11 January 2024
“Young Queer people approach politics differently than the average voter, both in terms of being Queer as well as being young,” explains Rene Koradin from the organisation DIH (Slovenian for “BREATH”). “But as anywhere, there are many different intersecting identities at play among Queer youth. That’s why we believe that facilitating an open debate is key for encouraging political participation among Queer youth.”
Along with various cultural, political, and educational projects for Queer individuals, DIH, a humanitarian NGO from Ljubljana, Slovenia, is developing an online deliberation forum for Queer youth. With this project, Koradin and his team aim to create an empowering platform that will not only educate young Queer people but also mobilise and amplify their voices both in their communities and in institutional politics.
Young people participate differently
Much like their non-Queer peers, young Queer people prefer protests, petitions, and other kinds of extra-institutional politics over conventional political participation, such as voting.
Similar to global trends, Slovenian youth exhibit low interest in traditional politics and low levels of trust in political institutions, according to the survey Youth 2020. The turnout of young voters came to around 40% for Slovenian national and local elections, while less than 20% of people under 30 turned in their ballots in the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Despite the grim statistics, the survey suggests that Slovenian youth is growing more politically engaged. “It’s not that young people are not interested in politics, but rather that they express their beliefs and engage in politics differently. We might have to start thinking about political participation differently,” explained Koradin.
Young people in Slovenia and other countries engage in a broader range of political activities than older generations. Their political engagement spans from conventional political participation in institutional politics to various forms of individual and collective civic engagement in both physical and virtual spaces.
Barriers to participation
LGBTIQ+ youth feel safer and more supported in online communities than they do in offline spaces, according to a study conducted in 2019. Due to discrimination and limited access to support in their offline communities, online spaces seem safer to many. For some, the internet provides the first space to explore their identity safely. For others, it allows them to establish communities and access support, information, and other resources. Koradin explained that for Queer organisations such as DIH, maintaining an online presence is vital. “Online spaces have immense potential for community building and increasing political engagement among young Queer people,” said Koradin.
Despite the majority of young Slovenians showing little interest in institutional politics – around two-thirds, to be exact – becoming involved in politics is more challenging for young Queer people than their cis-straight peers. “While this is not the case in Slovenia, many Queer individuals face legal restrictions to their political engagement, such as restrictions on assembly, speech, or participation,” commented Koradin.
But even when such restrictions are absent, discrimination and stigma frequently prevent Queer individuals from participating. Being discouraged from political engagement also leads to a lack of representation, which additionally distances politics from young Queer people.
A lack of visibility
Lack of representation in politics is one of the primary reasons for the disengagement of young Queer people from political participation, according to Luis Cano from the Rainbow Platform. Dedicated to enhancing the visibility of LGBTIQ+ politicians in liberal European politics, the Rainbow Platform is creating a database of LGBTIQ+ politicians and allies.
“The first purpose is to give visibility to the fact that there is some LGBTIQ+ representation in politics, but we’re also creating a network of action,” explained Cano. The network aims to provide the tools for a unified response to political developments affecting the LGBTIQ+ community. It would serve as a platform for coordinated action in the face of such events, ensuring a collective and cohesive response.
While some political parties have integrated LGBTIQ+ issues into their agendas and established internal groups focused on these specific issues, it’s the youth segments within these parties that seem to be most attractive for young Queer people. “Youth segments are changing, and there is a lot of diversity there,” explained Cano. While once thought of as starting points for political careers, Cano observed that youth sections of political parties are now becoming vibrant spaces that can resonate with the multifaceted experiences of young Queer people.
Creating online spaces
To create inclusive policies that will address the barriers young Queer people face, safe spaces for engagement must be built so that LGBTIQ+ voices in politics can be amplified. DIH’s online forum will provide a forum with moderated discussion threads, so that users can discuss specific LGBTIQ+ issues, such as policies affecting the LGBTIQ+ community. Users will be encouraged to share their perspectives, concerns, and suggestions, fostering a dialogue that the DIH team can summarise and present to policymakers.
Like DIH, other LGBTIQ+ initiatives increasingly rely on online spaces to support their community. One such example is the charity LGBT Youth Scotland, dedicated to digital youth work by formally endorsing Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter. In response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation turned to Discord, a online platform originally popular in the gaming sphere, to sustain its outreach efforts and launched a Discord server, “Pride & Pixels.” Through this server, they organised a series of online workshops and events to provide a safe and accessible space for the community.
Similarly, the Oxford-led initiative “Queer Rural Connections” seeks to improve the understanding of the influence of digital communication technologies on the lives of Queer people living in rural areas across the UK. As a side project, they created a platform for gathering recommendations and insights crucial for drafting a comprehensive report on Queer rural policies.
Promoting political engagement on- and offline
Building an online space for deliberation does come with challenges. The US National Cybersecurity Alliance points out that a data privacy breach poses heightened risks to LGBTIQ+ individuals. For this reason, implementing robust moderation tools, privacy settings, and protocols for handling sensitive information is essential.
While DIH also sees their forum as a platform to launch and coordinate advocacy campaigns focused on specific social justice causes, the primary goal of this online forum is to empower Queer youth to take collective action by providing them with tools, information, and support. In addition to building a safe online space, they imagined the forum as a platform for organising offline events and gatherings.