July 15, 2021

Member of the Month – Çavaria

IGLYO Focus, LGBTQI, Members

In 2017 çavaria celebrated its 40th birthday. Our organisation has a long history in Flanders. The organisation had different names during those years. In 1977 the federation workgroup hemophilia (FWH) was founded by 10 local groups with a common goal: The emancipation of LGB people. It was a typical grassroots movement. Smaller local groups joined forces because they knew they could realize more together. 

The LGB movement in Flanders grew quickly in the 90s and so did FWH. Because the LGB movement was growing the distance between the local groups and FWH grew bigger and a reorganisation was in order and led to the opening of local rainbow houses. In 2000 the first “official” rainbow houses in Flanders opened. Local groups had their own house where they could meet up and organize activities in their own region. To this date this makes çavaria unique. We have a very strong local network and the local rainbow houses do amazing work. It is the foundation of our organization. 

Around this time the work in education also started. It is one of the longest projects within the organization. 

In 2002 FWH changed their name to the LGB Federation and in 2010 we changed the name into çavaria. The name çavaria comes from the French ça va (= how are you) and varia (=diversity). 

With the new name came also a new chapter for the organization. No longer we were an organization for LGB groups, now we were an organization that worked around gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. In 2017 we started working with intersex groups and included them in our lobby work. 

The organization has a long history and our magazine ZIZO did a whole special about it in 2017 in Flemish so this is just a very short recap!

In what ways have young LGBTQI people in your community been affected by the COVID-19 emergency and the lockdowns? 

In 2020 çavaria wrote a report about the impact of Covid-19 on LGBTI persons in Flanders. We found out that the covid-19 crisis had an impact on the wellbeing of LGBTI youth. Being at home during the lockdown they had more time to worry about their coming-out, their gender identity and sexual orientation. And because the healthcare system was (and still is) being overtaken by Covid-19 a lot of consultations and medical care of trans youth was postponed. Our help and info line just launched a new campaign for LGBTI youth. We want to make Lumi even more accessible for LGBTI youth as a place where they can find answers on questions and someone that can listen to them. 

Are there specific ways in which you have supported the community that you would like to highlight and/or share with other European organisations? 

We are very proud of our work in the field of education. It is one of longest running projects within the organization and we worked together with IGLYO (and a lot of other LGBTI youth groups in Europe) on this topic. We are specialized in teacher training and work together with schools and of all grades. The past 3 years we focused more on an evidenced based and intersectional approach. We want to monitor if our actions and training sessions in schools have a positive impact on LGBTI students and teachers in the schools we work with.  

Therefore we wrote a European project: School’s out that is currently in its second year. We developed an inclusive school cycle program that we are currently testing in 4 different countries with local LGBTI organizations. The inclusive school cycle is unique because it starts with an inclusion scan where we ask teachers and students about LGBTI inclusiveness and policies. With the results of this inclusion scan we develop a training package for the school. At the end of the cycle we do another inclusion scan to see if there are positive changes in the participating schools. We hope to share the results, and the full inclusion scan after the testing phase is over and the end of this school year! 

What can governments, (national and international) authorities and institutions do more to support the communities you serve throughout this crisis?

In our covid-19 report we wrote several recommendations for governments on how to include the wellbeing of LGBTI persons (and youth!) while combating this global pandemic. 

Those recommendations are about supporting the LGBTI community, investing in healthcare and structural research. The recommendations also focus on investing in a gender inclusive society so LGBTI people are more resilient and less at risk during even more difficult times such as lockdown(s). 

We also ask our government to invest in international solidarity with LGBTI people all over the world by supporting (and working together) LGBTI organizations in countries where they are not being supported by local governments. 

There are reasons to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be a part of our lives for 1-3 years. In what way do you think that prolonged lockdowns and/or other preventive measures will impact your work and LGBTQI+ youth in your country?

For a short while we hoped that we wouldn’t face new restrictions and lockdowns because of the high vaccination rate in Belgium. But at this moment we are confronted with new regulations and the healthcare system is overwhelmed by this 4th wave. All these new restrictions will have an impact for LGBTQI youth just as the previous lockdown last year. We monitor the situation and adjust our work accordingly. I do want to give a lot of credit towards our LGBTI youth groups and organizations that changed their work very quickly and do everything in their power to create virtual safe(r) spaces as much as possible.

Our work has been affected. A lot of training sessions were cancelled and in schools we see that the focus is all about keeping COVID outside. I do fear that working towards an LGBTI inclusive school environment is less of a priority for schools at the moment. As an organization we can understand these are difficult times, but now is the time more than ever to invest in the wellbeing of LGBTI youth! 

Message for the LGBTQI youth out there – 

The baseline of our organization (standing up for LGBTI rights) is not super inspiring. But our coordinator has a very inspiring quote in his e-mail signature that is very relevant these days: 

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

(Amanda Gorman, US Capitol, 20/01/21)

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