The Rainbow Academy is a project by De Nationale Jeugdraad (NJR), the Dutch Youth Council, which acts as a bridge between (Dutch) youth and government. Considering that the organization is led by young people, NJR operates from the very people it represents. Rainbow Academy pursues a more inclusive society that works for every individual, no matter their gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, et cetera, axes of difference that oftentimes overlap. The project consists of a Rainbow Academy Group of 24 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 that advises those who shape the Netherlands, for instance people who work in policy, education, healthcare. The group works on issues such as transgender care, bivisibility, and street harassment. Besides assisting the Rainbow Academy Group, the project organizes 5 open training sessions on topics ranging from anti-racism to managing volunteers, as well as the annual Rainbow Academy Day, an event that facilitates a space to exchange knowledge as well as create connections and build a community. These events are designed for Dutch youth and youth organizations who actively engage with the queer community in the Netherlands. Started in 2014, the Rainbow Academy keeps on growing in size as well as impact. One achievement that is worth noting here is the project’s involvement with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science as well as the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport in the Netherlands, who invited young queer people to talk about their experiences as well as pitch ideas for topics ranging from transgender healthcare to bivisibility. As a result, the Rainbow Academy is currently working on a guideline for general practitioners (GP’s) to be able to prescribe hormones (more easily) to transgender people in the Netherlands.
In what ways have young LGBTQI people in your community been affected by the COVID-19 emergency and the lockdowns?
The strength of the queer community is often found in the connections we build. Coming together to (safely) celebrate our identities, share our experiences, and discuss ways in which we would like to change society is an important part of the lives of most queer people. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been rather difficult in the Netherlands to come together as a community and feel as well as stay connected. Online connections only go so far. It was crucial for us to be, or at least try to be, in touch with each other as much as possible. For that reason, we introduced, for example, a Rainbow Academy Week that was held fully online, in which young queer people participated in a variety of different workshops.
Are there specific ways in which you have supported the community that you would like to highlight and/or share with other European organisations?
Throughout most of the pandemic, we’ve held online gatherings and events. With the Netherlands slowly opening up in 2021, we moved these offline as much as we could. In October, we were able to host this year’s Rainbow Academy Day on site, which was not only a relief and a joy for us but also for the queer youth that attended the event. We finally had a large queer gathering in which we could connect with other queer people face-to-face.
What can governments, (national and international) authorities and institutions do more to support the communities you serve throughout this crisis?
Now that we are slowly moving into winter, and most if not all gatherings will be held inside, we believe it important to continue to connect and meet up in person whenever and wherever possible. Support from the government and other institutions would be very much appreciated to make this happen. Whether through financial support or other stepping stones, these institutions would aid us in continuing to come together safely and effectively.
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?
Although it might be difficult at times to come together with the community in person, it is important nonetheless to keep connected. Meet up whenever safe and possible, perhaps in smaller numbers or with support from our government, and continue inventing other creative ways in which we can keep on building our community and challenging the world.