Support for LGBTIQ+ Adolescents

Strengthening Plan International’s Support for LGBTIQ+ Adolescents
16 May 2020

An evaluation of the Swedish Postcode Lottery supported Plan International project ‘Strengthening Plan International’s Support for LGBTIQ+ Adolescents’ (June 2016 – December 2019). The evaluation was commissioned by Plan International and carried out by Edge Effect during October – December 2019.

Between 2016 a​nd September 2019 the Strengthening Plan International’s Support for LGBTIQ+ Adolescents project was implemented by the Global Hub with active engagement of Country Offices across 3 regions, Regional Hubs and National Organisations, particularly Plan Sweden. Funded by the Swedish Postcode Lottery, the project prioritised raising awareness and understanding of issues faced by LGTIQ+ adolescents in countries where we operate. 

It aimed to enable Plan International to systematically address the discrimination and exclusion of young people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

​To find out more about progress made via this project, the remaining challenges and opportunities to continue strengthening LGBTIQ+ work in Plan International download and read this external evaluation of the project.

Executive Summary

Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Intersex and Questioning/Queer (LGBTIQ+) people around the world face profound exclusion, marginalisation and violence. In the more than 70 countries across which Plan International works, approximately one third criminalise same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults in private.

Discriminatory laws combine with social prejudice to fuel poor social and economic outcomes for many LGBTIQ+ people, making them amongst the communities most left behind. Increasingly, the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) have been recognised within core international treaties, institutions, agencies and fora. Change has been driven by LGBTIQ+ communities and CSOs which have pressed States and international institutions, to recognise their rights, especially over the past 30 years.

Much attention has been focused on these developments in the global North. However, much change has also come from the global South, with movements in Latin America, South and Southeast Asia and Southern Africa, playing strong roles in driving change.

Amidst this rising challenge, international development and humanitarian sector NGOs that espouse rights-based approaches have been slower in realising the role they can, and will need, to play to support people of diverse SOGIESC – if they are to reach the furthest behind first. LGBTIQ+ people experiencing multiple inequalities, such as young people, and people living in the global South and East, are especially vulnerable to marginalisation, invisibility and silencing. As Plan International’s 2015 policy report Strengthening Plan’s Support to LGBTIQ Adolescents has explored, inequalities based on age and SOGIESC often intersect to make young LGBTIQ+ people particularly at risk of exclusion and harm:

  • Negative experiences of LGBTIQ adolescents are influenced by widespread myths and misinformation, such as that homosexuality is ‘a sin’, ‘against traditional culture’, ‘un-natural’, ‘a western agenda’… Such harmful views are sometimes promoted by the very people who are central to the lives of young people, such as their parents, teachers of youth and religious leaders. For adolescents, the challenges related to being LGBTIQ often combine with – and make worse – other general issues experienced by their age group… They also inter-play with factors that make-up each individual’s life – such as in the case of an adolescent who is also poor, a migrant and from an ethnic minority.

When LGBTIQ+ young people organise to express their rights, needs and strengths they often face exclusion within the movements and systems that should serve them. Nine in ten (91%) young LGBTI+ people globally report feeling their needs are ‘never or almost never’ considered in policy-making.2 Whilst LGBTIQ+ young people are especially vulnerable to exclusion, young people are also often amongst the most supportive and insistent about LGBTIQ+ rights, demanding more nuance, more complexity and more intersectionality.

Perhaps surprisingly, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) have generally been slower to recognise the need to bring an LGBTIQ+ lens to their work, when compared with global private and public sector organisations.4 When they do begin this work, they often face specific challenges. As mission-focused organisations delivering frontline work in some of the most challenging contexts worldwide for all rights-holders, we see both an impulse and a deeply felt need to rush quickly to the ‘how’ of delivery and impact. Frontline work can be challenging and risky, especially for staff experiencing multiple inequalities. What little emerging research there is shows clearly that LGBTIQ+ development and humanitarian workers are themselves especially vulnerable to violence, exploitation, harassment, abuse, and discrimination. This is especially the case when they are working in challenging legal and social contexts, and especially when they are from those contexts themselves.

As Plan International’s 2015 policy report also explored with welcome clarity: it’s therefore vital that when we’re working on LGBTIQ+ issues globally we do no harm. But in this context, doing nothing can be another way of doing harm. As the report emphasised:

  • Be aware of the fine line between a “do no harm” and a “do nothing” approach. Recognise that even in the most challenging of contexts, while respecting different opinions, something can be done to uphold the rights of LGBTIQ adolescents – even if the steps are small, indirect and discrete. Failing to learn about or respond to the needs of community members may reinforce their discrimination.

This is not a new commitment for Plan International. LGBTIQ+ issues, alongside other exclusion issues, were addressed at the level of organisational change as part of Plan International’s Strategic Inclusion Review in 2012. Staff in a range of countries – including Benin, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Thailand and others – were developing and delivering pioneering work on LGBTIQ+ issues prior to the 2015 policy report. A 2013 position paper Putting Children and Young People’s Rights at the Heart of the post-2015 Agenda, recommended the repeal of discriminatory laws which criminalise same-sex relationships. Indeed, the organisation has demonstrated elements of considerable leadership in its sector on LGBTIQ+ issues over the past few years. The three-year project this evaluation addresses represents a substantial piece of work in the sector. It has clearly helped make LGBTIQ+ issues visible within Plan International and helped ensure they stay on the agenda. There’s every reason now to ensure this work is built on.

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Protection from violence, Sexual and reproductive health and rights, Youth empowerment, LGBTIQ+