A rainbow of cities

23 June 2022

People who identify as LGBTQI+ suffer unacceptable discrimination all over the world. Every June, the international Pride Month aims to change that.

For European cities, the event is a chance to show their support for LGBTQI+ rights, highlight the community’s struggles, showcase anti-discriminatory actions and launch awareness raising activities.

Exhibitions, gender-neutral facilities, exchanges between cities, festivals and campaigns, are some of Pride Month’s  wide array of initiatives across Europe.

Pre-Pride Week

The city of Helsinki offers a pivotal contribution to the Helsinki Pride, Finland’s largest human rights event. This year, the Helsinki Pride will culminate with the Helsinki Pride Week, from 27 June to 3 July.

During the festival, Helsinki municipality employees are invited to join Pride Walks to support the city’s stance against inequality and discrimination.

Juhana Vartiainen, the Mayor of Helsinki,  joined the #wewalkwithpride Instagram campaign to highlight the capital’s commitment to inclusion. Photographs of the event taken by locals were then published on Helsinki’s Instagram account:

A year ago the city also launched the pre-Pride Week to encourage its employees to get involved in the event and in an effort to attract broader participation while raising awareness about inequality and discrimination.

A month-long celebration

In Vienna, the whole month of June is dedicated to LGBTIQ+ initiatives. Different activities focus on the broad-based information campaign “Live your love!” that spotlights the city’s diverse and cosmopolitan society.

“Information to strengthen equality and acceptance is the basis for a functioning coexistence in a diverse city like Vienna. It is a matter of concern to me to enable an equal life for all people in our city,” Deputy Mayor Christoph Wiederkehr said.

In addition, Vienna distributed free rainbow flags that locals can use to decorate their windows and balconies.

Going beyond borders

Since 2017, Cologne has been offering a four-day international exchange programme for LGBTQI+ human rights activists, along with 22 sister cities. The first two exchanges focussed on lesbian and queer women.

Sister Cities Exchange 2021. Photo by Deutzer Brücke

The Cologne Pride is also a chance for a vibrant international exchange. Each year, around eight and ten international guests visit Cologne, including activists from Katowice, Cluj-Napoca, Volgograd, Barcelona, Lille, Liverpool, Tunis, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, and Rio.

Initiating new projects with other cities has strengthened relations among municipalities. For example, an exchange on diversity and on the inclusion of LGBTQI+ communities between Cologne and Katowice, has proved particularly fruitful. The effort resulted in an early June visit of the Polish delegation to Cologne, including to the city’s queer youth and intercultural centres.

Transgender, non-binary and intersex people in one of Cologne’s swimming pools. Picture by Sandra Stein

Pools and gender-neutral toilets 

In addition, once a month Cologne offers exclusive swimming access to a public pool for transgender, non-binary and intersex people. Launched in 2020, the selected access initiative helps LGBTQI+ people to enjoy the water sport without fear of discrimination.

In a similar vein, last December the city of Ghent opened its first gender-inclusive public toilet. City officials said the move was in response to gender-diverse people who had been avoiding  public restrooms for men or women “because they felt uncomfortable or unsafe.”

The gender-inclusive public toilets, which don’t feature any female or male symbols, will soon become the norm in Ghent. Whenever the Belgian city restores an existing bathroom or builds a brand new one, it is committed to including a gender-inclusive toilet.

Elsewhere in Belgium, Antwerp is focussing on intersectional discrimination. The municipality’s “Buddy programme” matches migrants who identify as LGBTQI+ with local residents in an effort to make the former feel supported and welcome in the city.

Awareness campaigns

Pau’s festival poster

In some cities, Pride Month takes place earlier in the year.  Every March, the French city of Pau organises the festival “Mars Attaque, contre les discriminations” (“March attack against discrimination”). The month-long event features films, conferences, workshops, shows, and theatre plays to raise awareness about different types of discrimination, including gender identity and sexual orientation.

Across the border in Spain, Zaragoza is set to celebrate Pride Day on 28 June. Events will include an awareness day on gender-related hate crimes and discrimination and sessions to identify online harassment.

Other municipalities like Barcelona, fund and rely on anti-discriminatory centres that are managed by the municipality or NGO’s.

Stuttgart’s queer communities, with the municipality’s participation, have initiated a debate on creating a Rainbow House. Since September 2020, the German city has also been offering a counselling service providing information and support for rainbow families.  Meanwhile, Stuttgart is funding a project that researches and evaluates age-appropriate educational materials on diversity and inclusion topics.

Eurocities supports the integration and inclusion of LGBTQI+ groups through its advocacy work and projects.

The inclusion of the LGBTQI+ community will be addressed during the X Integrating Cities Conference on 16-17 November in Utrecht. The event will focus on “Inclusion for all. Empowering vulnerable migrants in cities”. On the agenda, workshops about how to create safe spaces for LGBTQI+ refugees. This conference is financed through the EU funded CONNECTION  project.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer