Inside the Speak Up! Youth Events

To get young people to think about sexual and gender diversity Pride Photo Award organizes Speak Up! Youth Events: special debates, in which young people share stories with ‘living books’ and discuss statements from passersby who were interviewed on film. Want to know more? Below we explain the special setup of the Speak Up! Youth Events.
The Speak Up! debates are the final part of our approach to changing the stereotypical images people have: both those about gays and lesbians and their ideas about masculinity and femininity. Many of the people whose views we want to challenge, would not come to the exhibition by themselves. So, we bring the photos to them: each year we put photo panels with a selection of the winning images on squares throughout Amsterdam. We ask young people to interview passersby about those photos: what do you see here, what do you think about that? They film the reactions, and a compilation of the interview films is used during the Speak Up! Youth debates.

On a rainy Thursday afternoon sixty children came together in youth center Argan in Amsterdam New-West. Al of them are grade seven and eight pupils from different elementary schools in the neighborhood.
Moderator Edson da Graça got the children started with tough questions to quickly introduce the theme of discrimination. Many fingers rose in the air, everybody wanted to give their opinion. “Who are you?” Was already a difficult question. “A human,” said one girl, “myself” someone else said, “a boy,” said a boy – obviously. “But we are not always ourselves, right?” Said Edson. “Sometimes I act really tough with my friends, but I do not do so at home,” said a shy boy. “Sometimes you adjust,” the moderator concluded, but there are some things you cannot change, like your skin color or your cultural background.
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This led him to introduce three people who are ‘different’: tonight’s ‘living books’, to whom the children could ask questions and who talked about what it’s like to be discriminated against and to experience what it means to be different every day.
‘Mrs. Diana’ has a daughter who is a lesbian, Gio told that he is homosexual and Harsono is Indonesian and was discriminated against when going out because he did not look Dutch. The three of them briefly told their stories and the children could ask them questions. They wanted to know everything. Mostly facts: how old they were, and did they have brothers and sisters. But also empathic questions: how was it to hear that your daughter is a lesbian, how did you tell your parents that you’re gay and how did your friends react when you were discriminated against by the police.
They were young children, easily satisfied with short answers: they had not yet learned to ask follow-up questions. Not once was there a word of rejection of the alien: a lesbian daughter, a young gay man. They were not something from another world: they sit right next to you, you can ask them questions and you even get an answer.
The meeting ended with the presentation of two awards: for the best question and the best listener. The award was given to a boy who had shown the greatest empathy by asking the homosexual boy: do you want to have children?
What will the children have told about this meeting at home? What will they remember, what will linger in their minds? That the meetings have their effect was clear on the streets. One of the living books was verbally abused by a group of teens who were not at the meeting, and who were corrected by some of the people who just came out of the debate: hey, these are friends of ours. Hands off.
Personal stories bring people together, create understanding and respect. ‘Different’ is no longer scary and strange. The fact that an issue such as discrimination and diversity was discussed with such enthusiasm has to have effect, also in Amsterdam New-West.
Text: Wilco Kalbfleisch
Photos: Kathy Harris

Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.


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