Op-ed: A Call to Consciousness

An organizer of the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia explains why raising awareness matters in the world.

BY Ryan Ubuntu Olson

May 16 2012 11:36 PM ET

A couple kisses during a "kiss-in" organized by the solidary association Somosgay on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in front of the Congress in Asuncion on May 17, 2011.

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia, also known around the world as IDAHO.  Today is also a call to consciousness.

In commemoration of the May 17th, 1992 decision by the World Health Organization to de-pathologize homosexuality,  IDAHO has worked for the last seven years to help support anyone still entrenched in places that do not allow them to be allof who they are. Even today, 76 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality and hundreds of transgender individuals are murdered every year.

To the average person this may seem like just another protest, but to many of these activists, especially those who live in entrenched places where their very lives are still stigmatized, what they do today represents their life's work.  As in years past, many activists could be beaten and thrown into prisons by police. Many face hostilities from agitators such as neo-nazi's or ultra conservative religious groupswho aim to physically or psychologically demean their activities. Or they face political and spiritual leaders who denounce their existence. 

But because of the actions of these activists, many more people’s lives will be touched by stories of love and hope that raise the consciousness of an entire community.. Many will go to bed thinking differently than they did the day before about a category of people they once marginalized. And many will walk arm in arm with their loved ones knowing if even for just one day, if even for just one moment, that their love is validated as beautiful and that their greatest presentation of self can be touched by the warm rays of the sun.

Thus today, May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia, is not just a day where activists gather to address profound disappointment in the dismissal of theirs and others’s humanity. It is truly a global call to consciousness from an amalgamation of people who want to be seen, to be heard and to be recognized for the vibrant essence that represent our shared human condition. It is the hope that they might be recognized for their intrinsic worth as fellow human beings who seek to find love and support in their local communities for the whole of who they are including but not limited to the acknowledgement of their fundamental human freedoms and rights that all people are afforded.

Tens of thousands of activists around the world use today in more than 90 countries to encourage policy makers, the media,  religious leaders and other stakeholders to discuss the human rights of those who are made different and ostracized from their communities simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. IDAHO is now officially recognized by several governments and endorsed by global leaders of all shapes and forms including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Lady Gaga, Ricky Martin, and several others too numerous to count.

The lesson of IDAHO is spread throughout the world on this day. From community forums and discussions in Burma and Serbia, to weeklong special events and human rights trainings in Bolivia and the Philippines, to workshops in Cameroon and Hungary, to the releasing of major reports on homophobia and transphobia in Kenya and Mexico, to dance performances in Botswana and the U.K., to webcasts in Canada and China, to vigils and prayers held in the U.S. and Uganda, to community forums in Chile and Fiji, activists and organizations worldwide are passionate about what IDAHO means to them.

Not just today, though, activists ask themselves and others every day, what is love? What does it mean to know one's deepest and greatest self? They ask all of us, who is it that we can be if all are allowed to trust the essence that makes us who we are? This is the beauty and brilliance that is the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia, and it is this day that brings life and consciousness to a subject that too many around the world regard as perverse and taboo.

Consciously consider for the rest of your day the life of a Ugandan gay man who in a few months could be thrown into prison simply for being himself. Consider a Honduran transgender woman who risks her life by walking home from work. Consider the Filipino bisexual student who is repeatedly tormented by classmates, friends and family because he doesn’t feel it necessary to base romantic feelings on his partner’s sex or gender. Consider an Indian intersex (Hijra) person who is born into a society that both embraces their third sex as a ceremonial idol for significant baptismal moments and yet shuns them into the dark recesses of that same society, sometimes forcing them into sex-work and solicitations for their most basic of needs. Consider the South African lesbian who hears reported on her local news that she may be targeted by family and friends with corrective rape because they assume she hasn't found the right man and should know what it feels like, even if by force. 

Millions of individuals around the world who identify as LGBTI face discrimination and prejudice in their everyday lives. From where ever in the world you may be now,  consider how you can contribute to the growing awareness that is brought about by the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia. Do you know the realities of these populations? How can shifting away from one's isolated reality and from our geographically and culturally-fixed identities broaden all of our lives on this planet?

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia and this is a call to consciousness. With this consciousness, consider finding ways to both learn from and support activists and organizations around the world — with your time,  your resources, and perhaps most importantly, your awareness.

 

RYAN UBUNTU OLSON is an International Campaigns Officer and Advisory Board Member to the IDAHO Committee. Olson is a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, Clinton School of Public Service where he received a Masters of Public Service. For more information on the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia, please visit http://www.dayagainsthomophobia.org and like us on our Facebook page.

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