If you live in Madeira and sometimes stop by the Madeiran University or just move around among young people, you have probably already noticed the existence of a local group called Núcleo LGBTI Madeira da rede ex aequo.
It is not just that their posters at first glance impress with colours and graphics, but it is also the exciting program of planned events which connects one theme, and that is the LGBTI community. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the stories of the coordinators Alex and Filipe, it is still not a matter of course to see the acronym "LGBTI", which is in the name of this association, at the university campus. The university's management has banned displaying posters with the full name of their organisation on it, without a further explanation.
The fact that we are still facing discrimination against this minority group, even on campus, proves that there is a real need for such activism in Madeira, especially if it's not an isolated case.
I met Alex and Filipe to find out more about this group of young Madeiran activists and to understand better who is behind the whole project and how it all started.
Rede ex aequo is a network of support and activism for young lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and supporters aged 16-30. It is a national association and is headquartered in the LGBT Center in Lisboa, space provided by the ILGA Portugal Association which is the largest and oldest Portuguese NGO striving for equality and against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender equality.
Rede ex aequo was created by ILGA, as a decentralised project funded by the Portuguese Youth Institute, on April 2003 and it was recognised by law in 2004. However, they began its activities informally in January 2002.
The objectives of the association are to demand non-discrimination of young LGBTI people and their integration into society, as well as recognition of their needs, particularities and specificities. They also focus on developing and implementing strategies and actions for scientific, social, cultural and political intervention on youth and education within the LGBTI theme. Finally, they aim to create and foster the development of local community groups for support and work for LGBTI young people and supporters.
Núcleo LGBTI Madeira da rede ex aequo - history
The Madeiran’s REA branch was started by one of the four current coordinators in 2016 as one of the five branches of REA to promote the advancement of rights for LGBTI in Madeira and Porto Santo islands and to create a safe environment for the LGBTI community.
Four young activists are the regular volunteers responsible for leading the Núcleo and organising all the activities, but there is also a group of supporters, around twenty people, that create a community helping by fits and starts.
“We are trying to create a network of local people, associations and organisations with a common goal to defend the human rights. Our job is to involve more and more people. We can’t do everything alone, it’s impossible, that’s why it’s essential to cooperate with others.” says Alex. “Beyond that we are trying to focus not only on Funchal but to spread the idea also to other cities here in Madeira.” he adds.
“At the beginning, we organised meetings, each one of them would have a topic (coming out, the history of LGBT people, rights...) but we saw that this wasn’t working as we expected. Few people were coming, because they didn’t find interest in it. It was like AA meetings where people are in a circle, sharing their stories. Now we are trying to change that and make our meetings catchier – let’s see a movie, and then we’ll talk about LGBTI issues.” explains Alex.
The most important event organised by Núcleo is the annual Funchal Pride, recently renamed to Madeira Pride. The preparations, in which many of the local associations are involved, are ongoing all year. The third edition of the Madeira Pride will take place this October.
Nowadays, the Núcleo has a partnership with a Funchal’s Museum of Natural History that, for instance, provide them with premises for their cinema cycle. In this event, Núcleo LGBTI presented different movies with LGBTI topics with the possibility to discuss with special guests. “People show up, and it’s not only LGBTI people, which is important for us. People come because there’s the movie and it’s free. It’s important to transfer the events in something that is cultural and appealing and at the same time where you can transmit a message” says Filipe.
They recently organised one of the Queer walks for LGBTI participants and supporters between the age of 16 and 30. These walks are an opportunity to create new connections and friendships in a safe environment while walking alongside levadas – Madeiran watercourses that are famous for the beautiful nature and views.
In addition to the already mentioned activities, they also organise various meetings such as picnics, thematic dinners, camps. “It’s never just to go camping and throw a party– there are always planned activities in which we discuss the LGBTI rights and other important topics. But what is crucial about it is that we can create a safe place, safe environment where people can reunite and have fun and don’t be afraid to be who they are – this is one important aspect.” Says Filipe and he adds “Even if we don’t talk all the time about LGBT rights (Alex: “But we do!”), we are creating a safe place. Indirectly or directly, the topic is always present.”
When it comes to finances, both coordinators agree that they would need more support. The association is inscribed in the National Register of Youth Associativism (RNAJ) and receives regular support from the Portuguese Institute of Sport and Youth. However, the rigidity of the bureaucracy prevents them from easy access to these resources. “We cannot apply for funding from the regional government, because we don’t have a regional fiscal number as we make part of an association with the headquarter in the mainland. We are heavily underfunded, we don’t have so much support as the associations that are based here.” explain the coordinators.
Coordinators Alex and Filipe will soon undergo training that will prepare them to organise discussions with students and to hold sessions with parents, teachers or professionals working with young people about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
Their aim is also to initiate a support group for parents of LGBTI young people by the collaboration with Amplos – a Portuguese association of mothers, fathers and relatives of homosexuals, bisexuals, and trans young people. Apparently, it is tough to find those parents who would be open to share and talk about their experience.
“We understand that parents must come out as well. We have years to think about it, but they have only that moment when you say – “I’m gay”. They do need help, and we want to help the parents as well. We were fighting to bring Amplos to Madeira, but it wasn’t easy, even our parents don’t want to join. Finally, the organisation managed to find one mother, that was willing to talk about her experience and become a spokesperson for Amplos in Madeira.”
Which brings us to how challenging it can be, to go through coming out and openly talk about such a sensitive and intimate subject, if you're from a small island such as Madeira. “People don’t want to join the protests, it’s so small, that you are not anonymous anywhere here. Everybody knows everybody,” says Alex and he underlines that it is precisely this topic that he sees as crucial for their Núcleo. “That’s why Madeira Pride is so important here. It’s twice more important on places like this, and it takes twice as much courage than in Lisbon, Paris or London. Here there is still the mentality from the old days – You can be gay, but not outside your house. But now, we want to be gay everywhere!”