This special set of comments is a personal report on events taking place during the ILGA Europe conference in The Hague, Netherlands, from 28 to 31 October.
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More information on the ILGA Europe conference can be found on the conference section of the ILGA Europe website.
As you might remember from last year, the conference is held in The Hague and the local host organization is COC Haaglanden (COC The Hague region). The last few months we have been working on a number of tasks like compiling a social program, finding a bus company and helping with visa applications.
As chairman of the COC Haaglanden Working Group for Politics and International Affairs I am the first one of the local staff present in the conference venue, the Bel Air Hotel. And the work started immediately with a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Education, responsible for the government dinner on Wednesday. While we were talking others were busy preparing the delegate packs.
During the meeting I learned that the chairman of COC Haaglanden can speak during the government dinner in the Ridderzaal, but only for two minutes. The next two days we'll have to write him a speech that fits exactly. It can't be a second longer, because there are some six people speaking between courses.
The hotel is perfect: very nice rooms (mine with a view at the City Museum) and a good restaurant. The only thing is that is rather nouvelle cuisine with very big plates and, let's say, compact meals.
Tomorrow the ILGA-Europe board and the rest of the staff arrives and in the evening we have the first meeting with the volunteers. Also I have to sow this year's logo onto the ILGA conference flag so that at the end of the conference it can be transferred to the next host city, Turin. But that is all such a long time away. Well it seems a long time away, but from experience (this is my 10th conference) I know that the days just fly past. That is why I always try and take as many photos as possible.
Day 2 of the pre-conference period has ended and I am trying to relax a bit in my hotel room. The television is showing a report on the debate in parliament where the new government presented its policy plans for the next four years. The debate will continue tomorrow and I hope the Education minister will manage to be at the Ridderzaal in time.
The day started with all kinds of small tasks that had to be done. Cutting nametags, delivering delegate bags to the department, and shopping for office materials. In the afternoon I got an emergency phone call from Turkey where one of the Kaos GL delegated was refused a visa for the Netherlands. After emergency calls and e-mails to the Foreign Office and the embassy it turned out that there was really nothing we could do about it. Apparently the delegate applied too late for a visa. I must say that the Foreign Office was very cooperative and really tried to find a solution, but unfortunately in the end it was impossible.
At 18.30 h. we had the first general meeting of the local staff (our volunteers) and the ILGA-Europe office staff. Together it is our task to let the conference run as smoothly as possible. There are a number of important tasks, like staffing the registration desk, making reports of the workshops, distributing attendance sheets and evaluation forms, technical assistance and the "rapid response team". I think we managed to get enough volunteers to take care of all that. When the question arose who would be the 'focal point' of the local volunteers, everyone pointed at me. I fear that I will be addressed as 'focal point' for the rest of the conference.
Dinner was perfect. I thought of complaining to the hotel staff because dinner was too good and I ate too much, but I could restrain myself. Some board members have arrived already, so it was a real pleasure to see them all again. Some of them I have known for ten years now. I must say that I am already starting to get the conference feeling.
There was one surprise today when I found a press release by the Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst (RVD, State Information Service) that "on initiative of the Dutch government, the 14th annual meeting of ILGA takes place in The Hague on 28 and 29 October". Nobody knows how this could happen. We only found the first 100 words of the press release on Nieuwsbank. Maybe tomorrow some newspaper or website will reprint it in full.
What happens tomorrow? Most of the participants will arrive in The Hague. At 11.00 h. there will be a press conference where Elisa and I will represent COC Haaglanden. The leading organisations from the EU countries will have their EU Network meeting and in the evening everyone is invited to a reception and dinner in the Ridderzaal. This is going to be the most formal event ever during an ILGA-Europe conference. A busy day so that calls for a good sleep.
Today was day zero. The last preparations for the conference and the first official event, the government dinner at the Ridderzaal. The day started quite slow, but soon it was time for our first important task: the ILGA-Europe press conference. As per usual the local host has to provide two people (gender balanced of course) to participate and tell the media why their organization applied for the conference, how important it is for their country and city and what they would like to achieve in the long run.
There were three (!) journalists present, including one from Radio Netherlands (Wereldomroep). After the press conference I spoke extensively with the chief editor of eurOut.org, a LGBT news channel. During the rest of the day we were very busy making sure that all volunteers were assigned to specific workshops and other events during the coming days. My attention was focussed on incoming telephone calls from people who still wanted to attend the conference, the keynote speakers for the opening meeting and all kinds of last minute problems.
At the end of the afternoon all participants were transported by bus to the Ridderzaal. I must say that especially Stephan did a wonderful job making sure that everyone got on the bus in time. There were of course a number of late arrivals, people who overslept, and those who were not quite dressed for the occasion.
Because of the debate in parliament on the new government's policy presentation, the minister could not attend the dinner. In stead she gave her speech during the reception preceding the dinner. Unfortunately when I got there, she was almost finished, but fortunately the department put the complete text on the government website.
Dinner was impressive, mostly because of the location. Dining in the Ridderzaal is a rare and unique event. Only a minister or state secretary has the right to organize a dinner there and it has to be arranged almost a year in advance. The menu consisted of: grilled scallop with crunchy shrimps and chicory froth, veal in brioche with forgotten vegetables and a selection of homemade desserts and sweets. The menu cards carried the logo of the conference. There were a number of speeches, including one by the chairman of COC Haaglanden.
Dinner ended at eleven o'clock. When leaving the Ridderzaal, the department presented everyone with a special gift, a Dutch Design umbrella with the government emblem on it. The buses took most of us back to the hotel (some ten participants went into town to discover the gay bars). I ended up discussing politics in the hotel bar with some UK delegates. Of course I had to explain everything about coalition governments and supporting parties. At 1.30 the day was finally over.
Finally the day has come. We lived to this moment for two years and now the conference has started. Of course not without any problems. We invited Ronald Plasterk to address the conference as a keynote speaker. Het is member of parliament and the former Minister for LGBT and Gender Equality. He was to stay in a hotel in the city centre, but at the last moment chose to sleep at home. And this morning his train was too late.
When he came in the conference had already started with a speech by Frits Huffnagel, member of the The Hague city council. Last year he joined us during the conference in Malta to deliver a speech. At that time he was deputy mayor of The Hague. This year's speech was inspired by that contribution from October 2009.
The speech Ronald Plasterk gave was also very inspiring. He sketched the efforts he undertook while being the responsible government minister and told the conference to keep on working for equal rights and reminded us not to forget the schools and older LGBTs. He got an enormous applause when he revealed that the lining of his jacket was made from a rainbow flag. He had it made especially for a LGBT event when he was minister.
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last revised: 29 October 2010