Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Currently Europe’s youth is facing a very challenging future. Unemployment and an ongoing economic crisis, with an ever increasing competition for skills are placing a great pressure on young people.
But a small minority is faced with even greater challenges, as they are fighting an ongoing battle for acceptance and equality. Europe’s LGBT youth is often misunderstood or ignored. Fighting their battles are a number of various NGOs and organizations, many of them established by the young people themselves, like IGLYO.
IGLYO (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth and Student Organization), was founded in 1984. It has over 80 member organizations working in over 40 countries in the Council of Europe and beyond, focusing on LGBT youths.
Patrick Dempsey, the Co-Chair of IGLYO, talks to the Eblana blog about the work of the organization and the recent worrying developments for LGBT individuals in the Eastern part of the continent. Finally, he explains what measures should be taken in the future to ensure equality for all in Europe.
Patrick describes how the Court of Human Rights, has played an important role in achieving basic freedoms for LGBT people across the Council of Europe. “In Western Europe, there is more of a chance a nation will have legislation in place, safeguarding gender identity issues. In the East, we recently have witnessed homosexual propaganda bills being considered or being passed in national parliaments,” Patrick describes.
Russia's 'non-traditional sexual relations' bill has led to an increase in societal prejudice toward LGBT people, and similar laws were considered in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
There are also cases within the EU's borders. “Latvia for example, is considering something similar. In Lithuania, the law on protection of minors against detrimental effects of public information and providing punitive guidelines can be used against individuals and organizations,” he continues.
Posters, placards, slogans, lyrics, and public speeches fall under the vaguely-worded bill. The 'homosexual propaganda' laws are the harshest and most worrying challenges to fundamental rights and freedoms in many years, Patrick explains.
On a more positive note the EU has included a section of LGBTI rights within the accession candidate country reports, which focus on the accession candidate countries’ protections of LGBTI people and raises concerns.
The European Parliament passed the Lunecek Report which calls for a road-map on sexual orientation and gender identity. A road-map on sexual orientation and gender identity would ensure there is a comprehensive policy to protect the fundamental rights of LGBTI people, securing existing rights within the areas of competency of the European Commission.
“It would also be significant in the area of education,” Patrick believes. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner has already spoken out on equal access of education to LGBT youth and recommends IGLYO's minimum standards on tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying as positive guidelines in the area.
But primarily, it all depends on the national government policies. Some nations have grasped the multilevel approach of ensuring that anti-bullying policies are pursued by all stakeholders at all levels, between Department's of Education, teachers bodies, LGBT youth organizations and student bodies.
Still in some countries their activities are hidden, ignored and actively discouraged. Russia and Lithuania's 'propaganda' laws are clear examples where states are actively trying to stop the vital work of LGBT youth organizations.
IGLYO has been fortunate in working at the Council of Europe level. “We have great partners, particularly with the European Bureau of Secondary Schools Unions, the European Student's Union, the European Youth Forum and other human rights organizations like the European Disability Forum and Roma organizations,” Patrick says.
IGLYO is in its 30th year and a big issue during these times has been education. “This year, we conducted research on the impact of homophobic and transphobic bullying in education, training and employment,” he continues.
“We launched minimum standards, shaped by LGBT youth across Europe, to help tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying. We conducted norm-criticism seminars with stakeholders and are working teachers’ guides and tool-kits. We also worked with the European Parliament on a seminar on homophobic and transphobic bullying,” Patrick describes.
Inter-sectionality, which explores the intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination and how different types of discrimination interact, is a focus for IGLYO. The organization wants to ensure that all of its work and members reflect the diversity of LGBT youth. “We have held roundtables on gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and dis-ability, which were a great success. We also ran a conference to empower activists on this issue,” he notes.
IGLYO is the main representative of LGBT youth and continues to work closely with European Parliament, Council of Europe, UNAids and other human rights organizations in ensuring the voices of LGBTQ youth are heard.
Currently their concerns often evolve around marriage equality. It is a very important step in recognizing the validity of a same-sex relationship, according to IGLYO. Loving same sex relationships are as positive for society and families as loving opposite sex relationships.
Marriage equality is not just important in ensuring full rights and responsibilities. For LGBT young people it allows them to have equal aspirations as their straight peers. “All young people dream of their futures, whether that's to do with jobs or family,” Patrick mentions.
“Marriage equality implies to young LGBT people that if you want a family of your own, that's just as valid and supported as your straight friends wish for a family. It tells them that they aren’t second class citizens, nor will their families be,” he adds.
Patrick believes that civil partnerships are a welcome step forward, but the title still implies a difference between relationships and families. Full equality should be considered a minimum standard, not 'equality, but...'
Yet for some of IGLYO's members, marriage equality is not an issue as of yet. For them, they are more concerned about their right to assemble peacefully, organize themselves, attend prides and ensure their own safety.
“This does not mean marriage equality is not a concern, just that it is a prospect many LGBT communities in Europe can't think forward to as they are fighting for their most basic human and democratic rights. In the EU, half of LGBT people felt discriminated against in the past 12 months,” Patrick states.
Additionally it's important that there is a basic level of respect and understanding in European media, as words can have great impact. In terms of marriage equality debates, very negative language has been used in debates to 'other' LGBT people - saying that LGBT people are not capable of raising families, when they already have done, and are doing.
The public and social media must ensure debates are open, but also must ensure they are fair, respectful and do not promote hate speech. Hate speech can have a negative impact on LGBT young people and act as a trigger for substance abuse or self harm.
Another issue concerning all European youths in general is that often there is a presumption that sex education can promote promiscuity and poor choices. “Sex education puts a weight on how big of a deal sex can be,” Patrick says.
It empowers young people to make safe and informed decisions about sex and their own bodies, as well as ensuring that young people are aware of the legal age of consent and encourages them to say no if they feel uncomfortable. “LGBT young people should have equal access to sex education and ensure that they too are informed and safe,” he concludes.