sharp criticism. “It’s important for us to calm the situation and return to peace,” Rainbow House said. 

Defending the principle of debate

But they defended the principle of debate, saying that giving someone the floor during a debate isn’t an endorsement. “For Rainbow House, the confrontation of ideas is important and should be possible, face to face, even with people whose values we do not share,” they wrote. 

“What will happen tomorrow when we depend on federal powers whose holders may be parties whose values we do not share? We will look for other types of actions to enlighten and make society safer.”

Brussels N-VA MP Gilles Verstraeten, a member of the queer community and the person who organised the party's participation in the debate, said he regrets Rainbow House's reaction. 

“Rainbow House correctly took the decision to invite all democratic parties who also want to proudly participate, who want to stand up for the problems of the rainbow community,” he said.

“It’s regrettable then that we have to conclude that the debate is made impossible by the loudest voices and by the most extreme militants who actually say: the debate should only take place with people who agree with our vision. Then you might as well not organise a debate. It’s very unfortunate that Rainbow House gave in to that."

Another N-VA MP who is also a member of the queer community echoed the sentiment, listing multiple accomplishments the party has made in LGTBQ+ rights and protections: the expansion of the rights of trans people implemented by N-VA State Secretary Elke Sleurs; the first ever inter-federal action plan against homophobia and transphobia under the leadership of Zuhal Demir (N-VA); and the party’s co-approval of gay marriage and gay adoption. 

The Groen party also expressed disappointment at the cancellation of all debates at Rainbow House.

“We think it's a better attitude to involve all democratic parties in the future,” said Flemish MP Stijn Bex, who together with Bram Jaques was to debate on behalf of Groen.

“N-VA is now being put in the corner, so we are not facing them. It’s an unfortunate choice by some within the LGBTQ+ community.”

Like Groen, Open VLD also disagreed with the decision. “It is incomprehensible that Rainbow House Brussels allows itself to be come under pressure from a certain constituency,” said Frederik Ceulemans, spokesperson for the Brussels Open VLD faction, which was to take part in the debate.

“For us and for me it is astonishing the way MR [note: before the francophone reaction, Rainbow House also received criticism about MR's participation] and N-VA are described as extreme, while different voices only benefit the community. They are narrowing down the group they want to stand up for.”

Photo: ©Rainbow House Brussels

Written by Helen Lyons