“Equality is a European value”
In the spirit of celebrating Pride Month, Volt is publishing an article on young LGBTIQ+ Europeans. We polled students across the EU, and respondents shared the difficulties and struggles they have faced due to their identity. These students’ answers illuminate the need for a political answer to this social problem: through updated education systems, legal protection against discrimination, and ongoing community-based support, Volt hopes to help students like these grow up in a world where they can love without fear.
While on the decline, discrimination against sexual minorities remains a persistent problem. Though this is especially apparent in Eastern and Southern European countries, Central and Northern Europe are neither always safe, inclusive, and equitable places for LGBTIQ+ people despite more progressive laws and tolerant societies. From verbal violence to spitting, sexual harassment, and even rape, LGBTIQ+ people still face stigma, discrimination, and abuse, just because of who they love. Lena, a 17-year-old girl from Germany, has been discriminated on multiple occasions because of her beliefs and sexuality. “In talks about sexual orientation, religion was often used to describe me as unnatural. I have been insulted for saying my opinion several times” Lena told us. It got so bad that sometimes she had to keep her sexuality secret to protect herself. Volt firmly believes that no one deserves such treatment, and not only condemns such behaviour and practices, but also proposes policies that will put an end to unjust or prejudicial treatment.
Education is central to achieving a change and working towards changing people’s hearts and minds. In Federica’s, a 17 year-old, view, current sexual education classes add to the problem. “In school, I was always told that there are only two options for gender, and thus I internalized that and couldn’t consider my different sexual orientation anymore as it didn't fit into that system” Surprisingly, many young Europeans are unaware of the meaning of the acronym LGBTIQ+. We polled young people across the EU, and based on the answers we received, a large number of respondents did not even realise that their feelings are valid, supported, and part of the LGBTIQ+ community. This illustrates the need for educational reform and expansion, to celebrate diversity and promote acceptance. With this in mind, Antonio concluded: “I think the focus on education needs to be bigger, not only in terms of syllabus or school, but also professional training.”
Although our respondents are minors, some of them have faced the choice between either leaving their home country to escape either their parents’ overwhelming negative reaction or their community’s refusal to accept them, or staying silent about their sexual identity. Maxi, a 18 year-old student resident of Germany, told us that “many families threaten their children or abandon them for being LGBTIQ+” and that she felt forced to leave her home and apply for a boarding school because her father did not approve of her sexuality, while George, a proud European, stated, “My coming-out day wasn't bad per say, but in some ways I felt like my family had changed their perception of me. I feel tense sometimes around my family and it really shouldn't change anything. It's just another part of me...it does not define me.”
Volt believes that, in a democratic Europe which supports its citizens’ freedom and equality, protecting LGBTIQ+ rights is necessary at both the national and European level. Yorick, a high school student living in Germany, feels awkward when discussing his sexual orientation, because he doesn’t feel certain about how others will react. He also worries that others will not want to talk about different sexualities with him. Mary felt this tension as well, and had to leave her home and disguise her sexual identity to protect herself from discriminatory behaviour from her family. Mary, a minor, now lives alone in a different country.
Our respondents agreed that politics is key to guaranteeing LGBTIQ+ rights and a just and equal standard of living for everyone. Laura and Alex support Volt’s initiatives; Laura ,from Austria, called for Volt to “bring changes in legislation for LGBTIQ+ people to enjoy the same rights as others do,” while Alex pointed out that Volt “gives us the chance to fully enjoy our rights, but most importantly it gives us a sense of recognition, where our identities and lives are respected and valued”. All people, including LGBTIQ+ individuals, should be treated fairly and equally by laws, and should have equal opportunity to earn a living, access housing, and participate fully in society. As Federica, a respondent from The Netherlands, said, “It is definitely a cultural issue, which can be changed with the right policies”. In Mary’s view, “...a change in legislation allows LGBTIQ+ people to live their lives more fully and be more visible, and that on its own will help a great deal in changing people's personal view on the issue as we are, by law, recognised as equals”. Through its policies, Volt strives to do just that: not only does Volt’s policy strive to strengthen legislation, but also to change hearts and minds, because without social acceptance, laws can remain ineffective.
Alex, an upper high school student, asked for solidarity to the members of the LGBTIQ+ community and stated, “All my life I've gone through the different kinds of discrimination. It is one of the most inhumane things one can do”.
In solidarity with those who are struggling and fighting for equal social treatment, Volt has developed a set of policies aimed at tackling such discrimination against LGBTIQ+ individuals. Those policies seek to secure equal rights and opportunities for LGBTIQ+ people and to eliminate all forms of discrimination, harassment, and violence against them.
All names were changed to protect respondents privacy.