In celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17th May, the Youth Coalition announced the launch of the 2015 edition of the IDAHOT Watchdog.
ASTRA Youth is proud to have its article included in this year's Watchdog: 'This world cannot handle my true colors”. Challenges faced by LGBTQ youth across Central and Eastern Europe & the Balkans'.
The article is accessible below and in the Watchdog here. Share it widely among your networks!
“This world cannot handle my true colors”: Challenges faced by LGBTQ youth across Central and Eastern Europe & the Balkans
“This world is not for me, this world cannot handle my true colors. Goodbye”. These were the last words of Isa Shakhmarli, Azerbaijani LGBT activist (20 years old) who committed suicide due to being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation1. Eylül Cansın, a 23-year-old transgender Turkish girl took her own life in early January 2015, leaving a suicide note sharing her traumatic experience of transphobia: “[People] They impeded with me many times; they made me suffer a lot”2. Isa and Eylül’s stories are two among many describing the tragic consequences of homophobia and transphobia, many of which are hidden, surrounded with silence and taboo, taking place daily at schools, homes and reinforced through homophobic and transphobic laws.
Negative societal attitudes and public discourse towards people of diverse sexual and gender identities and expressions still prevail in the region, and what is worse, are reinforced in laws, e.g. the banning of “homosexual propaganda” (Russia and Lithuania), or denying marriage equality by defining marriage as solely a union between a man and a woman (all countries of the region with the exception of Slovenia). When LGBTQ activists advocate for recognition of their human rights, they’re opposed with the attitudes emphasizing protection of traditional values, relationships and family models, which strengthen stereotypes and support patriarchal views. This homophobic and transphobic approach negatively influences the health and lives of LGBTQ youth, hinders the realization of their human rights and leaves them vulnerable to discrimination and violence, leading to exclusion, low self-esteem, poor mental health, and in some cases, suicide.
Young LGBTQ people face discrimination and stigma from their earliest years, in everyday life and at an institutional level. One of the primary institutions that should play a role in promoting human rights and anti-discrimination attitudes are schools. Unfortunately, sexuality education, including anti-discrimination education, remains an issue all over the region. In recent years, various initiatives have emerged, trying to deny youth access to sexuality education. Slovakia’s referendum, which fortunately has failed, included a question around allowing children to skip sexuality education classes3. In Poland, the anti-choice initiative aimed to ban sexuality education in schools in order to ‘protect children from depravation of so-called sex educators’4. A Romanian activist who created a youth-friendly sex-education platform called Sex vs. Stork, has experienced an anti-choice boycott of the project, and has been accused of corrupting minors and promoting homosexuality5. Moreover, the programmes of sexuality education in the region are inadequate or non-existing, most often biased, promoting conservative values and disseminating stereotypes regarding sexuality.
One of Polish course books “Preparation for Family Life”, approved by the Ministry of National Education, mentions homosexuality under the subsection dedicated to problems with sexuality and sex crimes6. Additionally, the curricula do not refer to LGBTQ specific needs when discussing sexual and reproductive health issues, thus leaving youth at higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and practicing unsafe sexual behaviours and attitudes. Considering the vast stigma experienced at schools, it comes as no surprise that LGBTQ people decide to hide or disguise their diversity during schooling7, which can further strengthen feelings of alienation and psychological distress.
This lack of evidence-based information on sexual diversity and the dissemination of harmful stereotypes might intensify homophobic and transphobic attitudes thus heightening the risk of violence and hate crimes towards LGBTQ people, as evidenced by the brutal murder of a young gay man after revealing his sexual orientation in Russia8.
Can this vicious circle of homophobia and transphobia be stopped? Implementation of bills supporting LGBTQ rights may provide some optimism (Malta’s GIGESC Act9, marriage equality act in Slovenia), but it seems obvious that efforts leading to change of socio-cultural attitudes must be intensified in order to ensure that LGBTQ adolescents can live and develop in a society where they feel safe and where their diversity is appreciated.
1. Joseph Patrick McCormick, ‘Leading LGBT activist hangs himself with rainbow flag’, Pink News, 23 Jan 2014, http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2014/01/23/leading-lgbt-activist-commits-suicide-i-cant-live-in-this-world-any-more/ (accessed 27 March 2015)
2. Kelli Busey, ‘Turkish transgender woman commits suicide “I could not, did not allow !”’, Planet Transgender, 5 Jan 2015, http://planettransgender.com/turkish-transgender-woman-commits-suicide-i-could-not-did-not-allow/ (accessed 30 March 2015)
3. LGBTI Intergroup, ‘Homophobic referendum Slovakia fails over low turnout’, 9 Feb 2015, http://www.lgbt-ep.eu/press-releases/homophobic-referendum-slovakia-fails-over-low-turnout/ (accessed 15 March 2015)
4. ASTRA Youth, ‘Movement against sexuality education in Poland proposes legislative initiative’, 30 July 2014,http://www.astra.org.pl/youth/news/194-movement-against-sexuality-education-in-poland-proposes-legislative-initiative.html (accessed 15 March 2015)
5. A.L.E.G., ‘Cui i-e frică de Festivalul Egalităţii de Gen?’, 23 Sept 2014, http://aleg-romania.eu/cui-i-e-frica-de-festivalul-egalitatii-de-gen/ (accessed 15 March 2015)
6. Ponton Group of Sex Educators, ‘Analysis of sexuality education course books in Poland’, http://ponton.org.pl/sites/ponton/files/analysis_of_sexuality_education_course_books_in_poland_.pdf (accessed 30 March 2015)
7. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, ‘European Union lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survey 2013’, http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/eu-lgbt-survey-results-at-a-glance_en.pdf (accessed 8 April 2015)
8. Vasudevan Sridharan, ‘Russian Man Tortured and Killed in Volgograd for Being Gay’, 13 May 2013, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/gay-homosexual-russia-moscow-rape-sexual-assault-467162 (accessed 9 April 2015)
9. GIGESC Act - Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act,LGBTI Intergroup, ‘Malta adopts ground-breaking gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics law’, 2 April 2015, http://www.lgbt-ep.eu/press-releases/malta-adopts-ground-breaking-gender-identity-gender-expression-and-sex-characteristics-law/ (accessed 8 April 2015)