My participation in the 13th Annual International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organisation (IGLYO) Conference in Pisa, Italy [27 July – 3 August 1997] was a unique experience. It was the first time any delegate from Australia had been accepted to attend an IGLYO conference, and the first time a representative from any bisexual organisation in the world took part.
The theme of the conference was: Homophobia and Fascism. Ironically, as I sat in Frankfurt airport waiting for a connecting plane, I got chatting with a German man for whom fascism was currently a major issue. He was on his way to Colombia to live with his wife and new baby. He told me that as he was a white man and his wife was a woman of colour; his family would not be safe from Neo-Nazis if they stayed in Germany. This made the purpose of the conference that much more real for me, and made me feel very lucky that the Neo-Nazi movement in Australia is as yet insignificant.
Concentration camps and their consequences. The first discussion at the conference focused largely on the experiences of homosexually active men under the Nazi regime in 1930s and ‘40s. Sex between men had been made a crime before Hitler came to power, but after his accession, the anti-gay sex law was more harshly policed. In the concentration camps, gay men were multiply discriminated against by the officers. Also, many of their fellow prisoners did not associate with them. Because support played a vital role in survival, this increased their peril.
Homosexuality remained illegal in Germany until 1969. Homophobic discrimination later prevented the stories of homosexuals in the camps being told and recognised until the last 15 years or so, and there is still relatively little evidence available about what actually happened. Gay men lived with the fear of being put back in jail, because imprisonment in the camps could be used as evidence against them if they had not completed their “sentences.” They also faced increased sentences for any new charges if they had been concentration camp inmates.
Organising against discrimination today. After the plenaries on fascism in Nazi Germany, conference delegates attended a series of sessions to discuss the effects of homophobia, sexism and fascism in our own countries.
Holland was very close to legalising same-sex marriages until the Chinese government (which adopts out a lot of children who have been relinquished due to the one child policy) said that they would not let Holland have any Chinese children if same-sex couples were allowed to be married, and thus received full child adoption privileges.
Gays in the military is still a major issue for many European countries, particularly where there is compulsory military service for men – such as in Bulgaria, Estonia and Italy. A man from Bulgaria had to undergo a series of psychological tests. When the doctor discovered his same-sex preferences, the man was told that he would require another test after a year to see if he had “improved.” If he is “cured,” he will have to take part in military service; if not, he will have his “deviancy” marked on his permanent record.
I presented a session on Australia. I spoke about the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and HIV positive people’s achievements and current struggles, and described the move to the right in Australian politics.
Many delegates displayed exciting material about campaigns from their own countries. I saw photos from Belgian gay, lesbian and bisexual youth camps, posters produced by the “North London Line,” media coverage of the Pride March in Buenos Aires and a video of gay night life in the former Yugoslavia.
The whole conference spent a day in Florence, where we saw the new community centre, run by the Florence gay and lesbian organisation. Representatives told us they received no funding for the centre. They survived by opening up as a café and bar on Friday and Saturday nights. This, they said was the legacy of living in the land of the Pope.
Lessons for Australia. Australia has a lot to learn from IGLYO. IGLYO is influential in Europe and has representatives on the international youth board alongside conservative and religious youth organisations. This board plays an important role in shaping European Union youth policy. Similarly, Australians and non-heterosexual youth from countries outside Europe have a lot to offer IGLYO to make it more international.
IGLYO has an international pen pal program for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth under 27 years old. It is a great way to get to know queers from all around the world! To join, write to IGLYO PO Box 542, 1000 AM Amsterdam, The Netherlands, or e-mail to IGLYO@pi.net. Send a copy of your passport or driver’s licence, some info about yourself, the languages you speak and your address.
I appreciate the opportunity to attend and learn about gay, lesbian and bisexual life in other countries. The next IGLYO conference takes place in Amsterdam in 1998 to coincide with the Gay Games. It would be terrific for other gay, lesbian and bi youth to have the opportunity to attend by having an Australian lesbian/gay/bisexual contingent.