May 17th has become a day to raise awareness of violations against the rights of LGBTIQ people. It was on this day in 1990 that the the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses as part of the International Classification of Diseases. While much has progressed since that day, LGBTIQ people, and often LGBTIQ youth in particular, continue to face a disproportionate burden of discrimination and violence. Because of society’s heteronormative and cisgender expectations, LGBTIQ youth experience abuse at home, discrimination in educational settings, including verbal and physical bullying, and due to regressive laws, like the anti-propaganda law in Russia preventing anyone from speaking about LGBTIQ issues, often lack access to lifesaving information.
Family rejection and violence continues to be a fundamental issue for young LGBTIQ people across the world. OutRight reports have noted the high number of experiences of violence against LGBTIQ people at the hands of their own family members. All too often, an LGBTIQ person’s first experience of abuse happens at home. In community cultures the need to protect family reputation and “save face” causes many individuals never to report violence at the hands of family members. Sadly, even when they do they are met with a legal system that does not recognize family fueled domestic violence or with authorities who side with parents and claim it is an understandable parental response to their children being LGBTIQ. OutRight is currently working to change domestic violence laws across the world as well as to sensitize first responders on the issue of family and domestic violence against LGBTIQ youth and adults.
In the Philippines, our work on training local gender and development officers is making a difference. One officer told OutRight’s Asia Project Coordinator that she was helping a young trans girl who had been beaten by her father as he did not accept that she is transgender. The officer met the trans girl in the street with bruises and welts all over her body. The officer said that thanks to the training, she felt equipped to deal with the situation in a way that she wouldn’t have before. She said the stereotyping and bias that she had been socialized into had been replaced by understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity. The officer has since issued a district protection order against the father and the girl is now living with her grandparents who are accepting of her gender identity.
For so many LGBTIQ youth simply going to school is a challenge. Bullying, harassment, and verbal and physical assault, are all too common among LGBTIQ youth who because of such experiences face higher than average levels of anxiety, depression, and even suicide. This can lead to missing classes and school drop out, having long-term impact on the individual’s ability to access employment and even on national economic growth. Experiences in school are especially difficult for trans and gender non-conforming youth who face distinct hardships like the need to wear uniforms congruent to their birth sex and not being able to access bathrooms and facilities that match their gender identity. All of this has fundamental impacts on the health, safety, and wellbeing of LGBTIQ youth.
It is not just families and schools that harm LGBTIQ youth, but also punitive policies like anti-LGBT propaganda laws which target and restrict the sharing of vital information about LGBTIQ issues. These discriminatory laws not only create a climate of fear for LGBTIQ youth to express themselves and their identities, but prevent them from having access to health and sexuality information often necessary for their wellbeing.
Youth all around the world suffer violations of their human rights because of homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. On this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT), it is important to recognize that it is impossible to move towards a world of equality and dignity if we do not place specific attention to the needs of LGBTIQ youth. We must combat the systemic and social discrimination that marginalizes and disenfranchises LGBTIQ youth and bars them from living the lives they not only deserve, but have a right to.
In honor of this year’s IDAHOT, OutRight, as part of the United Nations LGBT Core Group in New York will be hosting an event titled, “Standing up for LGBT Youth.” The aim of the event is to raise awareness of bullying and exclusion of LGBT youth, amplify the voices of those affected, and celebrate the resilience, promise and diversity of young LGBT people around the world. On IDAHOT, and every day, OutRight is committed to take positive initiatives in all regions of the world to create safer, more supportive, environments for LGBTIQ young people.