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I am FREE & EQUAL. So are you.

By Richard Webster

Today is the International Day of Non-Violence to commemorate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, a pioneer of the non-violence philosophy.

Non-violence remains universally relevant and critical to marginalized groups around the world. Too many children – especially LGBT youth – are subjected to violence.

Did you know that in 76 countries it remains a criminal offence to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)? Or that numerous countries have either adopted, or are considering, similar laws to Russia’s recent and highly discriminatory anti-gay legislation?  These parts of the world may be far from Canada, but their lawmakers’ messages are not.

These types of hateful attitudes and laws have caused heinous attacks against the already vulnerable LGBT community. These messages also have wide-reaching and harmful effects on the global LGBT community, especially to the emotional and physical well-being of our LGBT young people who might already be struggling with who they are.

It is for reasons like this that the UN Human Rights Office recently launched an unprecedented global initiative concerning LGBT equality – FREE & EQUAL. Focusing on the need for both public education and legal reform to stop homophopia and transphobia, this launch could not have been timelier.

UNICEF is actively working to end violence against every child, including LGBT youth. With a new #ENDViolence campaign, we are mobilizing people and communities to end violence in all its forms.

UNICEF is also integrating issues of sexual orientation and gender identity into our work to help end discrimination, exclusion and violence against LGBT youth. Whether we are promoting equal access to vital services for all children (irrespective of their sexuality), or developing a handbook for Parliamentarians to assist in eliminating violence against all children, it has never been more important to take into consideration the rights and potential vulnerability of LGBT children.  

If you’re a parent, politician, teacher, journalist, friend or ally, here are a few of many ways you can help to ensure that LGBT young people remain safe and supported in your community and across this country:

It is also important that we educate our LGBT youth, their classmates and our wider communities on these issues because we know that this group of young people is more likely to experience discrimination, verbal assaults and physical violence than their peers. At the same time, LGBT youth are also more likely to face challenges with mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.

For those of you who are LGBT, or questioning, young people who may be struggling to overcome bullying (or cyberbullying) or other related challenges, there are many supports for you. Here are just a few:

  • Tell a parent, the principal, a coach, etc. or ask a friend to tell someone for you.
  • Call Kids Help Phone. They’re anonymous, confidential and there to help.
  • Connect with your local LGBT organization for youth support groups/activities.
  • Contact your provincial or territorial (where applicable) Child and Youth Advocate.

You are not alone and, remember, it does get better. I am FREE and EQUAL and so are you.