David Leuenberger dreams of getting married and one day having children, but under current Swiss law, same-sex couples do not have these rights. He’s had to fight some battles, but David believes Swiss society is open and tolerant. The law will change, he's convinced – he just hopes it won't happen too late.
“The only kind of rejection I've experienced was motivated by my parents’ love." David has an optimistic and light-hearted, yet very sensitive approach to life and its ups and downs.
Relaxing on his apartment terrace in the heart of the Swiss capital, Bern, the 30-year-old industrial designer tells his story, as the last rays of the setting sun cast a warm glow over the rooftops. "Being gay isn't a problem in Switzerland. I feel accepted everywhere, including at work. We already have equality – the laws just have to be brought up to date,” he says.
Every story has its shadow side, however, which must be overcome. In David's case, it took the form of a rift with his family after he came out. “My mother learned by chance that I was gay, when I was 20. She phoned me at once, in tears, begging me to come home,” he recalls.
That day, it was as if the world had collapsed in the space of one phone call. His parents did not understand; they tried to reason with him, believing he was on the wrong track, and that he could decide to change and “go back to normal”.
The incomprehension was followed by a heavy silence. And when silence lasts it becomes a taboo. “For ten years, we didn't talk about it. We avoided the subject. Whenever homosexuality came up on television, I was on edge. After I left home, I was still tense whenever I saw my parents.” It's a latent conflict that undermines his relationship with his parents and keeps him away from a family he cares about deeply.
I felt ‘normal’
When he first started questioning his sexual orientation, at around age 12, he never imagined that such a difficult road lay ahead: “I thought everyone was like me. I felt completely ‘normal’”. Then, doubts and questions began to swirl around in his head. How and where could he find the answers? “The first time I saw a gay person was on one of the first reality TV shows. No one had ever spoken to me about homosexuality before.”
The advent of the Internet, however, opened up a host of possibilities. “Like all young people my age, I started chatting online. That’s when I realised that what I thought was the norm wasn't really, but also that I was not the only one in this situation,” says David.
Over time, his doubts gave way to certainty. There were first encounters, first love, but always silence. Until an English lesson at high school: “I was supposed to give a presentation, although I was clueless at English. In the middle of the lesson I burst into tears. I just couldn’t stop, so the teacher went and got my best friend, a girl who was in another class. It was the first time I managed to tell someone I was gay. It was a huge relief.”
“Since I was 18 I’ve never tried to hide who I am, outside the family circle,” he says. Without being a militant, he never makes a secret of being gay, neither at work nor with friends. “No one has ever reacted negatively. My friends were sorry they hadn’t known earlier so they could support me,” he recalls.
Marriage for all – also in Switzerland?
David relishes challenges – both sporting and personal – but he’s also deeply sensitive, say his friends. “On the outside, he’s like a champion always seeking new peaks of performance. But inside he is a very sensitive person who’s searching for love and friendship,” says Isaline Mercerat, who has known him since childhood.
Today, he lives on his own terms. He dreams of getting married and maybe having children. “Switzerland will eventually say ‘yes’ to marriage for all, just as it – belatedly – accepted women's right to vote. My only fear is that the change will come too late for me.” Sceptics should be reassured, he notes. Many children have already grown up successfully in so-called rainbow families.
David casts regular glances at his smartphone. In the age of social networks, most encounters take place online. “Whereas Tinder became popular among heterosexuals only recently, the gay community has been using the Internet for a long time when it comes to meeting a serious partner.” Gay bars and nightclubs are, in his view, secondary.
Breaking the ice
Gay men today still live with the knowledge that they are at greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. This gives cause for greater caution. “Since I assume everyone could be HIV positive, I always protect myself. I gather this is less the case among heterosexuals, who may be more afraid of an unwanted pregnancy.”
Beyond the desire to share his life with someone else lies another dream. “I wish I could talk freely with my parents about my boyfriend, invite him home at Christmas, just like my brother and his girlfriend.” He has at last managed to break the ice and tell them about his life. While talking is still difficult, it is now possible. “I am optimistic, and I hope that one day we can be as close as we used to be,” he confides.
David sees his past through a positive lens: “It’s important to understand that my parents’ reaction was motivated by great love. They loved me and wanted to protect me.”