Benefits & Obstacles of International LesBiGay Projects

National LGBT work is surely very important, but International projects are a tool that many local organisations do not think about. However it could be very beneficial for LesBiGay youngsters.

Why go international with LesBiGay youth?

There are a variety of (youth) organisations on a local level that work with lesbian, gay and bisexual youth. They organise many interesting activities that help young LesBiGays discover their own identity and meet similar young people in their area. LGBT organisations are constantly fighting for equality and human rights in cities, regions and countries, and are undoubtedly doing great work.

However, there is an additional tool available for these organisations: International LesBiGay youth projects. Local youth work is vital, but international projects provide some additional benefits. A number of these benefits are identical for all young people, regardless of sexual orientation, but some are particularly valid for LesBiGay youth or organisations.

Benefits for individual LesBiGay young people

Intercultural learning and widening horizons

  • discover new cultures, new people, new places, etc.
  • get a closer look into other LesBiGay scenes, associations, role models and lifestyles,...
  • build on their intercultural competencies
  • acceptance of difference regarding other (sub)groups
  • diversify their own stereotypes of what gays, lesbians and bisexual people are 'supposed' to be like

Empowerment and self-confidence

  • break their isolation as regards LesBiGay issues
  • safe environment for young LesBiGay people to meet in, a step towards one's self acceptance and coming out
  • discover common LesBiGay references such as literature, music, icons, historical figures, sex, etc.
  • renewed energy, increased commitment to LesBiGay issues (within their organisation or in general)
  • a space to discuss LesBiGay issues from different perspectives e.g. coming-out, love & heart-break, sexual growth & health, homophobia and discrimination, etc.

Developing new competencies

  • intercultural skills
  • organisational skills (international co-operation, project management, how to work in multicultural teams, language practice, etc.)
  • snowball effect on young people's engagement in their LesBiGay organisation

Last but not least, one should not forget that an international project is also about FUN. A youth exchange or voluntary service abroad is an enjoyable and rewarding alternative to commercial holidays!

Benefits of gay-straight mixed projects

There are plenty of reasons (see Benefits above) in favour of organising projects where young LesBiGay people can be with LesBiGay peers with whom they feel comfortable and with whom they don't have to conceal a part of their identity. But there are also benefits to be had from mixing young people, both straight and gay; it all depends on your aims.

  • get to know peers of another sexual orientation, have fun together and learn to get over their stereotypes
  • youth projects can help young heterosexuals to see and appreciate the person behind the LesBiGay label.
  • young people evolve towards a more relaxed and respectful relationship with each other

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Benefits for LesBiGay organisations

Profiling the organisation

  • raise your organisation's profile and visibility & attract more attention (hopefully positive) from local authorities, from other potential sources of funding, from the media, etc.
  • benefit from a synergy effect of international cooperation
  • stimulation for organisations to increase their commitment to bigger issues in a wider context

Developing the organisation

  • stimulate new ideas: for new projects, to inspire new working methods, to take fresh initiatives, to do things differently
  • develop organisational and project management skills within your organisation
  • compare and know how good a job you are doing - exchange of good practices
  • a welcome change regarding the type of work youth workers are doing

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Benefits for society

The setting up of an international youth project could be seen as a deed of activism or coming-out in itself. While organising your project, you will make contact with many people. Your LesBiGay project can turn the invisible minority into a visible minority: in your project's title, in application forms, while travelling, at the venue, etc. This might provoke reaction, but hopefully of a positive kind.

  • confront people with difference and question the heterosexual norm
  • combating people's hetero-sexism (the assumption that everybody is heterosexual). !!! The aim however is not to create opposition, but rather understanding and acceptance!
  • positive image-building of LesBiGay people and do away with negative stereotypes or stupid associations

International projects can contribute in claiming equal rights and in putting an end to discrimination, which is also foreseen in European law (Directive 2000/78/EC). As is the case in respect of gender, racial/ethnic origin, religion/belief, disability and age, sexual orientation cannot be used as a basis for discrimination within the European Union.

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What keeps organisations from going international?

If it is so beneficial to all involved why do so few LesBiGay organisations participate in international projects? Why are youth organisations so reluctant to engage in international projects? Very often, youth organisations spend a lot of time doing their day-to-day work, and have little time for planning and gaining new perspectives. There are so many opportunities out there!

It is only when we understand the hurdles faced by youth organisations that we can take the opportunity to change this.

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