Geneva Municipality’s reachout to public and its own staff on LGBT issues

Monday, December 9, 2013
Interview with Guillaume Mandicourt on municipality’s dedication to equality
A long time activist at Dialogai in Geneva and “Jules and Julies” in Toulouse, Guillaume Mandicourt is now in charge of LGBT related affairs, a position the City of Geneva has created recently. His role sits not only in the middle of civil society and the Municipality, but also other national and international municipalities and state practices. Bringing local LGBT organizations into the municipal scene for a ripple effect, promoting equality during hiring processes by the Municipality and strengthening existing collaborations seem to be on top of priorities.
Kaos GL Magazine sat down with Mandicourt to listen to his position as a civil servant with years of activism in the field. We are hopeful that this interview will benefit not only the Swiss municipalities but also others around the globe.
Your dedication to activism starts at Dialogai, a longtime organization passionately working in the field of social rights of LGBT people. Please tell us briefly about your journey from there to the Municipality.
My engagement started long before, actually. As a young student I joined “Jules et Julies”, the student LGBT organization in Toulouse, France, my country of origin. I became its president a few years later. After I finished my PhD at the University of Geneva, I decided to (re)connect to the local LGBT community, which I hadn’t really had time to explore during my studies. I started to write for the LGBTQ magazine “360” and to meet people from Dialogai. When Dialogai decided to create a new position in Communication, I jumped on the occasion. I did the same four years later, when the City of Geneva created a new and ambitious position of Project Officer for LGBT issues.
How was the idea of establishing a position in charge of LGBT related issues born? How was it seeded exactly?
The idea was born at the first Meeting -“Assises”- Against Homophobia in Geneva, set up by local LGBT organizations in 2009. Speakers from other countries -mainly from Canada- testified how useful it is to have referent people within the administrations and Mayor Sandrine Salerno decided to put a Project Officer position in the municipal budget 2012.
After passionate debates, her proposal was validated by the Municipal Council. This would never have happened without the long and intense lobbying by LGBT organizations and the strong involvement of Mayor Salerno in equality and diversity issues.
What are the fields which you focus on the most? And how is it going so far?
My work is divided in four areas of action. First, supporting the LGBT organizations and analyzing their subsidies requests. Second, raising awareness in public through the organization of events, campaigns or conferences. I also interact with other municipal departments to encourage them to integrate LGBT issues to their work and services. Third, working with the Human Resources Department to ensure that the municipal administration is respectful of every single collaborator, independently of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Finally, promoting cooperation projects on LGBT issues at the international level. The City of Geneva supports, for example, the difficult work done by ASF Switzerland in defending people facing trial for being gay in Cameroon. I also represent the City in several networks across Switzerland and Europe.
Can you please tell us about your methods for attracting local NGOs to come and speak with you? How do you make this collaboration attractive? I suppose partnering with local governance bodies have not been the top trendy topic within the LGBT movement…
In Geneva, we are lucky to benefit from close ties between the civil society and the authorities. Local LGBT organizations are very active and used to turning to politicians to further their cause. This dialogue has even intensified with the Meetings Against Homophobia in 2009 and 2011.
Having worked as a Communication Officer for both Dialogai and the LGBT Federation, I know each NGO representative personally, which helps a lot. My Department makes indeed a point of hiring people who are closely connected to the local civil society.
Geneva has a different mayor every year; please tell us a bit about this rotating governance system. For instance, does it make continuity harder? And how does it affect your own work as a civil servant with an activism background?
Actually, the municipal action is carried collectively by the five members -or Magistrates- of the Administrative Council. Therefore, as a municipal service, the rotating governance system doesn’t really change our day-to-day work. It simply gives it more visibility when our Magistrate becomes Mayor.
Do you have exchanges with other national or international municipalities with similar departments and goals?
The City of Geneva is part of several international networks such as “Rainbow Cities”, which connects municipal administrations working on LGBT issues.
We are also in contact with our colleagues of the Equality Office of the City of Zurich, which added LGBT issues to its agenda in March 2013.
Is there a wish to turn this city practice into a federal one?
Upon request of the Council of Europe, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice is now investigating the institutionalization of the efforts to fight against homophobia and transphobia in our country.  We have been interviewed during this process. I would be very honored if the innovating work of the City of Geneva inspired either the federal institutions or other cities in Switzerland. 
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