Interview about the LGBT in Nijmegen Netherlands

The Netherlands are particularly attractive for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) visitors and residents. It is the country with the most gay-friendly attractions per square meter. The Netherlands can be considered as the birthplace of LGBT rights. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the Netherlands as early as 1811. The first gay bar followed in 1927. One of the world’s first gay rights organizations was founded in Amsterdam in 1946. Additionally, the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. The fact that for centuries the Dutch have had a relaxed and tolerant attitude towards different lifestyles has contributed to the countries’ popularity among members of the LGBT community. ‘Live and let live’ is one of Dutch people’s favourite sayings. Considering this history of progressive attitudes concerning the LGBT community I was wondering how this is perceived by members of this community who live in the Netherlands. So, I interviewed Mücahit T., a Turkish member of the LGBT community who grew up in Germany and lives in Nijmegen for five years now.

Mücahit, when did you come out? Can you describe the process you went through?

 I grew up in a conservative city in Germany in a region with many people with low socio-economic status. The atmosphere therefore was quite homophobic. During my childhood and adolescence in Germany I learnt that it is not accepted to be homosexual. Especially at high school people who were gay or different from the mainstream in general were mobbed. The feeling that it is not accepted to be homosexual was probably also influenced by the Turkish culture through my family and my religion (Islam). I only had one coming out in Germany and that was to my best friend. We talked about it and our friendship made a huge turn. It had become more open, more deep and funny as well. It was a relieve to have someone from Germany to know me how I really was. With other people in Germany I never openly talked about it. When I came to Nijmegen to study here my attitude was ‘New city, new me’. On advice of the student psychologist I outed myself as homosexual at my student house. This was the first time I openly talked about being homosexual. In this period, I started reflecting on what it means to be homosexual and whether for me it is acceptable to be homosexual from a broader human point of view. The first step for me was to learn to accept myself the way I am. After I managed accepting myself as a person, I started reflecting on how homosexuality might be compatible with Turkish culture and Islamic religion. I figured out that homosexuality was something common in the animal world as well, which let me to the conclusion that it must be accepted by God. Regarding the Turkish culture, it is pretty common that we do not talk about inconvenient topics, such as sexuality. The common notice is that if you don’t talk about something it is not an issue. This is probably also the reason why homophobia decreases in most of the countries over the years, but not in Turkey. If we don’t talk about it why would people make up their mind about it?

How does homosexuality relate to religion in your opinion and experience?

During 10 years in Germany, I went to the mosque every weekend and had lessons about our religion and the Koran. Even though the mosque I went to did not accept homosexuality, I was one of the best in my class and even participated in competitions. I liked that the Imam at my mosque transmitted a liberal and reflective notion of the Islam. He stimulated us to reflect on the things written in the Koran, because there is much room for own interpretation. Nowadays people do not have the time to read the original texts themselves and interpret them. They just take over the interpretation of the Imam of their community. Because I spent so much time learning about my religion and I was quite good at it, I gained the trust that I’m able to interpret the texts myself and concluded that it is all compatible. I can be homosexual, Turkish and a Muslim – and this is what I feel is my identity today. And I’m not the only one, who sees it that way. I also notice a shift in friends who are Muslim as well. They become more tolerant and accepting towards people who are different like people from the LGBT community. Talking about it and discussing these differences also from a religious point of view is quite important for this purpose, I guess. Christianity in comparison to the Islam had more time to reflect and get less extreme in their views. I trust that the same will happen to the Islam at some point and we will finally be able to be tolerant, accept every individual the way they are and still practice our religion.

What is your experience living in the Netherlands and in Nijmegen?

In my opinion, Nijmegen has the perfect size: the city is big enough to have these typical big city vibes, a beach and forests while also being small enough to give you this warm and familiar small town feeling. When I came to Nijmegen a whole new world opened for me. I immediately perceived Nijmegen as very liberal, left-wing, nature loving and green city and I know that many people perceive it that way. In the LGBT community Nijmegen is famous for their open-mindedness and gay-friendliness. In the beginning, I was overwhelmed by all the events, parties and organizations for LGBT people. Of course, there is still discrimination and stereotypes against members from the LGBT community – even in the Netherlands. Something I fortunately haven’t experienced myself yet. However, I notice that I feel inhibited to hold hands with my boyfriend in public when we are in Amsterdam or Nijmegen. This could have to do with my Islamic and Turkish background and growing up in Germany. Sometimes I see gay and lesbian couples on the streets holding hands or kissing, which I really enjoy to see. It gives me hope for the future and reminds me that it’s perfectly fine to be openly gay. Even though I am not there yet, I hope to do the same thing and spark that feeling of joy and acceptance for another LGBT member.

What do you recommend LGBT newcomers to Nijmegen?

I strongly recommend you to be open and talk to people – also about your sexuality. Make it something normal and don’t stress it in an unnatural way. For example, when I talk to people about a date I had, I just mention that it was a date with a guy as a side note and focus on the information I actually want to share. If you show others that it is normal for you to talk about these things they are more likely to perceive it as normal, as well. In a vacuum, nothing will be changed. So, try to discuss your situation and perspective with your social surroundings and most importantly accept yourself the way you are. Regarding the events and parties, I suggest you to do everything at your own pace. The options can be overwhelming and you really don’t have to go to all the events from the beginning. Just try out what works best for you and enjoy the beautiful city of Nijmegen.

interview by : Linda Blaesing