This article was originally conceived as part of the global focus on LGBTI Youth for the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia on May 17th 2015. As is clear by today’s date, we didn’t get this done in time to join the actions and contributions on the main day. But here we are, finally published!
Since May, there have been major developments in the rights and freedoms of LGBTI people around the world: the Supreme Court of the United States declared equal marriage to be a constitutional right; Ireland voted “yes” to marriage equality in the first referendum of its kind; Chile recognised civil unions; Mozambique decriminalised homosexuality; activists in Uganda risked lengthy prison sentences by taking part in the annual Pride Festival; The Boy Scouts ended the ban on gay adult leaders; Poland passed its first transgender recognition law; and on a State visit to Kenya, President Obama challenged African countries on their poor gay rights record.
But, it isn’t all good news. According to the ILGA’s State Sponsored Homophobia report (2015), homosexual acts are illegal in 75 countries and punishable by death in 6 UN member countries. It also notes that the rise is ISIS has seen vigilante groups attack gay people, with gay men reportedly thrown off buildings and beheaded. 41 out of 53 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality, and Australia’s Prime Minister is currently blocking his MPs from voting for same-sex marriage in the upcoming parliamentary vote. In Kyrgyzstan, anti-gay legislation, similar to that adopted in Russia, is being introduced - though the same law in Kazakhstan was recently struck down as unconstitutional.
As part of the #IDAHOT2015 celebration, we wanted to explore the prevalence of LGBTI rights, sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation in national youth policies. The aims was to look for gaps and areas of future advocacy that campaign movements and organisations can build upon - similar to our analysis on post-2015 consultations in 2013.
The State of Youth Policy 2014 notes that 127 countries have a national youth policy, with a further 33 currently in review or draft form. 29 countries have no national youth policy and Africa has the lowest rate of adoption with only 26 out of 54 countries having a policy. As part of this publication, we curate a list of all national youth policies, strategies, and action plans at youthpolicy.org/nationalyouthpolicies for each country.
Using these documents, we conducted a key word search to reveal which policies contain specific mention to LGBTI issues. The keywords were: sexuality; homosexuality; transgender; gay; bisexual; lesbian; LGBT; queer; intersex. The summary table below notes the key words searched, the number of countries that have used the word in relevant documents (inclusive of national youth policies, actions, strategies and plans), and a list of those countries.
As the table demonstrates, the most popular keyword terms were sexuality (50), gay (20), lesbian (19). No countries have produced documents that contained the word “intersex” and it has not been included in the table.
While 50 unique countries include the word “sexuality”, this is often used to describe sexual education, reproductive health, and personal relationships without including sexual orientation, gender identity, homosexual relationships and sex. This is likely given that this list includes countries such as Uganda, Qatar, St Kitts and Nevis, and the Solomon Islands - countries where homosexuality is illegal. Even Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen - countries that use the death penalty against certain homosexual acts - are included.
By removing “sexuality” from our analysis, we get a more accurate understanding of where countries have specifically mentioned and included LGBTI issues as part of their youth policy and publications. The table below shows that only 30 countries include at least one of the 6 key words that focus specifically on LGBTI issues.
Serbia is the only country that includes all the keywords in its youth policies, with Ireland included 6 out of the 7 key words. Below is an example of a “Government Commitment” from the Ireland youth policy framework, Better Outcomes, Bright Futures (2014):
5.6. Reduce discrimination and intolerance of all types experienced by marginalised groups (i.e. Travellers, Roma, migrants and asylum-seekers; children and young people with disabilities; those in care and detention; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people; and those from ethnic or religious minorities).
The 30 countries listed in Table 2 is significantly lower than the 50 countries that include the word “sexuality” (seen in Table 1). Given the resources required, we have not looked at each individual document and it is therefore possible that more than the 30 countries in Table 2 refer to LGBTI youth and issues.
At the most generous, the 50 countries that include any of the keywords represents just 39% of those with a national youth policy. At the more realistic level, the 30 countries in Table 2 would mean that less than a quarter - 23% - of countries that have a national youth policy specifically refer to LGBT youth and their issues.
Even out of this small amount, it is unclear whether words are supported by actions and commitments, or only as part of a situational analysis or general statement of equality. Furthermore, the keyword search does not show whether the words were used in a positive or negative context. Without this deeper analysis we do not get to understand a country’s approach to LGBTI youth. The keyword search is a useful first step in understanding the prevalence of issues within youth policies but without deeper analysis it only provides a rough indication of a countries attitude: do they even mention LGBTI words or not? Numbers are a good place to start, but a more rigorous text analysis on youth policies would be beneficial. This would be a further research area for any researcher or activist - which we would happily publish if taken up!
Despite the research constraints, this research indicates the limited inclusion of LGBTI within national youth policies. Whether positive, negative, rhetoric or commitments, few countries even include words relating to LGBTI issues. The inclusion - and absence - of words is a powerful sign. In international agreements considerable time is spent lobbying, removing and changing the words included. For example, at the Commonwealth Youth Forum in 2014, more specific words on sexuality and gender were replaced with “other minority groups” after Saudi Arabia threatened to not sign the Colombo Declaration.
The inclusion of these words isn’t just an academic exercise. When words are included in a positive, respectful and empowering manner, they give cover, protection and recognition for groups of individuals to assemble, demand rights, access services and grow into the person that they want to be. Conversely, when used to demonise, harass and reduce young people - or any human being - they became objects to be rejected, challenged and fought against. Words have a humanising power and can influence our culture, our society and our understanding of diversity and difference. In short: words can give people the hope they need.
2015 has seen a number of successes for the LGBTI community, but severe - and fatal - challenges remain. National youth policies should be seen as an instrument for giving young LGBTI people the recognition, support and services that allow them to lead fulfilling lives.
Written and researched by Alex Farrow, edited by Lisa Richter, with data support from Jacob Kreyenbühl.
Featured image from IPP Photo Archive / US Department of State, CC-License(by-nc-sa).