Just in time for the London Pride march this Saturday, Save the Children has approved its new global policy on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGIE).
There has undoubtedly been progress in respecting the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults and those trans people who do not accept traditional binary labels of gender. Just this year, Angola and Botswana have decriminalised male homosexuality. But, as we’ve seen in the UK, having full legal equality and protection against discrimination doesn’t guarantee a fair or equal society. The recent photograph of the two women who were assaulted on a London bus, by five boys aged 15-18, shocked many people, but most LGBT+ people needed no reminder that the wrong look, in the wrong place, at the wrong time can put us in danger.
When it comes to children, liberal attitudes can disappear very fast. There is a very nasty fight happening in the UK about whether schools should teach children that society is diverse. Some schools have started trying to be inclusive when they talk about relationships and diversity, being honest with children that there are many types of relationships and that sometimes two women or two men love each other. Accusations that children are being indoctrinated ignore the reality that all of those children have LGBT+ people in their wider family and community network, with LGBT+ parents, family members, friends and neighbours. Some of these children will grow up to be LGBT+ and their lives will be better if they have not had to listen to prejudice or had their SOGIE ignored throughout their school lives. They will also be safer if teenage boys on London buses have been taught to respect diversity.
If this is still the reality for the UK, for many of the countries where Save the Children works it is much worse. 70 countries criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults and 55 countries offer no protection under the law of any kind. 11 countries have the death penalty for homosexuality. Many politicians who should have much better things to do spend their time whipping up hatred.
As a child rights organisation, it is vital that Save the Children speaks out for the most deprived and marginalised children. However, we have not produced a policy about “LGBT+ children”. Our policy certainly recognises there are children of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity or expression (SOGIE) in every community and children come from diverse families. But the policy also aims to support children who are given these labels by others when they refuse to conform to traditional and rigid gender behaviours. And it also speaks out for children whose fear of attracting these labels means they do not pursue the education, jobs, sports, activities or even clothes and hairstyles that they want to. Our SOGIE policy is therefore about the rights of all children to live without fear and to express themselves how they wish, as well as to help them learn about the diverse world that they are growing up in. It is a crucial part of our gender equality work; unless we deal with homophobia and anti-trans attitudes, we cannot change gender discrimination.
At Save the Children, we believe that every child should not just survive, but thrive, and grow up to make their mark on the world. With the adoption of this policy, we will work to ensure that all children will live to their full potential, including, but not only, those with diverse SOGIE or from diverse families. This is why, when we march for London Pride on 6 July 2019, we will be shouting and singing about how proud we are to work for an organisation that places children’s rights at the heart of what we do and how we are #ProudToStandWithEveryChild.