Since 2014 the not-for-profit organisation Girls Heart Brussels has been organising special weekends for foreign visitors eager to learn more about the Belgian capital, its feminist and lesbian history and the numerous cultural initiatives that it has to offer feminists and lesbians. Girls Heart Brussels' Jessica Gysel:
"The Brussels tourist agency VisitBrussels does a lot to promote Brussels as a destination for gay visitors. Given the vibrant male gay club scene initiatives originally focused mainly on gay men, but then there was a realisation that more should be done to encourage women from the LGBTQI community to visit Brussels and discover the wealth it has to offer lesbian women. Bianca Debaets, the Brussels secretary of state for equal opportunities, is a keen supporter of our initiative and was instrumental is providing a grant from the Brussels government. I'm the publisher of the lesbian magazine Girls Like Us and was keen to take this challenge on board. Since 2014 we've been organising weekends that look at Brussels from a female, feminist and lesbian perspective. So far most weekends have been linked to the annual gay film festival Pink Screens, but we also staged a special weekend to accompany this year's Art Brussels fair and it's a success that we hope to repeat in 2018 too."
"Around 25 women take part in a typical weekend. Most come from neighbouring countries. It's a format that allows a personal approach. The male gay scene is mainly focused on clubbing, but we think Brussels has so much more to offer that we wanted to highlight its rich culture too. The Brussels gay film festival Pink Screens is a week-long event. Our weekend focuses on the final weekend. Guests arrive on the Friday and are all booked into the same hotel. Guests are typically aged in their thirties. The youngest guests have been in their mid-twenties, the eldest in their mid-forties, but Brussels also has tons to offer women in their fifties and sixties too. Some of the guests are couples. Others are singles. All have been lesbians so far, but the programme could also interest straight women too. We offer a set programme, but people are free to dip in and out of the programme as they wish."
"Our aim is to show that Brussels really is a cool destination for lesbians. In addition to the guests we also invite foreign journalists to help them discover Brussels from a female, feminist and lesbian perspective. The initiative has generated a series of articles, but reporters are quite free to present the facts as they see them. Brussels has a whole host of LGBTQI organisations and they are invited to meet our guests and the journalists for the welcome drink at the start and the brunch on the final morning. Some organisations are run by expats. Others target expats. There are mixed Belgian organisations, but also others were the focus is more Flemish or Francophone. It's a very diverse organisational landscape that we try to bring together. Participants to the weekend can attend several film screenings as a group. We organise a joint meal and jaunt into Brussels. On the Saturday morning Marian Lens, who ran the trail-blazing lesbian bookshop Artemis in the Eighties, takes us on a guided tour of the Belgian capital. As a political centre Brussels played an important role in promoting lesbian rights and Marian has many interesting tales to tell!"
"Depending on the type of room the hotel booking for the weekend will set you back between 200 and 250 euros. You also receive a free pass for the film festival for the weekend. Our aim is to put cool Brussels women in the spotlight, mainly women coming from a lesbian background, but not exclusively and to provide a good cultural package deal at the same time. The weekend includes a Facebook event. We're not blessed with an enormous budget and use social media and word of mouth to promote our initiatives. You can also follow us on Facebook and on Instagram (@girlsheartbrussels). So far we've steered away from the traditional gay circuit, but next year we are planning a package to coincide with the Brussels Pride event that has been becoming increasingly important from an international perspective in recent years."
Lesbian and gay organisations from Brussels that are invited to the Girls Heart Brussels weekends include Warrior Poets that stage stand-up performances and poetry events; Elles Tournent is an organisation that focuses on women's films and films from female directors, Constant promotes women in tech environments, while Catclub organises parties well attended by lesbians. There's Silly Lilly, an organisation for Lesbian expats as well as the queer art collective Buenos Tiempos Int.