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Creating a Safe Space for the Queer Community

Bijgewerkt op: 18 mrt.


How to bring mental health issues among lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) individuals to the forefront and make them discussable? That is the mission Tim Küsters has taken on within Europe. With a campaign and a safe online environment, he aims to make a difference for this group. Tim achieved the title of Mr. Gay Europe in August with the implementation of this campaign.


Becoming Mr. Gay Europe is not about one's appearance but about what one wants to contribute to the rainbow community. Besides his full-time job, Tim is building a network and gathering information to launch the 'Be Proud, Be Strong, Be Mentally Healthy' campaign in 2024. Of course, he takes a moment for Reinier van Arkel, the mental health institution in his hometown.


Campaigning

Tim was born and raised in Den Bosch but now resides in Antwerp with his husband. He studied business innovation at Avans University of Applied Sciences in Den Bosch and currently works as a digital marketing coordinator in Belgium.


For several years, Tim has been dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ community. He started with a campaign focused on LGBTQIA+ parenthood, addressing the challenges queer individuals face when adopting children. Tim says, "The campaign was driven by a personal desire to have children. My current partner has two children, so my wish came true. It is not easy for people in the queer community to have a child. Adoption is a long and challenging process, surrogacy is not yet legally regulated, and there are other hurdles such as various rules, prejudices, long waiting lists, limited adoption channels, and complex legal procedures. It felt good to do something by drawing attention to specific issues through contacts with the media and politics. It is very satisfying. Otherwise, I couldn't do this alongside my full-time job."


Mental Health Challenges in LGBTQIA+

Individuals from the rainbow community, or those with similar feelings, face additional challenges. Tim states, "Research shows that lesbian women, gay men, and bisexual individuals more often experience mental health issues than the rest of the population. Depression, in particular, is more common. Negative reactions, bullying, and violence are prevalent. This contributes to poorer mental health and makes them vulnerable to conditions such as depression and suicide."

Nationally, we have seen in recent years that the mental health of lesbian and gay individuals has improved and is approaching that of heterosexuals*. However, this is not the case for bisexuals and other colors of the rainbow community. The likelihood of being mentally unhealthy is much higher. Knowledge and attention to this issue in the treatment room are essential for effective assistance.


(*LGBT Monitor 2022, Social and Cultural Planning Office)



LGBT+ Youth

Approximately 1 in 10 young people identify as LGBT+. They experience more anxiety, depression, and suicidality than heterosexual and cisgender youth. LGBT youth attempt suicide 4.5 times more often, and transgender youth attempt suicide 10 times more often than heterosexual and cisgender youth.


Attention Matters

113 Suicide Prevention has created a handy factsheet titled 'Suicidality among LGBT People,' from which we extract the following data. A quarter of LGBT individuals and almost half of transgender individuals indicate that suicidal thoughts are clearly or significantly related to sexual orientation or gender identity. These thoughts often decrease after coming out or gaining access to transgender care. Queer individuals who receive a positive response from their parents and the rest of the environment less frequently have suicidal thoughts and attempts. Bullying, violence, and discrimination have a negative impact.


Research also shows that LGBT individuals who have never had suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide can rely on more people for help and support in the face of serious problems. Even more crucial for feeling good about oneself is a positive school or work environment. This is even more important than self-acceptance and personal resilience.

(Source: Factsheet Suicidality among LGBT People from 113 Suicide Prevention)


Be Proud, Be Strong, Be Mentally Healthy


Tim emphasizes, "You can see how important it is for people to be open to those in the rainbow community and those with such feelings. Queer individuals need a safe space where they can talk about their feelings and mental health issues. One of the goals of my campaign is to create an online safe space where queer people from all over Europe can turn for questions, support, and advice. The reason I became Mr. Gay Europe is that I had developed and made this theme workable. I am allowed to lead the other participants in the election to make this possible together. Each participant works on this in their own country.


In this initial phase of the campaign, we are mainly focused on gathering information, organizing support and sponsors, and connecting organizations and ambassadors. Towards Pride in June 2024, we also want to involve European politics in the campaign, and the online community can go live. In 2024, a solid foundation must be laid within Europe where queer individuals struggling with their mental health can turn. Life is too short to continue struggling with this.


It means that we need to map out for each country which organizations can offer help. Ideally, we would also like to see mental health professionals available to answer direct queries, similar to '113 Suicide Prevention' and 'MIND correlation.' It would already be great if mental health professionals join the community and can answer questions."


Tip for the Treatment Room

"If you suspect that the issues may be related to queer feelings, it is important that the person comes forward with it. You need to create a safe space where calm and understanding are crucial. As a mental health professional, you must have an open attitude. Do not force it.


If you want to start a discussion group or support group, try to make the first meeting as accessible as possible. Do not immediately engage in discussion but organize an activity. It could be a walk where everyone can get to know each other without reservations or go to the movies together. The threshold might otherwise be too high for someone to come."

You Are Not Alone


Finally, Tim has tips for queer individuals struggling with their mental health:

"You are not alone, that is the most important thing. You do not have to be ashamed, and there are always people who can and want to help you. Confide in someone in your family or friends, do not sideline yourself, and do not isolate yourself. You have the right to exist, so go out and stay active."


Mr. Gay Europe

The Mr. Gay Europe elections started in 2005. Over the years, the competition has grown into a grand event. The goal is to fight for general and LGBTQ+-human rights through a fun and positive gathering. The Mr. Gay Europe competition is not about physical beauty and muscle. The contest lasts a week and includes 8 challenges that focus on networking, collaboration, and friendship.


In 2023, the theme of the finale was the mental health of the queer community. It was also new that the participants collectively worked on the theme and took joint responsibility under the leadership of the winner.


More information at http://www.mrgayeurope.com/


LGBTQIA+

LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation. The letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, bi+, transgender, intersex, queer, aromantic, and asexual. There are more forms of sexual orientation and gender identity that are not heterosexual or cisgender: the + represents that. The term queer and the rainbow community are also used as umbrella terms instead of the abbreviation LGBTQIA+.


  • Lesbian means that you identify yourself as a woman and are primarily sexually or romantically attracted to other women.

  • Homosexual means that you identify yourself as a man and are sexually or romantically attracted to other men.

  • Bisexual entails being romantically or sexually attracted to more than one gender. Nowadays, the broader and more inclusive term Bi+ is often used.

  • Bi+ includes anyone attracted to more than one gender. Some young people identify as pansexual, indicating that they can be attracted to all people, regardless of their sex or gender.

  • Transgender individuals do not feel at home with the gender stated on their birth certificate. Someone identifying as a transgender person can be a trans woman or trans man, but also non-binary. Non-binary means not feeling at home in the male or female gender but rather outside of or in between them.

  • Queer represents a broad sexual or gender identity. The term is used by people who do not want to identify with a fixed gender or sexual orientation. Or those who want to identify with something that is not heterosexual or cisgender.

  • The 'q' can also stand for questioning, indicating that you are still unsure about your sexual orientation.

  • Intersex means having both female and male physical characteristics.

  • Asexual individuals feel no sexual attraction to other people.

  • Aromantic individuals feel no romantic attraction to other people.

  • Asexuality and aromanticism do not have to go together. For example, you can be asexual and homoromantic, meaning you do not feel sexually attracted to other people, but you can fall in love with someone of the same gender.

  • Heterosexual means being attracted to individuals of a different gender. For example, if a man is attracted to women.

  • Cisgender is someone whose gender identity matches their assigned gender at birth. For example, if someone is born as a woman and feels like a woman.

Source: https://www.nji.nl/ Dutch Youth Institute

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