(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists)
Belgium is signatory to international treaties and human rights declarations, including prohibitions of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Belgium is signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, ICCPR, ICESCR and other agreements which uphold essential human rights.
On 25 February 2003, an anti-discrimination law was passed which offers legal protection for people on the basis of their sex and sexual orientation. A similar law replaced this in 2007 (the Sex Discrimination Act 2007). These anti-discrimination laws also established a penalty-enhancement for crimes motivated by hate on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. On 29 November 2013, the Federal Government approved a change to the anti-discrimination law to include gender identity and gender expression.
The Sex Discrimination Act 2007 provides a legal basis for the change of sex and name for transgender persons. However, there are preconditions for a person to officially change their sex, including ‘the existence of a constant and irreversible inner conviction to belong to the other sex; a physical adaption to the other sex; and the incapability of the person to beget children in accordance with his/her former sex.’ These conditions require confirmation by a statement from a psychiatrist or surgeon. For a change of name, a transgender person must give evidence of medical treatment, but does not require a sex change operation.
On 1 June 2003, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Subsequent legislation in October 2004 permitted any same-sex couple to marry in Belgium if at least one of the spouses has lived in Belgium for a minimum of 3 months. However, same-sex couples were not allowed to adopt children until April 2006 when Belgium passed the gay adoption law giving the right for gay couples to adopt children.
In February 2014, the parliament amended two laws on foreigners’ residence and asylum (Bill 2555/005) to explicitly state that the persecution of a group based on their sexual orientation or gender identity may constitute grounds for asylum. This had already been the case in practice, but the text formally transposed the EU Directive on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection (2011/95/EU) into national law.
There is no recent case law that is relevant to discuss.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND/OR STATE'S CAPACITY TO PROTECT
Belgium has been cited as being one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. The position of gay people is helped by the fact that Belgium’s previous prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, is openly gay. Stef Verdoodt, operations director for the World Outgames (an Olympic-style games for the LGBTI community) has said that ‘Antwerp has one of the most LGBT-friendly attitudes of all European cities’. Whilst Belgium is considered as one of the most progressive countries when it comes to issues of LGBTI, over the past few years there have been various occasions of violent crimes towards LGBTI people. These acts of violence towards those who are LGBTI triggered the previous Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo to introduce the law on bias-motivated crimes, as described in the Legal Information section.
Known incidences of violence and discrimination
As part of the EU-wide survey of LGBT people’s experiences of discrimination (organised by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights), there have been 2,901 Belgian respondents. 35% of the respondents have felt discriminated against or harassed because of their sexual orientation (in the year preceding the survey). The EU average is 47%. 15% felt discriminated against at work or when looking for employment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity (the EU average is 20%). And 26% felt discriminated against when buying goods or accessing essential services, social services, healthcare or housing (the EU average is 32%).
There is also data available on discrimination faced specifically by transgender people. In November 2012, the Institute for Equality of Women published their results of research about violence experienced by transgender people in Belgium. The research suggests that 80% of transgender people have experienced violence due to their gender identity; 33% have experienced sexual violence; and 25% of respondents experienced physical violence. Additionally, 25% of the respondents experienced verbal or psychological violence and 20% experienced damage to property. The research shows that the culprits are often known by the victim and are mostly male.
There are a number of examples of crimes against LGBTI people. In 2011, a 20-year old woman in Virton made a complaint about her father for assaults and ‘corrective rapes’. This situation began in 2008 when her father discovered she was a lesbian. In April 2012, a 32-year old man was found dead after being beaten to death by a group of homophobic men. In July 2012, there was a brutal murder of a 60-year old man, an act motivated by homophobia. There has also been some suggestion that parts of the police force are homophobic. In August 2013, it was alleged that two gay people were verbally and physically abused by police officers as they left the site of the Brussels Summer Festival.
State and political attitudes
On the International Day Against Homophobia, the federal government proposed a national action plan against homophobic and transphobic discrimination. Joëlle Milquet, Vice-Prime Minister in charge of equality, and author of the plan, seeks to remove structural discrimination in the areas of family, housing, asylum and migration, research policy, police training, gender identity generally, and foreign affairs, and combat stereotypes.
In April 2012, a reggae artist called Sizzla was scheduled to perform in Ghent but was cancelled after Belgian organisations called on the event organisers to do so. The singer is known for including homophobic language in some of his tracks. This example reveals the power that gay rights’ can exert on organisations in Belgium.
Belgian gay activists are grouped into various organisations. Several of these are part of the Çavaria and Wel Jong Niet Hetero (Dutch for ’Young But Not Straight’). Belgian gay rights activism is most prominently demonstrated through the BLGP ’Belgium Lesbian and Gay Pride’ demonstration marches. Many of the activists’ demands have been met in recent years prompting question whether the marches are obsolete.
The Rainbow Cops, an association of police officers, was set up following an initiative of the Diversity Department of the National Police. The Rainbow Cops aims to defend LGBTI colleagues’ interests in the context of a larger organisation. This initiative might be seen as particularly important given the alleged homophobic violence enacted by police officers at the Brussels Summer Festival 2013.
Brussels hosts a number of LGBT film festivals including: The Gay and Lesbian Festival of Belgium. The Massimadi LGBT film festival of African origin takes place in May. Pink Screens is held in the autumn.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
We do not currently list an organisation supporting LGBTI persons in Belgium, but we welcome suggestions.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN SPECIALISTS
We do not currently list a specialist in LGBTI issues in Belgium, but we welcome suggestions.
Researched by: Nicholas Cottrell
Email: n [dot] g [dot] a [dot] cottrellgmail [dot] com