I know that some of you will know exactly what I’m talking about and others will be scratching their heads wondering. Today, 17th May, is what used to be called IDAHO Day, the International Day against homophobia. It’s now known in various ways, IDAHOT or the one I prefer IDAHOBiT, which explicitly mentions biphbobia and transphobia, too.
This is the day when we celebrate those across the world who are doing their bit in their communities to make life better for lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender people. In the UK that is relatively easy. In many countries, though, you take your life in your hands. In much of the world, homosexuality remains illegal and is punishable by long-term imprisonment or even death. Being transgender puts you at much greater risk of violence or sexual abuse or murder.
We went into Edinburgh today to see an exhibition by South African social justice activist and artist Gabrielle La Roux, Proudly African and Transgender, which was hosted in the city’s Arts Centre by the Equality Network and the Scottish Transgender Alliance. Gabrielle was there to take us through her work and tell us how it came into being. In 2008, there was a ground-breaking gathering of transgender activists from across Africa. She painted portraits of ten of the attendees. They also wrote messages on the portraits. Julius from Uganda said:
It’s been a difficult journey but one I don’t regret taking because I can only be who I am – a unique creation
Quite a few of the participants were not able to continue living in their home countries. It wasn’t safe for Flavia to return to Burundi and she has had to seek refuge in South Africa.
Accompanying each picture is a typed A4 sheet where the activists tell their stories – and those stories are updated, making, as La Roux said, the exhibition dynamic. It was really fantastic to have the artist there, though, telling us little anecdotes about each person.
You can look at all the pictures online here.
Three years later, La Roux went to Turkey. This time she videoed the activists. She had been uneasy about doing so. A portrait is deniable if you find yourself in trouble with the state. There is no going back from a video. The activists in Turkey had a workshop in which they worked out 18 questions they wanted to tackle in the videos. La Roux emphasised that there is not one question about hormones, or surgery. They wanted to talk about things like religion and spirituality, their occupations and hate crimes. The playlist of all 18 videos is here.
There was one interview with the father of a young trans man in Turkey who was part of a fantastic group for parents and families, giving them information and support to help them support their child.
One of the other things La Roux was careful to emphasise to us was that we European activists need to be very careful to let African activists take the lead. She cited examples where Europeans had waded in and acted in a way, perhaps by exaggerating what was going on, which made life worse for the activists on the ground. This echoed what Lynne Featherstone said about how important it is to work closely with groups on the ground.
There was a discussion session over lunch (I wasn’t expecting to be fed, but the sandwiches were delicious and they had Earl Grey tea) which covered what people were doing across the world for IDAHOBiT, from kiss-ins to debates to social media campaigns.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking day. Everyone was very friendly. I just wish I’d taken some photographs.
As a final thought for IDAHOBiT, today’s Independent on Sunday had a profile of Deva Ozenen, who’s a trans woman standing for election in Turkey.
Living in the relatively liberal city of Izmir offered some protection, Ms Ozenen said. There would be danger living in other regions. “If I were in central Anatolia, I would be dead,” she said. “In Kayseri, in eastern Turkey, I would be shot in the first week of my political career. Even walking on the street there, I would be killed.”
Even Izmir can be a dangerous place. Only two weeks ago, a transgender woman was stabbed in the back there, and Ms Ozenen says she is regularly threatened and harassed.
Today is a day to celebrate those brave activists who risk so much to make people’s lives better.
Good to see that Sal Brinton has made a statement emphasising the party ‘s commitment to IDAHOBiT:
Over the last five years in the UK government, ministers Lynne Featherstone and Jeremy Browne worked through diplomatic channels and in countries abroad to influence recognition of LGBT+ issues. In Government in the UK we led the charge for same sex marriage, and are very proud to see same sex marriages taking place across England and Wales. We know more needs to be done on Trans marriage issues, and will continue to fight for fairness and equality.
We will continue to help to stamp out discrimination and violence, especially targeted at young people in schools, colleges and at home. Equality and fairness are core liberal values, and we have long argued for compulsory sex and relationship education, and for action against bullying.
Internationally, we will continue to try to exert influence in those countries where there is state sanctioned discrimination, especially where LGBT+ choices may be may be illegal.
Many of us will be standing side by side with you on Sunday and at Pride days to march for equality. We look forward to the day when we can march arm-in-arm with colleagues over the world when Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia are history.
Tim Farron also mentioned the day in a Tweet:
It's the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Much done, much, much more to do. #IDAHOT
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) May 17, 2015
I have checked but I can’t find one from Norman Lamb.