The first International LGBT Youth Community Forum launched yesterday evening in Dublin, welcoming delegates from both the United States and Europe to the Irish capital for the two-day event.
Michael Barron, Executive Director of BeLonG To, chaired the event and invited speakers from Turkey, Lithuania, Macedonia, the United States and Ireland to speak about the issues affecting LGBT youth – and the organisations who tend to them – in their respective countries.
Eliza Byard from GLSEN representing the United States on the panel, made the point that the collapse of the global economy has “threatened progress” for LGBT organisations, both in the US and internationally. On a more hopeful note, however, Byard also referred to the gradual but steady rise in support for marriage equality across the US, which has established a “bedrock of cultural change”.
While Ireland is in no way a trendsetter in terms of LGBT rights in Europe – ILGA-Europe recently gave the Republic a disappointing 36% approval rating regarding LGBT rights – the country can be regarded as very liberal when compared to fellow EU-state, Lithuania. Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius from the Lithuanian Gay League opened his speech by explaining that he had been made to feel somewhat nervous when talking in public about LGBT rights, as the Lithuanian government has banned what the Russians have recently coined “homosexual propaganda” in recent years. This style of homophobic lawmaking is one that Russia has emulated more recently.
Due to such laws, Raskevičius explained that organisations in Lithuania like the LGL are “barred from working with LGBT youth” by law, thereby making it very difficult to make much progress in the country. He also criticised the role and power of the European Union, saying that Brussels can “put out the fire, but leaves it to [the Lithuanians] to clean up the damage”.
While neither are member-states, both Macedonia and Turkey do look towards the European Union for support on LGBT issues, according to Nevin Öztop of Turkey’s Kaos GL and Kocho Andonovski from the LGBTI Support Centre in Macedonia. While the two countries have different backgrounds and situations, what is common between them (along with Lithuania) is that they are making progress in quite conservative societies. Öztop had a certain level of pride when she announced that queer theorist, Judith Butler, had given a successful and popular lecture at Ankara University, which was due to Kaos GL’s work with Turkish universities. Their work also led to Ankara establishing a Masters programme in Queer Theory at the University – the only one of its kind in Turkey.
The International LGBT Youth Community Forum continues in Dublin today at the Croke Park Conference Centre.