This article is part of an op-ed series from EF’s Global Leadership Summit Internship Program. The program provides high school students with a deeper experience at EF Summits by gaining valuable real-life skills through public speaking, journalism, social media and photography. We asked each intern to address a Summit topic that they were particularly drawn to. Francine F. is 16 year-old from the Netherlands who recently attended the 2016 Global Leaders Summit in The Hague. Her experience at the Summit invoked a new found passion for the topic of human rights, specifically surrounding LGBTQ rights.
My name is Francine Fetter and I have recently turned sixteen. I’m from the Netherlands so our school system is different from the United States’, but let’s say that I will go to university in two years. I’ve never really experienced anything that threatened my human rights. I’ve always been very privileged in my life. But when I learned more about human rights and what the situation was around the world I became passionate about the topic and became increasingly involved in global issues.
In particular, I am very interested in LGBTQ rights. While recently I have come to the conclusion that I am bisexual, that has not been my sole reason for joining the LGBT organization. To me, equal rights have always been very important and I have simply never understood discrimination. Many people in my direct environment think gay rights is not a very important issue nowadays; they think that the situation of LGBT’s is pretty good overall, and that we should focus on ‘more important’ issues. I do not agree. At my own school people curse a lot with ‘gay’ and find it hard to talk openly about LGBT topics. I noticed that ignorance is pronounced and that many people simply do not know what homosexuality and transsexuality is. I think it is necessary to raise awareness for this issue, which is why I wanted to write this article.
In 23 countries you can legally marry as a gay couple. Some countries offer the option of a third gender on your birth certificate and ID. In the Netherlands, for instance, you can change your gender by undergoing surgery and you can change your name if you are transgender. It’s not uncommon in cities like Amsterdam or New York to see two guys holding hands in the streets; gay pride parades in the midst of summer; two girls kissing on the train on their way to work.
This all sounds pretty good, right?
While progress throughout many societies is visible, the suicide rate among gay people – especially the youth – is still disproportionally high. Many LGBT people do not dare to come out, for fear of being bullied, outcast or hurt. According to The Guardian, being gay, lesbian or bisexual is illegal in approximately 80 countries; in five of them, it’s a crime punishable by death. Only seven out of the almost 200 countries in the world offer the ability for you to list a third gender on your ID. Around the world, LGBTs are excluded, discriminated against and even killed simply because they have fallen in love with the ‘wrong’ person or do not feel at place in their own body.
Do you still think the situation of LGBTs around the world is good?
When I asked Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist, about the road we still have ahead of us to attain equal rights for LGBTs, he answered with the following: “Attitude is one of the biggest obstacles. At the end of the day, what helped the gay rights movement progress as it has is the fact that so many people have gay, lesbian or bisexual friends, which changes the attitude of people drastically. However, fewer people are friends or acquainted with a transsexual person, which makes the attitude and acceptance towards transsexuality harder to achieve.”
So, what do we do? How do we get where we ultimately need to go?
Some of the students I interviewed at the EF Global Student Leaders Summit in The Hague thought we should create two new human rights, to add to the Declaration of Human Rights. They would sound a bit like this:
– Everyone has the right to love anyone and to express that love, regardless their gender, nationality, religion or race.
– Every human being has the right to change their gender after consideration if they do not feel safe and comfortable in their body and gender. This is, in fact, part of their right to Freedom of Expression.
Others challenged this idea, arguing that creating something like this would emphasize the issue too much, making it discriminatory in nature instead of empowering. And, of course, there is always the challenge of what power these rights on paper actually have and how to enforce them.
As Nicholas Kristoff said, in the end it’s the attitude of people that is the biggest obstacle. I think that education will help overcome these obstacles. Students should have education on LGBTQ subjects to learn about different sexualities and identities and to create a safe environment for students to openly discuss the subjects in class. Students spend a lot of time at school or at college, making these institutions safe environments in which individuals feel comfortable. If more people could be educated on the subject through dedicated classes, this would create a safer environment for individuals to come out. These classes should be organized by professionals and facilitate a time to openly discuss LGBT issues. If children, students, and parents have the opportunity to talk about LGBT and what it means for economics, for religion, and for culture, the open dialogue will have a positive impact on society. I think that classes such as this – talking about social issues and sexual identity – should be compulsory at every school. To me, education, really, is the base of safety and the protection of human rights.
Love is not particularly meant for men and women because love is not the same as reproducing; it is a feeling of liking someone. Love is natural, uncontrollable and belongs to every single human person. Love knows no gender. It has no limits. And it is inclusive, not divisive.
This is what we should be teaching in our schools. At the end of the day, it’s a conversation about creating empathy and compassion among different groups of people. It’s only through open discussions in education like this that we can ultimately come together and tackle global issues and challenges.