Seven questions and answers about the International homophobia awareness day
1) What are the practical objectives of this Day ?
In practice, our first objective is to provoke action. Actions could take on a number of different forms : a debate in the classroom, an exhibition in a cafe, a demonstration in the street, a radio program, a screening in a neighbourhood home, a round table organized by a political party, a short story competition sponsored by a newspaper, an awareness campaign led by an association, etc. These initiatives could be backed by LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans) associations, by human rights organizations, but also by women and men of any background and interest. In fact, today many people who are not specifically interested in questions of homosexuality are worried about the problem of homophobia.
The second goal of this Day is to coordinate and increase the visibility of our efforts. If all our efforts happen the same day, they will be all the more visible and efficient. And if the day becomes an annual meeting, the media and public opinion will be all the more attentive to the questions brought up, as well as to ground gained or lost. Moreover, those who coordinate this Day could report back the results of the efforts, informing journalists and favoring exchanges of successful actions among the local organizers.
This project has a third objective : to place this Day on the national calendar in a maximum number of countries, and then, why not, to have it adopted on an international level. Obviously, this is a long term objective, if not an ideal. But official recognition is not just a symbol, since even symbols have real power, as we all know. Recognition will contribute to the persistence of the fight. It will also make it possible to show that the fight against homophobia is not only the business of gay, bi or trans people, but that it is the full responsibility of public authorities and the will of the whole of society.2) Is it better to talk about homophobia, or LGBTphobia ?
The word " LGBT phobia " is supposed to allow the inclusion at the same time of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans. Unfortunately, what is gained in inclusiveness is lost in readability. The word " homophobia " is today known and recognized in a large number of countries. The word " LGBTphobia " is relatively almost unknown to the majority of countries in the world. Moreover, some people suggest " LGBTQphobia " in order to include " queer " people. And why not ?
In our opinion, everything depends upon context. An " International LGBTphobia Awareness Day " would obviously have little chance at being understood by the public at large, and even less of being recognized by national and international authorities. We wouldn’t get very far. And that is why, we prefer the term " International Homophobia Awareness Day ", on condition of constantly reminding the public that our fight does not just concern masculine homosexuality, but it is just as much about Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Trans. In these conditions, the expression LGBT seems to us very useful in evoking the diversity of problems faced.
In fact, homophobia concerns Lesbians (lesbophobia), Gays (gayphobia), and Bisexuals (biphobia). Moreover, our commitment leads us to fight transphobia, which, although distinct from homophobia since it concerns gender identity and not sexual orientation, refers to social mechanisms often close to homophobic logic.
When all is said and done, we refuse any terms that exclude. We talk about an “International Homophobia Awareness Day”, but we also insist upon reminding the greater public that we are fighting for the rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bis and Trans, that is to say for LGBT persons, and against all forms of discrimination in general.3) What is the status of other types of discrimination ? Does this Homophobia Awareness Day risk obscuring them ?
No. Since it is important to invision Discrimination as a general phenomenon, it is necessary to fight it also in its specific forms – and homophobia is one of these forms. Without which, discussion and action would lead into abstraction, indifference, if not all out confusion.
This is, by the way, one of the main interests of International Women’s Day, which emphasizes in a specific way the inequality between the sexes. Similarly, International Homophobia Awareness Day will emphasize in a specific way the inequality among sexualities.
However, the fight against homophobia necessarily leads to the affirmation of sexual rights in general, whether it’s a question of sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. This is why the fight against homophobia reinforces the fight against sexism ; it is moreover not a coincidence that the most sexist individuals are often also the most homophobic. But the fight against homophobia also reinforces efforts against AIDS and against all sexually transmitted diseases, sexual autonomy can hardly exist without the basic access to information and treatment.
Finally, the fight against homophobia also leads to the assertion of human rights in general. What’s more, LGBT associations are very often engaged in issues beyond the scope of sexuality, and they therefore find themselves working in unison with numerous other social movements with which they of course find solidarity. Given these conditions, International Homophobia Awareness Day will favor the strengthening of ties between LGBT associations and human rights associations. 4) In what way does the International Homophobia Awareness Day differ from Gay or LGBT Pride Day?
The two events differ precisely in as much as they complement one another :
-In principle : the annual LGBT Pride Day marches emphasize that Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals are proud of their identity and refuse to be shamed ; The Global Day Against Homophobia highlights that in reality it is homophobia that is shameful and must be deconstructed in its social logic and fought against openly.
-In practice : through LGBT Pride Day, we march in the streets in order to be heard by civil society ; through the Global Day Against Homophobia, we act as members of civil society to bring debate into our institutions, schools, neighbourhoods, etc. As we can see, the two tactics are entirely symmetrical and complementary.
In addition, individuals who are concerned about the problem of homophobia, but who think that they may not have a place in the LGBT Pride Day marches, are nonetheless provided a means to voice their concerns through the Global Day. Similarly, but on an international level, in those countries where it is impossible to organize a LGBT Pride Day march, a campaign against homophobia may be undertaken on the Global Day Against Homophobia, particularly where, officially at least, homosexuality is not condemned through enforced laws. In this way, the Global Day may constitute a political lever in addition to that provided by LGBT Pride Day campaigns for individuals or countries that cannot (or will not) participate in the organization of Pride marches.
Together, these two events are necessary, symmetrical and complementary to one another.5) Don’t those who speak out against homophobia just like portraying themselves as victims?
It is unlikely that victims of homophobia take pleasure in being victimized. Homophobic acts and speech are realities that we must not ignore (any longer). Our objective is precisely to denounce past and present violent acts in order to avert, or at least to limit, future ones. The problem is not homosexuality, it is homophobia : we must therefore focus our efforts on the root of the problem.
Whether we like it or not, we are all children of homophobia. However, the fight that we wage against homophobia, and starting first in ourselves, makes us stronger than it. Far from weakening us through victimization, promoting social awareness of homophobia helps us to become more autonomous individuals. This is why asserting a LGBT political agenda cannot be made without deconstructing the prevailing homophobic logic which made this agenda, until now, impossible, and which makes it from now on, imperative.6) Will the International Day Against Homophobia be organized in a similar way throughout the world?
This is unlikely. Since homophobia manifests itself differently in different social and geographic climates, the appropriate responses to it will also certainly be different as well.
In many southern countries, the problem lies in forced (heterosexual) marriages, mostly for women ; in many northern countries, it is the right to (homosexual) marriage that is at the heart of the debate. In certain societies, homosexual men may find themselves either excluded or lynched in public ; whereas homosexual women are locked up inside their homes or otherwise condemned to a life of isolation. In certain cases, homophobia is practiced in the name of God, in others, in the name of Science. Sometimes homosexuality is condemned but transsexuals are ‘tolerated’, and sometimes it is the other way around. Depending on the context, bisexuality may be regarded as a minor fault or as the worst vice.
In short, there are many different possible strategies, and the work of general coordination will only reveal the wealth of specific initiatives that are implemented in different places. In fact, over the past few decades, countless positive accomplishments have been realized. LGBT Pride Day marches have been held around the world and in increasing numbers. In 1996, South Africa led the way (soon to be followed by Ecuador) by affirming the equality of all of its citizens in its constitution, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. To take another example, over the past few years, a day of national remembrance, commemorating the victims of transphobic acts of violence, has been observed in the United States. Ever since then, a day of remembrance is also celebrated by associations in Spain, France, Chili and Canada. And since 2003, Canada has organized an annual ‘National Day Against Homophobia’, which should be an inspiration to us.
Finally, beyond local and national initiatives, two events demand our attention because they deal with international proceedings. The first concerns the recent resolution presented by Brazil to the United Nations Commission for Human Rights to recognize the rights of LGBT persons. Certainly, we must support this initiative and we hope that it will be voted upon soon, despite the obstacles faced until now. The second is an older issue, but no less significant : on 17 May 1990, the General Assembly of the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. This action served to end more than a century of medical homophobia. From now on, following this historic decision, we wish that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Commission for Human Rights will also condemn homophobia in its political, social and cultural dimension by recognizing this International Day Against Homophobia. The decision of the WHO constitutes a historic date and powerful symbol for members of the LGBT community : we therefore propose that the International Day Against Homophobia take place each year on the 17th of May. 7) What is the schedule for upcoming events?
First, we want to obtain a maximum number of signatures in support of the proposed text, via the internet or on paper, in a maximum number of countries. They may come from LGBT associations, human rights groups, labor unions, political parties, concerned citizens, etc. We also want to guarantee the support of the ILGA (the International Lesbian and Gay Association) and its continental branch offices at upcoming meetings (in Kathmandu, Budapest and Santiago, Chili).
Once we have assembled enough support, we would like to set the date of May 17th, 2005 as the first International Day Against Homophobia. In as many countries as possible, the petition may be officially delivered to national authorities on the same day, as a symbolic gesture. This can only serve to reinforce the international dimension of our commitment, and help those who find themselves in countries where these types of undertakings are not yet possible. From then on, we can assess the outcome that will allow us to improve and broaden these initiatives in years to come. We hope that our request may be presented to the United Nations in the second year or, should that prove unfeasible, in the third or fourth year, that is to say when the International Day Against Homophobia draws enough support to allow it international recognition.
Obviously, we do not know when the United Nations will recognize the legitimacy and importance of our actions, but that does not stop us from continuing in our fight against homophobia and for the rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered persons in all countries.
Manchester, UK August 2004
(Translation from the French by Flora Bolter and Patrick Bray)