A friend of mine tried for years to get a job but the employers kept turning her down because somebody said that she was gay. They didn't even know it for sure. They destroyed a person's life in order to satisfy their own stupidity and ignorance. One day she decided that she couldn't take it any more and killed herself.
She was 22 years old.

Themis, 16 years, Cyprus

5.5. RFSL; School information about homosexuality (Skolinformations) Peer group education by a non-governmental organisation in Sweden

The Swedish Federation for Gay/Lesbian Rights (Riksforbundet for Sexuellt Likaberattigande, RFSL) recruited young members to carry out the information part and a co-ordinator.

The start

RFSL felt there was a need for the already existing information about homosexuality, to be complemented since the literature was often of poor quality and teachers often lacked sufficient knowledge to give appropriate information about the topic.

Target group

The main target group were young students between the age of fourteen to eighteen. (There are however exceptions such as university students, school staff and other groups working with young people.)

Place of the project

At present, information is concentrated to the main cities in Sweden but RFSL strives to cover other areas as well, most sessions take place in schools. Sometimes students come to the RFSL premises. Occasionally sessions take place in youth centres or in the premises of youth clubs/organisations.

Access to the target group

Initially RFSL offered their services directly to schools and spread information through other institutions who also have contact with schools. At present schools contact RFSL for information, all "marketing" and bookings are made by the co-ordinator.

Outline of the methodology and description of one particular session

Information is often given during respective schools thematic working days or weeks when students learn about and discuss love, sex, relationships and contraceptives. Informants work in pairs; one male and one female. The duration of the sessions vary between 40 to 80 minutes per group. Ideally the groups are no larger than 30 people in each group. An introduction is given for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on the amount of time available ). At this point a very short introduction to RFSL is made and a brief presentation of the informants. Some terms and expressions are explained and a very brief description of the general situation for 'queers' is made (a few words about the legal situation, that many queers choose to conceal their sexual orientation, the situation for 'queers' from an international and historical perspective.

After the introduction part many schools prefer to split the group into two groups; one male and one female. If this is the case, the informants take one group each and switch groups after half of the remaining time in order to allow both groups to meet a male and a female informant. Regardless whether the group is split or not the floor is now opened for questions and general discussion. The students are allowed to ask general and personal questions. Rather than restricting the questions the informants will explain to the group that a question is too personal to answer. Generally, most questions are answered. According to clients wishes and needs, the information can be altered to focus more on youth issues, women's issues, men's issues, immigrant's issues, HIV/AIDS etc. Typical questions are: "What did your parents and friends say when you told them you are gay?", "How do you have sex?", "How do other people treat you when they find out you are gay?", "What if you want to have children?", "Are you not afraid of AIDS?"

The best and worst moments of the project

The best moments are when the informants have been able to "sow thought seeds" for the students to reflect upon and when 'queer' students have found encouragement in the information to "come out" and get in touch with other 'queer' youth. The worst moments are when faced with bigot teachers who insist on theoretical discussions which students cannot follow. (These teachers are often asked to leave the session.) Facing students with fascist and religious fanatical ideas is never pleasant either.

Training of informants

All informants are given training this takes place during three evening sessions and a full weekend and seeks to give the future informants knowledge about homosexuality, young people in general, 'queer' history and information methodology.

When this part of the training is completed, the informants accompany experienced informants to schools on at least three different occasions before they go out on their own. Follow - up meetings are held on a regular basis and often in connection with a guest speaker on a relevant topic.

Results and impact

As the project aims at giving information it is very difficult to evaluate the results and impact. The RFSL however believes this is one way to demystify homosexuality and a contribution in the struggle against prejudice and intolerance.

It is not always easy to get people to feel comfortable discussing matters relating to sexuality. You may find that the activity, "Let's talk about sex" in Compass helpful in this matter.

For further information contact:

Website in Swedish: http://www.rfsl.se/stockholm