For LGBT History Month, Anya Keenan reflects on the importance of learning about the past and present of LGBT people for the young people she works with, and the powerful impact which youth work can have in the most challenging of circumstances.
At LGBT Youth Scotland, LGBT history features prominently all year round, with youth groups up and down the country holding workshops on everything from classical antiquity to voguing.
For LGBTI young people, learning about LGBT history can be a joyful journey into the past, creating a deeper sense of identity and belonging. It can also be an all too familiar and upsetting encounter with violence and persecution.
LGBT History Month was established to redress the damaging legacy of Section 28 and to educate society on LGBT+ people and our lives.
As Matt Broomfield of Vice Mag puts it: “Despite what your beloved great-aunt believes, queer people weren't made in a lab in 1996 to piss her off and infiltrate the soaps.”
And this February marks another challenge to the sustained erasure of LGBTI identities from our shared human history in a spirit of celebration and defiance.
The theme for this year's LGBT History Month in Scotland, Blurring Borders, places the focus on LGBT rights across the globe.
In 'The Pink Line,’ Mark Gevisser describes how no global social movement has brought about change so rapidly, with such drastically mixed results. While some parts of the world celebrate progress in same-sex marriage and transgender rights, laws are introduced elsewhere that criminalise homosexuality and gender nonconformity.
In 2013, the Russian government passed a bill that forbids the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors".
In response to the violent homophobia triggered by this so-called “gay propaganda law”, a group of young LGBT people in Russia joined together with journalist Elena Klimova to create a social network named ‘Children-404’, after the error code for a web page that no longer exists.
Children-404 provided a vital platform for LGBT young people to share their stories, swap resources and information, and crucially find peer support online.
Inevitably, they were soon caught in the crosshairs of Russian law enforcement and by 2015 the site had been shut down with a tribunal ruling that the web page “could cause children to think that to be gay means to be a person who is brave, strong, confident, persistent, who has a sense of dignity and self-respect".
The story of Children-404 is a heart-rending testament to the power of youth work to promote basic dignity and human rights even in the most repressive circumstances.
At LGBT Youth Scotland, our youth workers are committed allies of LGBT young people. Their practice supports young people to understand, promote, and defend their rights.
By participating in thoughtfully facilitated youth groups, young people are encouraged to think for themselves, build friendships and connections with their peers and develop the confidence to use their voice and build alliances to bring about positive change.
This LGBT History Month, Blurring Borders reveals the complexities of a globalised world. The challenge to us as youth workers is to develop and embed an anti-racist, intersectional practice that will bring about a world of greater justice and equity for all.
Anya Keenan is LGBT Youth Scotland's Youth Work Manager for the West of Scotland, has been a community and youth worker for over 10 years and was brought up between Russia and the UK.