LGBTQ+ in Groningen: Celebrating your true identity in the student city

10 June 2022

Other than the famous canals and waterways, the stroopwafels, and cheese, The Netherlands are also well known for being one of the most friendly and open countries for the LGBTQ+ community. In 1811, homosexuality was decriminalized, followed by the opening of the first gay bar in Amsterdam in 1927. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. How is it celebrated today, especially, in the student city Groningen? What can LGBTQ+ students do in Groningen and where can they go to meet and share with friends?

Groningen is the birthplace of Ganymedes, the LGBTQ+ Student Association, the oldest LGBTQ+ student organization in the Netherlands, with more than 120 members. The association organizes weekly drinks every Thursday night at the bar Tram 13 (Gelkingestraat 13) and House of Scandal (Pottebakkersrijge 2), as well as parties, trips, and lectures. One of the oldest LGBTQ+ organizations in the world first founded in The Netherlands, COC (Cultuur en Ontspanningscentrum; intended as a ‘cover’ name for its real purpose), also has a branch of COC Groningen and Drenthe, established in 1949. COC Groningen & Drenthe has different sub-organizations aiming at different target groups, one of them being The Box intending to focus on LGBT youths below the age of 30 years.

Another organization such as Groningen Feminist Network (GFN) also exists, advocating for LGBTQ+ issues, among other things. The activist community-led network invites like-minded people inclusive of all gender identities, sexualities, skin colors, cultural backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, education, class, abilities, and body sizes to engage in a safe space for discussion and activist projects. In the academic setting, both the University of Groningen (RUG) and the Hanze University of Applied Science never made formal statements, however, both universities have never made statements against it either. Under the Faculty of Behavioral and Social Science at RUG, the Centre of expertise for the Study of LGBTQIA+ Issues is established, aiming to bring together knowledge from science, practice, and lived experiences on sexual and gender diversity. Both RUG and Hanze recognized Ganymedes as a student association.

While hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community is very much present in today’s society, Groningen is often considered a more accepting city in comparison to the Randstad or the western part of the Netherlands. Recently, the GFN, working together with Queer Pride Groningen, organized the Queer Pride in Groningen on Sunday, 29 May 2022. The Pride was financed by the Gemeente Groningen (the Municipality of  Groningen), amongst other organizations, showing further evidence of the support shown by the city itself for more LGBTQ+ activities. Filled with demonstrations, speeches, poetry and music performances, and having a 2km march throughout the city, hundreds attended with their pride flags and creative signs to celebrate Queer Pride.

Beyond organizations, several cafes and cultural centres are also known as an LGBTQ+ inclusive places, often working together with the organizations above in conducting socials and activities with them, or highlighting the LGBTQ+ issues. Café de Prins, House of Scandal, Café and Cafeteria Ons Moeke, and Café uit de Kast (Out of the Closet Café) are among the LGBTQ+ friendly places. Vera Groningen, a well-known cultural centre in the city, also openly collaborates with different communities to organize documentary screenings and music performances with the theme revolving around gender and sexuality issues, one of them being their recent project with Queer Pride Groningen and inviting openly LGBTQ+ supporting artists. Furthermore, Groningen is also the home of Gallery Mooiman, an openly gay art gallery, which presents male figurative forms as the main subject of art, celebrating LGBT art and gay culture in their exhibitions.

Slightly different from the Pride Month in June commonly celebrated in the US, The Netherlands, prominently Amsterdam, celebrates Pride Month each year in August, born from the Gay Games held in 1998 around the same time. Pride Amsterdam is a huge festival attended by LGBTQ+ people and allies from not only in the country, but all over the world, and it will take place from 30 July until 7 August. Groningen will be another city to host the Pride, taking place on 19 August and 20 August. The event will have various programs and activities located at different places in the city. The full program will be announced within the upcoming months.

Studying and living in an inclusive and open city is a dream for all, and also for LGBTQ+ students. Studying in The Netherlands, especially in Groningen, hopefully, provides a safer space for students coming from countries that are less open to this critical issue. The road and fight to an equal and accepting society is still a long way to go, but it is important to be surrounded and inspired by those who work hard to make the city a better and safe place for the LGBTQ+ community to live in.