Posted on May 07 2021
On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. That day is commemorated by International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, also known as IDAHOBIT.
I was initially struck by the contrast in the wording of the day itself and the message that surrounds it. The name of the holiday focuses on what we're against (the negatives that are Transphobia, Homophobia, Biphobia, and so on), whereas the celebrations are consistently focused on what we're for - equality, recognition, justice, access, and representation. For example, reports from May17.org discuss how COVID-19 has further challenged the LGBTQ+ community, while also highlighting the heightened dedication and commitment of frontlines workers and members of the queer community to support those who are struggling. There are photos of government buildings lit with rainbow lights, color coordinated colleagues, pride flags and raised fists, vibrant celebratory art, and other incredible, moving expressions of solidarity with the queer community. And then there are the reports of ongoing discrimination, violence, and oppression - reminders of the work left to do.
The contrast is important. It gives clarity to a wide spectrum of issues faced by LGBTQ+ people and offers perspective, especially for those whose lived experience has been in more inclusive and progressive parts of the world, of their country, their neighborhood, their family, their schools, churches, etc. With awareness and information, those of us in more privileged positions are better equipped to take steps towards equality in the spaces where LGBTQ+ rights are threatened, or missing altogether. I need that contrast - it's all well and good for me to march in Sydney's pride parades, be comfortably out at work, in my social circles, and with my family, and walk down the street as a white, femme, cisgendered bi person in relative safety; however, change doesn't happen until I (and people like me) am aware of and care about the struggles of families who have to pick up and move their lives because of anti-trans legislation or hide their sexualities for fear of discrimination or violence. It’s vital that I see how the lives of other queer folks are different from mine, even if it’s hard to look at.
But then, how to move forward? What do you do once you’ve read the news or seen the posts or retweeted the tweets about the state of all things queer? The photos and stories get heavy, the facts and figures look bleak…I’ve got my contrast, now what?
This is where initiatives like IDAHOBIT become so powerful - the resources, events, speakers, etc. connected to IDAHOBIT provide actionable guidelines and recommendations for improving visibility and support to LGBTQ+ people. Websites like idahobit.org.au and may17.org have an array of content to help people in professional, educational, and personal settings celebrate and simultaneously show up for the queer community in practical ways.
One of my favorite IDAHOBIT-relevant resources is the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map, an “annual benchmarking tool that ranks 49 countries in Europe on their LGBTI equality laws and policies” (ilga-europe.org). In addition to being awesome and rainbow-themed, it provides an informative, detailed, visual example of contrast – stark differences between countries who are moving forward with progressive and LGBT-friendly/supportive legislation, laws, and policies, and those who are moving in the opposite direction by enforcing further restrictions, criminalization, and violence against queer and transgender citizens.
While the map provides a snapshot of the status of queer equality across Europe and Central Asia, closer examination of the map’s features reveals the wealth of factors required to consider LGBTQ+ equality in more depth. And I’ll be honest, when it comes to legislation, I often think in broad (and sometimes simplistic) terms, like the passage of marriage equality laws. This is understandable - those are the laws that have been the biggest (and most successful) news in my lifetime, particularly as individual states in the US moved toward marriage equality until it became nationwide in 2015 (does anyone else miss Obama?). It was also a massive win in Australia in 2017. Broad strokes of progress!
And yet this singular resource highlights the true intricacies of what equality-based legislation would need to include. Just to name a few: employment rights, the right to donate blood, the right to adopt children, access to gender affirming healthcare, protection against hate speech and crimes, banning of conversion therapy, no required surgical intervention for intersex people, protection for public events and assembly of queer people, protections for asylum seekers, and many, many other issues.
A resource like this is a useful prompt for conversation and reflection as well. I shared this map with a friend of mine, and in the discussion that followed we reflected on the difference between the passage of actively discriminatory laws vs. the removal of protections. While both are dangerous, one sends the message of "this is what we believe," whereas the latter sends the message of "this is what we no longer believe." There is important contrast between further attack in an already hostile environment, and the loss of protection in an environment once deemed safe.
For IDAHOBIT I would wish similarly important conversations to be had in workplaces, organizations, and governments. For example, it's fabulous if a clothing brand sells hoodies or socks with rainbow flags on them - and still I want to ask the question: does your company have anti-discrimination policies in place? How about staff trainings, support, and resources on LGBT+ topics? And in any organization, does the conduct of employees and actions of management and higher ups align with the messaging in the branding? Every time that question is asked, steps are taken, and alignment is achieved, the mission of IDAHOBIT is met.
All of this information empowers us to make change. Contrast helps us know where to look. It offers us the opportunity to name what we don't want and identify what we do want, and then lay out a plan to work towards it. We need the contrast to help us understand what progress looks like. We need to know where people are at and meet them there in order to move forward.