In Queer in Utrecht we share portraits of queer people in and around the city of Utrecht. Through these short profile sketches we aim to represent and celebrate the local queer community in its diverse ways. In this week’s article, we chat with Leon.
“There’s a huge contrast with how I live now. I could never have imagined that I would be sitting here giving an interview about what it’s like to be queer in Utrecht.”
Leon van den Boogaard
From: Gronau, Germany
Identifies as gay.
Vocation: communication designer, student Image & Media Technology (HKU)
Interests: music, sports, reading, personal development, films, animals, spending time with family and friends
Current location: IBB, Utrecht
Leon is a half-Dutch, half-German citizen of Utrecht. He grew up in Gronau but followed his entire education in the Netherlands. A few years ago he moved to Utrecht for university.
What motivated you to come to Utrecht?
In terms of creative industries, there was no future for me in Gronau. I also felt oppressed in terms of personal development. As LGBTI+ person, I felt like I couldn’t be myself; there was no community present. That was a huge push factor to leave. I came here for my studies when I got accepted at the Academy of the Arts (HKU), for a course that wasn’t available in the area where I grew up. I was also looking for a way out of there.
In Utrecht I feel very differently about it, there’s a much more open atmosphere. The support is noticeable – both in events and all the rainbow flags in the streets. The community is present and visible, which makes me feel more comfortable.
What is your favourite event in Utrecht?
Canal Pride. It’s amazing to see masses of people supporting the LGBTI+ community. It feels empowering and encouraging to be a part of that, and also to be able to give that support back to people who are still closeted or struggling with other matters. It touches me deeply.
I came to live here just around the first edition, so it was exactly the right time. I’m also a member of the LGBTQI+ student association U.H.S.V. Anteros and we book a boat every year to take part. The HKU even had a boat that I could join, that was a fantastic day!
What is another place you would like to live?
I would love to go to Spain and the U.S. for a while to work there. I was always drawn to Spain, especially Barcelona. I’ve never been to either country, but it’s always been a goal of mine to travel around the world. I would like to stay somewhere a bit longer to experience and understand the culture, to really absorb the feeling of what it’s like to live there. The best opportunity for this is if I go work abroad. I’ve already got my basic skills Spanish in the pocket.
“I’m kind of still finding my place in the community.”
What does queer culture in Utrecht mean for you?
It does feel a bit like a distant family you don’t know very well. We all know we’re in the same boat and that we’ll stand up for each other, because we roughly know one another’s struggles. More than the average person, at least. If you go to an LGBTI+ bar here, everyone is really kind and open for conversation. I find it very healing to have a community like that.
When I’d just come out of the closet, I was still in my old village in Germany. Right after, I moved to Berlin for an internship and that’s where I first experienced the LGBTI+ community. Here in Utrecht, I really got to grow in that area. It felt even safer to be myself. I signed up for U.H.S.V. Anteros immediately, where I met a lot of contemporaries who’d been through the same things and shared common interests. Now I’m president of the H.E.L.D. fraternity. I feel immensely proud to be an example to the boys I’ve got under my wing.
I’m kind of still finding my place in the community. I try to fight injustice when I see it; I’m not afraid to stand up, probably because I learned those values at home.
Growing up, I was a pretty average guy; I had good friends I would pull pranks with and I played football. It wasn’t always positive, I’ve also had to unlearn toxic traits. There’s a huge contrast with how I live now. I’d known for a very long time that I was gay, but I could never have imagined that I would now be sitting here giving an interview about what it’s like to be queer in the city.