On being young and gay in Europe: “It’s not yet ok as long as you don’t dare to be who you want to be”

By Catarina Vila Nova

One month ago, on June 1st, Esther and Carmen took off from Nijmegen in search for a perspective on being young and gay in Europe. Their motorcycles will take the couple across 15 countries where they’re searching for partners in the field of film education for LGBTQIA+ youth, all under a project they named Chasing Rainbows. “We wanted to go on a motorcycle trip but with a purpose”, says Carmen. That purpose? In two years time, they want to have a platform consisting of a film database and teaching materials targeted towards teachers so they can be coached into creating their own films with the students.

The project Chasing Rainbows has been in the making for some time already. “It started with Coming Out Day and the power of film. Of course, I really believe in that because that’s what I do for my job. It’s a way to familiarize yourself with other perspectives and to really get into the shoes of someone and being able to talk to each other afterwards”, explains Esther, who’s the head of education at LUX. Their journey started on June 1st when the couple left from Nijmegen to Cork, Ireland, later on continuing to Scotland and England. “They’re more oriented towards inclusive education and they also have a lot of toolkits and education materials. They’re a bit further so [we want to see] what can we bring but also what can we learn”, emphasizes Esther. 

Afterwards, Esther and Carmen plan to continue their journey through France, “all the way” until the south of Italy, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland. In these countries, they expect to connect with multiple partners, from LGBTQI+ film festivals, associations that advocate for LGBTQI+ rights, and organizations geared towards film education for the youth. “There really aren’t a lot of films for young gay people that you can use in a classroom and there aren’t even teaching materials surrounding it. That’s one big thing that needs to be fixed. What if you can combine all the films from The Netherlands with English and French films and all the countries we’re going?”, says Esther, explaining the goal of combining resources from the countries they’re visiting into one platform. 

The culmination of the project Chasing Rainbows will be a platform, which they expect to have up and running by 2024, consisting of a database of European short films and documentaries related to the theme “Youngsters and LGBTI+”. Alongside these movies, teaching materials will be developed so that professors can start a conversation in the classroom about LGBTQIA+ topics and also in making their own visual stories about gender identity. “The main people we focus the project on are teachers and film education teachers because it happens in their classroom. They have to know how to respond or how to have those conversations and film is a really powerful tool to get the conversation going”, argues Esther. 

The big push for the couple to embark on this journey came from A long way to go for LGBTI equality, a report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on the 2019 survey on LGBTI people in the European Union. Overall, “comparing the results of the 2012 and 2019 surveys shows little, if any, progress during the past seven years in the way LGBT people in the EU experience their human and fundamental rights in daily life”, reads the report. Other findings showed that “over half of LGBTI people surveyed are almost never or rarely open about being LGBTI”. Among younger LGBTI respondents, only 12% of those aged 18 to 24, and 5% of those aged 15 to 17 are very open. “School still is far from a safe place for LGBTI students. The majority of respondents aged 15 to 17 have experienced discrimination in some area of [their] life (53%). Of such respondents, 45% felt discriminated against at school”, says the report. 

Commenting on these results, Esther says: “The acceptance is really low among youngsters which is strange because you would expect them to be open-minded but it’s not because it’s also a phase in your life when you really want to fit in”. “It’s not yet ok as long as you don’t dare to be who you want to be. It just breaks my heart because [when you’re young] you’re so vulnerable and realizing that you’re maybe different or you don’t fit into a norm and as long as you feel like you don’t fit, as long as you have that reaction we still need to fight for equality”, she argues. 

“We really want to create opportunities for self-discovery for little kids”, adds Carmen. “I still have struggles with it. I work in healthcare with old people and I was never open about my sexuality. I never dared to open up. Now it’s much better. Now I tell that I’m with a woman. It’s easier. It became easier”
Esther and Carmen’s journey can be followed on their Instagram account: Chasing Rainbows.

Cover image by Chasing Rainbows

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