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Better welcoming LGBTQI+ people with a migration background – The Equalcity project

published on 26 November 2021

The Equalcity project is coming to an end. This project, funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme (2014-2020), took place in Brussels at the RainbowHouse in collaboration with Equal.Brussels. It was conducted under the coordination of IOM (The International Organization for Migration) Belgium and Luxembourg from November 2019 to November 2021. The objective of the project was to build a toolbox (including awareness raising materials) to support frontline workers in existing urban services in setting up and managing safer spaces for LGBTQI+ people with a migrant background. ,

Equalcity is a set of four toolboxes that aim to improve the reception of people with a migration background in the context of gender-based violence in the European Union. Four toolboxes are created for four different cities:

  1. The Brussels Toolbox is concerned with the development and management of (safer) spaces for LGBTQI+ people with a migration background;
  2. The Luxembourg Toolbox provides assistance to migrant women and girls who are at risk of or have been victims of SGBV (sexual gender-based violence);
  3. The Rome Toolbox works to improve the well-being of unaccompanied migrant children and their frontline workers. It is a mindfulness-based work; 
  4. The Gothenburg Toolbox helps to combat honour-based violence in migrant families through intercultural and value-based dialogue;

All four boxes will be available at the same time at 

The aim of the LGBTQI+ box is to help frontline services to be more welcoming to LGBTQI+ people with a migration background by making their services safer


Why safer spaces? 

We know that the majority of cases of sexual and gender-based violence in ‘migrant communities’ or perceived migrant communities go unreported and unaddressed. Creating safer spaces is an effective way to facilitate access to urban services for LGBTQI+ people with migrant backgrounds and encourage them to speak out without fear of repercussions and stigma by making them feel seen, heard and respected. This is a good way to empower people to seek help and trust professionals. Better practice in welcoming service users can make the difference between people walking through the door or avoiding a service altogether, sometimes at great risk. This is clearly an access issue.


There are two target audiences in this project.

  • The primary audience for this Toolbox is frontline workers who work in any way with issues related to SGBV (Sexual and Gender-Based Violence). It is important to keep in mind that violence that specifically targets LGBTQI+ people is sexual and gender-based in nature. These frontline workers can be: health professionals (family planning centres, CPVS, doctors in general, …), social services (PMS, municipal or housing services, etc.), police and other emergency services, people working in education (teachers, PMS, …), etc. These are therefore people who work directly and indirectly with LGBTQI+ people with a migrant background who could be victims of violence. 

Given the diversity of this public and the fact that these people working in the field often have (too) little time and means. The priority in this project was to make the tools accessible. They are therefore designed to be quickly consultable, easily understandable and contain a maximum of very practical/pragmatic advice 

  • The secondary audience of the toolkit, those for whom we want to make spaces safer, are LGBTQI+ people of migrant background, or rather those who are perceived to be of migrant background, as discrimination is more often based on perceptions rather than facts

This group is extremely large. 

People perceived as having a migration background are a heterogeneous and broad group that may include: 

  • Migrants (those in transit from point A to point B),
  • Asylum seekers,
  • Refugees,
  • Members of the diaspora,
  • Racialized people and others perceived as “migrants” because they are perceived as “not from here”.

And while there is much talk of “THE LGBTQI+ community,” it is important to remember that the rainbow is far from homogeneous! In fact, LGBTQI+ people are lumped together under this acronym because they have similar histories and similar struggles. However, the acronym hides an infinite number of different experiences. First, because no one fits into a single category/letter. Everyone has a sexual orientation, (at least) a gender identity and expression, and gendered characteristics even when some of these are straight, cis, or dyadic. This mix already creates a lot of diversity in the community. Add to that the fact that in addition to these characteristics we have all of our other realities (disability, racialization, economic status, …) and we can conclude that the only universal commonality in the community is not being something: not being heterosexual, cisgender and/or dyadic.

So, how do we offer pragmatic advice to make our spaces safer for people with potentially diametrically opposed needs? 

First, by (re)defining what a safe space is. Spaces that claim to be safe as they are often imagined collectively and without a precise definition suffer from 3 main problems:


  1. The sticker syndrome. We like the idea that advertising a space as safe will automatically make it safe. But putting an “LGBTQI+ -friendly” sticker on the door of a place does nothing to protect against micro/macro aggressions. These stickers and the use of the word “safe” all over the place tend to lead to empty promises, so much so that the most vulnerable/multi-marginalized people often don’t trust such statements anymore.
  2. Who decides what is safe? The majority of spaces that want to declare themselves safe are led by people who are, in part or in whole, not concerned with the barriers faced by multi-marginalised people such as LGBTQI+ people from migrant backgrounds which makes the measures taken not always effective or even relevant to the reality of the audiences. For example, the general vision of the LGBTQI+ community in our regions often remains very ethno/European-centric, with in particular a fascination and even an injunction for “coming-out” which may not be relevant for people from different contexts
  3. What spaces are we talking about? Very often, safe spaces are thought of as physical spaces. But safe spaces are not necessarily physically identified places. Rather, they are a set of practices that can be applied in individual conversations, within an organisation, during group activities, etc. Alternatively, it is common to limit their relevance to activist spaces. But don’t frontline services such as doctors’ surgeries need to be safe?

Please note: Safe does not mean comfortable and it is possible to be challenged and even disagree in a safe way. 

A safe space is a space :

– accepting and respectful of each other’s identities,

– where you can share information about yourself without fear of negative repercussions.

– that challenges social norms and prejudices, even in the form of microaggressions.

– in which people feel safe enough physically, psychologically and emotionally to take risks, express and explore their views, identities, attitudes and behaviours.

We will even talk about (more) safe space because it is clear that it is impossible to guarantee a 100% safe space, 100% of the time. First of all because, as already mentioned, space has less to do with the place than with the interactions that take place there and therefore with the people who are there, which change regularly. But also because these people are human and there is nothing more human than making mistakes. Sometimes we make mistakes, things don’t turn out the way we want them to, even with the best of intentions. 

This vision of safe spaces has its roots in black feminist theories and practices, particularly in the United States. In this context, safe spaces are seen as a tool for social justice and the deconstruction of power imbalances, including the imbalance between those who are perceived as helpers and those who are perceived as needing help.

In order to make the advice in this toolkit as relevant as possible despite the wide diversity of the target audiences (frontline workers and LGBTQIA+ people of migrant background), we have chosen to focus on three key principles that serve as a common thread:

  1. Introspection: observing and questioning one’s own behaviour and attitudes;
  2. Self-accountability: remaining responsible for one’s choices and actions, as well as their consequences. Commitment to remain aware of one’s blind spots and to question one’s habits and positioning.
  3. Shared responsibility: rather than placing the responsibility for maintaining safe spaces on one person, it is encouraged to make everyone legitimate in the matter and to make it everyone’s mission individually and collectively.

In the toolkit; the focus is on 3 fundamental elements of safe spaces:

  1. Working to develop and nurture a sense of belonging for those who enter these spaces. This sense of belonging or general feeling of “fitting in”, being accepted, valued and included is essential to feeling safe.
  2. Special attention to the autonomy/empowerment of the public. This crucial aspect is particularly relevant to the case of asylum seekers who are often stuck for months waiting for appointments and news with no room for action, with significant impacts on psychological, emotional and physical health. Having the opportunity to make choices can therefore have a huge impact. 
  3. An unwavering application of unconditional respect. This means thinking in terms of acceptance rather than tolerance, and constantly acknowledging the integrity, autonomy and expertise of the other, particularly in relation to their own experiences. This may seem obvious and simplistic, but it can be difficult, especially in cross-cultural contexts, especially given the lasting effects of colonialism and the perception of the so-called “South” as a place to be saved. The main difficulty lies in refraining from making decisions “in place of” or assuming that one knows what is good for the other. 

The toolkit is (going to be) available free of charge in English, French, Dutch and Portuguese at and contains four main documents: 

  • A general introduction
  • Guidelines for front-line service managers
  • A User’s Manual for Frontline Workers
  • A training manual.

It is accompanied by a guide for local cities/authorities and an awareness campaign with posters/flyers and the videos you can see (below or by following this link)

In connection

Education and youngsters


Cultural diversity

Asylum & Migration