IDAHOT+ Conference in The Hague and Brussels – 14–17 May 2024

A Conference on the crossroads of government policy for LGBTQIA emancipation and LGBTQIA activists and their NGO’s.

By Wielie Elhorst and Kees Goedegebuur

Eight people represented European Forum of LGBTI+ Christian Groups at the IDAHOT+ conference.

It has been eleven years since the first IDAHOT Conference was organized, also in The Hague. It was one of the Dutch civil servants, Ben Baks, who came up with the idea to bring all his European colleagues working on LGBTI+ emancipation together twice a year, to exchange, learn from each other and plan a successful process of law making for emancipation and acceptance of LGBTI+ people. The name of the new network became Intergovernmental LGBTI Focal Points Network. Later on several relevant International NGO’s were invited to join the network, first as observing participators, and recently as members. The European Forum of LGBTI+ Christian Groups was the last to join the around seven INGO’s that are there. The Focal Points Network organizes one meeting always around the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), 17 May each year (read more here). This meeting is called the IDAHOT+ Conference in which the country that hosts the conference also always participates in organizing its own event, of course relevant to the interests of the civil servants and the activists in the Focal Points Network. The Network is coordinated by the SOGI Unit of the Council of Europe.

Forseeing quite a busy European Forum Conference in Varese, Italy, the week before the IDAHOT+ Conference, I was in The Hague present only one and a half day. The participating INGO’s had all been allowed to bring a small number of people of their organization. The European Forum was able to bring eight people, from our different member groups (see pic). Two of them, myself included, had been invited on another basis. I was invited as the LGBTI minister of the Protestant Church of Amsterdam, but I was also present as a member of the Steering Committee of the so called LCC+ Projects (projects for the social acceptance of LGBTI+ persons in their faith communities, funded by the Dutch government), and as the Coordinator of the Working Group Political Advocacy of the European Forum.

‘Fun’ fact:
42 per cent of all LGBTI emancipation work in Europe is funded by the Dutch government.

The first day I joined, 15 May, was the public day of the IDAHOT+ Conference. Of course a few high officials spoke, but also 21 year old Justin Hermsen, who among other things was a part of what was then called the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) of his secondary school.

I was especially happy with the separate presentation of the ‘equality maps’ put together by TGEU and OII, the European organization for transgender people (TGEU) and the European organization for intersex people (OII). Thus they gave the audience the opportunity to see how the situation of predominantly transgender people has deteriorated: lawmaking in some countries has come to a complete stand still and violence towards transgender people has increased. Transgender people are now often the first who are confronted with bullying and violence, which is sometimes supported by a conservative narrative of right wing party members in parliament and by conservative forces in society, in churches and in
conservative organizations/NGO’s.

The keynote speaker in the morning was Israel Butler of the Civil Liberties Union. He spoke about the way NGO’s and other activists can change their way of messaging, thus neutralizing the very harsh, black-and-white and at times intimidating messages and words of the so called anti gender (ideology) movement and other conservative organisations. The speech was very practical and was continued in a workshop in which we practised writing so called ‘truth sandwiches’. Several practical guides/tool books are available to understand well thought over and strategic messaging. To my opinion one thing is lacking, which is the understanding of the religious background of many messages of the conservative-populist movement and all its stakeholders. In some cases in the ‘truth sandwiches’ there has to be an appeal to this background otherwise this instrument might become meaningless. I appealed to Butler with the idea to come up with a paragraph on religious arguments and values.

At the first edition of the Focal Points Network in 2013 also Her Majesty Queen Maxima of The Netherlands was present. She was at that moment the first member of the Dutch Royal House to speak openly about LGBTI topics. To honour her presence and words back then, she was invited again. She spoke again in a very informed and supportive way. After her speech she met with twelve activists present, of whom I was one. On Facebook I wrote this about this meeting:

Today I gave these two booklets (two languages: Arab and English, same contents) to Her Majesty Queen Máxima of The Netherlands: a powerful collection of stories of LGBTI+ people of faith, put together by a Global Coalition of LGBTI+ organizations of faith, for the visitors of the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 2022. The stories were handed out for more than one reason, but one most certainly was to have them amplified all over the world. Because that is what LGBTI+ people need, believers or not, now more than ever. Especially amplification of their voices in churches and communities of faith is important as religion is closely connected to the moral and political agenda of many countries/governments, and LGBTI+ people of faith can make a difference.

I also visited one of the morning sessions on 16 May which was a focus group to collect information from the field, informing systematic research into the anti-gender (ideology) movement. It was good we were present with five people from the European Forum to stress the need in the research also to dig into the religious background of and the (religious) arguments used by the representatives of the anti-gender (ideology) movement. Then I returned home and most of the conference participants went to Brussels for the continuation of the conference, being transferred in a chartered rainbow train.

Apart from attending the days Wielie described, Misza and I were also present on May 15 th at the formal 1 st meeting of the Committee of Experts on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (ADI-SOGIESC). This group was until now a working group but has been upgraded by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, with a bigger mandate and budget. Part of the plans will be the involvement of our European Forum as experts for the EU/CoE project: Combating anti-LGTBIQ violence and hate speech and strengthening awareness raising and fact-based narratives about LGTBIQ
persons. More information about this project can be found here. This is a huge opportunity to have our voices heard!

The last day of the Forum Conference was held in Brussels, as part of the joint organization of the Dutch government and the Belgium Presidency of the EU. The main focus was sharing practices and policies from all over Europe, in order to work together “Towards a Union of Equality”

A theme that was prevalent throughout all meetings was the rising influence of conservative right winged voices, threatening to undermine the position of LGBTI+ people. Realizing that the results that have been achieved in the past years are not stable, the feeling of all participants is to continue to strive for a world that is open to all!