Don’t forget world youth

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In 2010 we saw long-overdue attention to the challenges facing young LGBT people. Tragically, this attention was prompted by the alarming number of youth suicides and well-publicized cases of anti-gay violence that captured media attention. These cases unfortunately represent the tip of the iceberg, particularly for youth of color and those mired in poverty.

The rights to housing, education, security, bodily integrity and to share in and create culture are all guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet LGBT youth everywhere face violations of these rights.

While so many U.S. politicians and celebrities are communicating to LGBT youth that it gets better, we must not forget the plight of LGBT young people outside of the United Sttes, who face challenges that are simultaneously all too familiar and vastly different.  

While organizations that serve LGBT youth in the United States are often underfunded and under attack by the religious right, at least they exist. In the global south, dedicated youth programs are rare. In fact, LGBT centers are often hesitant to serve the needs of young people for fear of being accused of pedophilia and recruiting youth into homosexuality.

Facing this discrimination, which is compounded by sodomy laws in 76 countries around the world and the failure of most countries to provide protections for transgenders, young LGBT people are among the world’s most marginalized groups.

Over the past few years IGLHRC has documented human rights violations against young people in Cameroon, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria and beyond.

Just last month, United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “Stigma and discrimination will end only when we agree to speak out. That requires all of us to do our part. To speak out – at home, at work, in our schools and communities. To stand in solidarity.”

To stand in solidarity with LGBT youth, we must address the ways they are affected by homophobia and transphobia; we must acknowledge that they face discrimination and abuse; and more than anything, we must listen to them. Some young people can’t afford to wait until it gets better. They need help now.

Cary Alan Johnson, executive director,
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission