The recent murder of a gay man in Belgium has sent shockwaves through the local LGBTQ+ community and exposed a disturbing rise in attacks against queer people in the European nation. Police arrested three juveniles for the murder of David P this week, saying the trio lured the victim to an isolated location using a dating app and then violently murdered him. His stabbed, beaten, and lifeless body was discovered by a biker in a Beveren park on Saturday. It was the country’s first killing linked to homophobia in nine years.
Laurent James, founder of the support group LGBTQIA+ BE, tells Out the attack against David is indicative of a subtext of hate and homophobia that permeates a large portion of Belgian society, and describes a growing outrage in the country over the murder and attacks.
“There has been an enormous reaction in the Belgian queer community and beyond,” James tells Out via email. “I think many queer people feel scared that this could happen to anyone.”
Police are examining possible connections between the murder of David and other recent attacks against queers lured using a dating app. In those cases, the men were attacked and robbed but not killed.
Despite its reputation for tolerance, Belgium has seen a rise in attacks on queer folks but little success in prosecuting the perpetrators. A 2019 report from Unia showed a 38 percent rise in reported attacks against the LGBTQ+ community in Belgium over the previous five years, with 125 incidents of discrimination and 17 acts of physical aggression registered with the group in 2018 alone.
James blames the rise on “right-wing politics, religious backgrounds, and a lack of education,” saying attackers acquire their homophobia “outside of their schools and stand strong in their convictions.”
Part of the problem with hate crimes in Belgium, James continues, is the victims often refuse to report them to police.
“There seems to be a pretty big hurdle to actually report violence against LGBTQ+ people,” James explains. “Police forces, especially in big cities, don’t always take every case as seriously as they should. Even when police reports do get filed, unfortunately a lot of cases end up being dismissed in front of the courts for lack of evidence or because the perpetrator don’t get caught.”
Last December, a man who was attacked for being gay in Charleroi declined reporting the violent assault because of past negative experience with local police. The victim, identified only as Eric, was punched and knocked to the ground without warning by a man who screamed a homophobic slur before running away. The crime went unreported because six years earlier police told him he had a “pretty faggot face” when they refused to help with what they called his “faggot problem” of same-sex domestic abuse. He was also told to “watch out” and that police would “never come to help” in the future if he filed a report.
Police haven't released the names of the three juveniles, and have given no official indication as to possible motivations. James says this is a common tactic to avoid accusations of bias at trial, but the public is demanding answers.
“There is real national outrage,” James reports. “It’s now abundantly clear that even in a country like Belgium, where law protects LGBTQ+ individuals and provides them equality on paper, it still isn’t enough to protect us fully in the reality of our heteronormative society.”