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Rainbows, rats and reclaiming our history: How Save the Children stands with LGBT children and families

As part of LGBT History month in February, Save the Children’s LGBT+ Allies group ran a session on ‘The Secret Gay History of Save the Children’. Turns out there’s more of a rainbow flavour to our story than you might think.

I’m writing from Hanoi where I’ve just met with partners delivering Save the Children Vietnam’s work with children and young people whose sexuality and gender identity leaves them vulnerable to living on the streets. That in turn opens them up to violence, exploitation, HIV/AIDS and depression.

Our projects here operate on three levels.

  • The first is empowering LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) children by providing training on their rights and how to give psychological support to their peers. We also train LGBT youth organisations in leadership, fundraising and advocacy.
  • The second is supporting children and young people in advocating to government and local authorities for legal protection, equal public services and clamping down on homophobic bullying in schools.
  • The third is working with parents and families so they can support their children to fulfil their potential.

Today I met with the leader of a local chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). He shared his story of how his only son had come out, and the subsequent three years in which he says he  “lost his way as a father” and withdrew from social contact with his community because of shame. His son persevered throughout these  “years of sorrow and stigma” and persuaded his father to attend a PFLAG session, which involved a play about a father casting out his transgender daughter. This seemed  “so brutal” and, in combination with meeting other parents of LGBT children, was enough to move this dad from rejecting his son to standing up for him on television and in meetings with officials. In the same session, the founder of the Rainbow Youth Group explained how encouraging parents into the PFLAG programme was a core strategy for them, along with supporting LGBT Youth with training on coming out and running a network of ‘tolerant teachers’ who ensure the curriculum is inclusive of LGBT children.

This work in Vietnam mostly focuses on teenagers who self-identify as LGBT. Over in Bolivia our colleagues want to ensure the children of LGBT parents aren’t discriminated against. That work starts early. Our storybook ‘Berta and Rita’ tells the story of two rats in a same-sex relationship and helps kindergarten children and their parents talk about the different types of loving families.

Both of these programmes are sometimes seen as controversial in regions where LGBT people are often denied the very basic legal protections. But fighting for the rights of the most deprived and marginalised children is at the heart of why Save the Children exists.

In this particular struggle we have personal reasons to care too. In 2019 Save the Children will be 100 years old and there’ll be a lot of focus on our history. While more and more people are coming to know the story of Eglantyne Jebb and her fearless determination to build a worldwide movement for children, her committed same-sex relationship is less well-known and often comes to people’s attention only when they read Clare Mulley’s award-winning biography The Woman Who Saved the Children.

As we count-down to our 100th birthday, Save the Children’s LGBT+ Allies Network will be promoting this proud part of our heritage and supporting our colleagues around the world who put this at the heart of their work. Next month we’ll be marching in London Pride and as we do, I’ll remember one message from our partners here in Hanoi: ‘changing things for LGBT children is difficult, but it’s doable’.

Getting to the end of this rainbow is doable. I hope what we find there is equality for every child.


 Find out more about the research behind our project in Vietnam.

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