'Luxembourg allows me to be who I am'
(CS) The wedding of Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and his partner Gauthier Destenay on Friday made international headlines and showed Luxembourg in a light of openness and tolerance, but what do other homosexual men say about living openly gay in the Grand Duchy?
For Patrick Wengler coming out to his family in the late 1990s was no easy task. Born in 1983 and raised in a small Luxembourg village, being gay was not what was expected or wanted, he explained. Realising that he was homosexual during puberty, it would take him several years to come to terms with his sexuality and tell friends and family.
But he was lucky. “There was no one who reacted negatively,” he said, adding: “The reaction was that I needed to live my life and that it was okay.” In his circle of friends, others were less fortunate. “I know of people who were cast out by their families,” Patrick said.
Since his coming out, however, a lot has changed in Luxembourg. “There really has been a positive development these past years,” he commented, referring not only to the same-sex marriage and adoption law passed in parliament last year, but also a generally more open and tolerant attitude towards homosexuals.
“The generation of my parents were raised when it was still a taboo. But those growing up now, grow up with the topic. It's normal and not an issue anymore,” Patrick has found. That will not stop teenagers from making the occasional derogatory comment or remark though, he added. The smallness of the country is in some respects not helping.
While in big cities such as Cologne or Paris it is no uncommon to see homosexual couples holding hands or kissing in public, in Luxembourg it is still something of a rarity. And even though Patrick said he has never been attacked or discriminated, he said that being openly gay can make you something of an eye-catcher.
Human rights survey
Indeed, only 2 percent of Luxembourg respondents in an EU-wide LGBT survey said that it was common to see same-sex partners holding hands, compared to 62 percent of people saying heterosexual couples holding hands in public was “very widespread”.
Some 57 percent of respondents for Luxembourg meanwhile said that they avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of being assaulted, threatened or harassed. This placed Luxembourg well below the EU average of 66 percent.
The Grand Duchy together with the Netherlands also boasted the lowest rate of respondents – 16 percent – saying that jokes about LGBT people were widespread in the country. Here the EU average was at 37 percent.
At 32 percent, Luxembourg also had the lowest figure of respondents saying they avoided certain places for fear of homophobic attacks, compared to an EU average of 50 percent.
The European Fundamental Rights Agency's report surveyed a total of 93,079 people who identified as homosexual, bisexual or transgender. The sample size for Luxembourg was 318 people, including nationals and foreigners.
Statistics aside, for Patrick one simple principle should apply: “Live and let live.”
The possibility of a family
Living openly is just what Luxembourg allowed Akbar Basha from India, a country where homosexuality is illegal, to do.
“I always knew that I was different,” Akbar confided. However, struggling to survive in a small farming community in the south of the country, there was no time to think about himself, he said. “I realised after coming to Europe,” he explained, where he studied for an MBA in Paris. “I started feeling attracted to men.”
But the feeling, initially, was not one of relief of being able to live openly. “It was a horrible experience,” Akbar said. “I was a practicing Muslim,” the 33-year-old explained. The conflict between Islam's rejection of homosexuality and his own story, however, was too much to bear. After much painful reflection, Akbar stopped practicing his religion, with the hope that one day his faith will allow him to return - as a gay man.
Falling in love gave Akbar the courage to come out to his parents and family, who struggled with the revelation. His relationship was also what brought him to Luxembourg and even though Akbar is no longer with his partner, he has since fallen in love with the Grand Duchy itself. “I immediately felt at home,” Akbar said of his arrival in October 2011. “I'm still in love with Luxembourg.”
Like Patrick, Akbar's experience of living as an openly gay man in Luxembourg has been overwhelmingly positive. He, too, has heard of problems from friends, such as difficulties securing an apartment as a gay couple, but has not faced any direct confrontation himself.
Akbar has also taken Luxembourg's motto “Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin” (we want to remain what we are) to heart. “Luxembourg allows me to be who I am,” he said, including the possibility of marrying and raising a family. “Everybody deserves that.”