1984 - 1988


The Early Days

Like many organisations IGLYO began, not with some grand plan or strategy, but organically through activists connecting and building relationships and a vision for the future.

In the first five years, the organisation built itself around its flagship conferences. Key events during this period included:

  • 1984 - Amsterdam, The Netherlands - The 1st International Gay Youth Conference - Friendship and Desires
  • 1985 - Dublin, Ireland - The 2nd International Gay Youth Information Pool Conference - Building A Future
  • 1986 - Oslo, Norway - The 3rd International Gay Youth Conference - Pink Youthquake
  • 1987 - London, UK - People Our Parents Warned Us About 
  • 1988 - Berlin, Germany - Discrimination – The Enemy Within Us 

Interspersed with protests and statements, these first five conferences laid the foundation of today's IGLYO, from establishing its name to forming its first international steering committee, all the way to adopting the statutes of the organisation.


In 1984, the Dutch Gay Youth Platform (LHJO) hosted the first International Gay Youth Congress and Festival in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, entitled “Friendship and Desires”. This is seen as the beginning of the movement that would become IGLYO.

On the left, cover of the Conference programme; on the right, welcome words script.

In total, 63 activists from various countries participated in the congress while the festival attracted even more local interest. The events during the week focused on creative ways to approach challenges facing lesbian and gay youth, highlighting how different approaches such as theatre, video, dance, body paint, writing, and photography could all contribute to increased visibility for our community, and could help gay and lesbian youth explore their identities. 

Mrs. Luimstra, the Amsterdam City Council Aldermen for Culture, opened the event at the COC Amsterdam office. To this day COC Nederland remains an active member of the IGLYO network, with COC Limburg joining us this year in 2024, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the event that started it all.


Ireland’s National Gay Federation hosted the second International Gay Youth Congress entitled “Building a Future” in Dublin, Ireland. At this conference, the Congress (soon to be IGLYO) called upon the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association to recognise the needs, rights, and aspirations of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and to adopt a positive and progressive policy towards the issues of the community. 

On the left, official poster of the Dublin conference; on the right, short report article of the conference.

Homosexuality in Ireland was still criminalised in that year, a situation which would not be rectified until 1993. The Congress also called upon the World Health Organisation to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, and UK education authorities to remove minimum age limits from the conditions of registration and funding for gay youth groups.

At the Dublin conference, plans were made to collect and distribute information about lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people and their groups worldwide. The youth group of Norway volunteered to organise the International Gay Youth Information Pool (IGYIP) which with time would transform into IGLYO. They also agreed to host the Third Congress. 

Various photos of the Dublin conference found in the conference's full official report.

At a meeting shortly after the congress, the international steering committee was formed with representatives from NGP Youth Group, Ireland; Ungdomsgruppa DNF-48 Oslo, Norway; Ungdomsgruppen LBL, Denmark; LHJO, the Netherlands; and the IGYIP-secretariat. During that year the Steering Committee met three times, in Copenhagen in September, Malmö in January, and Amsterdam in May.


The task for the first steering committee was to articulate the organisation’s statutes and establish a congress to be held in 1987. This first steering committee included Vibeke Lingas, Geir Arveng, Are Eliassen, Olav Wendelborg, Gary Henshaw, Neal Cavalier-Smith, George Lüder, Rob Stoop, Marco Cornelisse, Marcel Teerling, Dominique Visser, Gerard Spruijt, and Elisabeth Gran. 

The youth group of DNF-48 hosted the 3rd International Gay Youth Conference entitled “Pink Youthquake” in Oslo, Norway. Workshops in this year addressed topics such as recruiting more women to the organisation, having children and building families, bisexuality, and religion. 

Official poster of the Oslo Conference.

In the conference report based on the conversations which took place during the conference, the congress called for lesbian and gay people to be included in sex education curriculum, and for society to support children and young people regardless of their “sex, sexuality, or lifestyle”. The congress also demanded member states of the Council of Europe remove all laws discriminating against citizens because of their sexual orientation, and requested that Amnesty International extends its mandate to include people arrested because of their homosexuality. The conference participants were invited to a reception by the mayor in Oslo’s famous Radhuset.

At the end of the conference in Oslo, IGLYO was founded as a permanent organisation for lesbian and gay youth. From this point on the organisation adopted the name of “IGLYO: International Lesbian and Gay Youth Organisation”. The congress decided to establish a new steering committee of five elected members from different countries plus the coordinator of the secretariat and a representative from the conference organisers. 

Various photos of the Oslo Conference, taken from the official report of the conference.

It was also decided to set the upper age limit of 26 for elected persons and conference attendants. The secretariat of the organisation was placed in Oslo for a period of two years. At the conference this year, the organisation published a preliminary list of lesbian and gay youth groups who were a part of IGLYO – participants from over fifteen countries on three continents were included on this list.


With the really cool title “People Our Parents Warned Us About”, the 4th IGLYO conference was held in London, England. The location was chosen to help launch the newly formed organisation, and to challenge the discriminatory age of consent in the UK. At the time the age of consent for straight people was 16, but for any LGBTQI sexual activity had been decriminalised in 1980, yet the age of consent for queer people was set at 21 years old.

In the conference statements, the organisation called upon the government to immediately withdraw all laws discriminating against homosexuals because of their sexuality, and also took aim at neighbouring Ireland where sex between two members of the same gender was still illegal.

On the left, official poster of the London conference; on the right, confirmation of a registration including practical info.

The major event in this year was the “Kiss In” demonstration held in London’s Piccadilly Circus on August 7, 1987. As the major event of the organisation’s fourth international conference, the demonstration protested the “privacy” clause of Britain’s 1967 Sexual Offences Act that forbid gays and lesbians to kiss or hold hands in public, and also the unequal age of consent. 

The “Kiss In” was one of a number of demonstrations that year hoping to raise awareness of what activists of the time called “a sexual apartheid” in Britain. The demonstration achieved significant media coverage with articles in a number of popular gay publications including Capital Gay, The Advocate, and The Body Politic.

On the left, photos of the London Conference 1987; on the right, a Capitol Gay article about the Kiss In protest in London.

At the conference in London, the membership adopted the organisation statutes as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN 1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Rome 1953) as guiding documents for IGLYO. At the general meeting it was also decided that bureau members could serve in office for a maximum of four years, and that the bureau shall include both men and women provided both genders are nominated. 

The membership decided that IGLYO would apply for membership in the European Coordination Bureau for International Non-Governmental Youth Organisations (ECB). In this year, IGLYO also made clear that it supported the UN resolution on political and cultural boycotts of South Africa, and would not include any members or organisations that were included under the boycott in the work of IGLYO.


In 1988 IGLYO started its highly successful penpal project. The organisation advertised in various publications the opportunity for LGBTQ youth to get in contact with one another. Youth from all over the world wrote to the headquarters to request the list of pen pals of other LGBTQ youth. For many, the penpal project introduced them to their first lesbian or gay friend. 

On the left, an announcement explaining the IGLYO Penpal Project; on the right, the IGLYO Pen Pal participation form.

Most of the letters in the archive express a desperate need to talk to someone like themselves, others request nondescript packaging for fear of being outted, and some describe the hardship and discrimination endured at home. For over 10 years, until the internet made the project obsolete, IGLYO provided a link for countless LGBTQ youth to correspond with international counterparts who faced the same issues they did. Organisation volunteers worked on this project over the years and helped change the realities of LGBTQ youth throughout the world.

The fifth IGLYO conference entitled “Discrimination – The Enemy Within Us” was held in Berlin, Germany this year. At this conference, IGLYO wrote an open letter to the Austrian government voicing its disapproval with the country’s strict anti-homosexuality laws. Other topics of note included racism, sexism, sexual violence and abuse, ageing, internal discrimination and homophobia, as well as a meeting with gays and lesbians from East Berlin and the GDR.

The major event from the conference in Berlin was the organisation’s eviction from the German-American Volksfest intended to promote German-American relations on August 2, 1988. The official statement from Lieutenant Colonel John J. McNulty III of the United State’s Army stated that members “were asked to leave the American-German Volksfest because they were sexually behaving in a manner not socially acceptable in public, regardless of sexual preference.” 

On the left, official poster of the IGLYO Berlin Conference 1988; on the right, photos of participants of the conference.

IGLYO members wrote accounts of verbal abuse and threats of violence by members of the U.S. Army and West Berlin police. Days later, to raise awareness of their eviction from the festival, IGLYO arranged an anti-American demonstration and was awarded a court order allowing participants to protest. Legend has it that a number of American representatives, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, offered to question the expulsion on IGLYO’s behalf. The Honourable Gerry E. Studds on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives ultimately took up the organisation’s cause in letters to the U.S. Army and a class action suit against the U.S. Department of Defense. The event in Berlin was documented in many international lesbian and gay publications.

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All documents and archives materials in this article were digitised from the IISG | International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and are the courtesy of IHLIA – LGBTI Heritage, whom we thank for safeguarding our IGLYO history!