Today, May 17, is the third annual International Day Against Homophobia ( IDAHO), and it is being observed all over the world — EXCEPT in the United States.
The failure of national gay organizations in the U.S. to organize or encourage any sort of participation in IDAHO became even more glaring when the government of the United Kingdom gave a ringing endorsement to IDAHO last month. In addition, in a concrete response to the global campaign initiated last year by the International Committee for IDAHO, the U.K. pledged to work for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality through the United Nations.
In an unprecedented statement issued from London April 19 on behalf of the government, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for human rights, Ian McCartney — who is also a former chairman of the British Labour Party — and the Minister for Women and Equality, Meg Munn, said: “”We fully support the work of the International Day Against Homophobia campaign to increase awareness of the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people across the globe.”
The statement went on to say: “”2007 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which began the long road to equality and justice for gay, lesbian and transsexual people in the UK. It has been a long and difficult journey. Yet around the world, countless gay, lesbian. bisexual and transsexual people still suffer discrimination, sometimes with devastating consequences for their lives, and in flagrant denial of their human rights…The Government is committed to promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in all its foreign policies as much as its domestic ones. We include the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people in these efforts. We hope the International Day Against Homophobia will encourage others to take similar steps.”
Even some U.K. Conservative Party leaders endorsed IDAHO — like Eleanor Laing, Tory Shadow Minister for Women and Equality, who said “There is much to celebrate this year on IDAHO…Regardless of party political persuasion, attitudes are changing and I have every confidence that we are progressing towards a day when homophobia will be a thing of the past.” And the Liberal Democratic party openly gay MP Stephen Williams introduced a resolution in Parliament endorsing IDAHO for the second year in a row — and helped organize an IDAHO forum in the House of Commons building today..
The U.K.’s endorsement of IDAHO coincided with the European Parliament’s re-endorsement of IDAHO, for the second year in a row, in its sweeping April 26 resolution condemning homophobia in Poland and throughout Europe (as I reported in Gay City News) and also pledging to work for universal decriminalization.
There are lessons here for U.S. activists — because the U.K. government’s endorsement of IDAHO was the result of widespread support for the May 17th day of commitment and education by LGBT groups (and even AIDS groups like Britain’s National AIDS Trust) throughout the country. Last year, over 50 different IDAHO events were held in the U.K. This year, according to the U.K. IDAHO Committee’s website, there will be over 80 IDAHO events around the country, most of them initiated by local groups.
Why should U.S. activists be lagging so woefully far behind our British comrades in using IDAHO to call attention to the plight of LGBT people less fortunate than ourselves? Why should our national gay organizations — e.g., the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and even the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) — be so reluctant to follow the example of activists across Europe: for example, like those in Italy, where, at the initiative of the largest national group, ARCIGAY, there were planned IDAHO events in 19 different cities throughout Italy this year?
And if our national gay institutions won’t get off the dime and either organize IDAHO events in this country, or encourage local LGBT groups to do so, why shouldn’t we do as our British activist comrades have done? Shouldn’t local gay activists and community organizations across the U.S. organize IDAHO events themselves, if our national groups won’t?
The need for international solidarity among LGBT activists has not diminished. Indeed, a detailed new report from the International Lesbian and Gay Association documents how today, in 2007, “no less than 85 member states of the United Nations still criminalize consensual same-sex acts among adults,” including nine countries which impose the death penalty for homosexuality. The report is available online in English, Portugese, Spanish, and French. In releasing this report, ILGA said that, because “May 17th is the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO), ILGA has chosen this time of the year to launch a report on State homophobia around the world to raise awareness of the extent of institutionalized homophobia around the world.”
ILGA went on to note that these laws in 85 countries are “a reality which extent remains unknown to the vast majority of people” and “promote a culture of hatred. And, ILGA added, “Although many of the countries listed in the report do not systematically implement those laws, their mere existence reinforces a culture where a significant portion of the citizens need to hide from the rest of the population out of fear.” We in the U..S. should not forget that psychological destruction caused by homophobia can be as devastating as physical destruction.” (To read this vital ILGA report, click here.)
Agitation and education about the institutionalized homophobia in these 85 countries can help save the lives of LGBT asylum seekers — who face a perilous obstacle course when seeking refuge even here in the U.S., home of the welcoming Statue of Liberty (as I documented in a January 11 Gay City News article on the plight of gay asylum seekers, “Since 9/11, U.S. Turns a Blind Eye to Persecution.“) That’s just one of the good reasons U.S. activists should organize IDAHO events in their communities — so that we can enlighten both the public and our elected officials about the need to eliminate the life-threatening roadblocks to refuge here for lesbians, gays, and the transgendered.
Moreover, next year the U.S. will have a new president. Isn’t it time to begin demanding of all presidential candidates that they commit themselves to seeking a United Nations commitment to universal decriminalization of homosexuality? Last November, the International Committee for IDAHO launched a critically important new global petition campaign for a United Nations resolution in favor of the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. Five Nobel Prize winners, six Academy Award winners, 10 Pulitzer Prize winners, and two former French prime ministers were among the hundreds of VIPs –led by South African Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu — endorsing the launch of this IDAHO campaign (for more information, click here.) But, while IGLHRC’s Paula Ettelbrick and NGLTF’s Matt Foreman both individually endorsed this IDAHO petition, neither of their organizations has done anything to publicize it or use it as a tool to agitate for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality (neither has HRC.) Organizing IDAHO events locally can be used to help put pressure on Congressmen, Senators, and, yes, on presidential candidates to commit themselves to working through the U.N. for the goal of abolishing all laws that make our kinds of love a crime.
We cannot allow our gay groups to use lack of money as an excuse for not doing anything in support of the International Day Against Homophobia. After all, IDAHO was the brainchild of the brilliant black French academic Louis-Georges Tin, who now heads the Paris-based International Committee for IDAHO — and, as he said in a profile of him which I wrote last year, “”It may be surprising to some to learn that we work with no budget and no paid staff…In the beginning this was a necessity, as I began IDAHO alone and with no money. But it is also a choice — because an association with a base in 50 countries can quickly become a bureaucracy. I wanted to avoid this at all costs. I tried to imagine a structure that would leave the most room for local initiatives, enthusiasm, and independence — even if there’s enormous work coordinating IDAHO at the international level with the help of our correspondents in each country. And I think this formula has worked rather well!” Yes, indeed — for IDAHO is now observed from Ghana to Greece, from China to Kenya, from Mexico to Turkey, in dozens and dozens of countries around the globe.
Except in ours.
It may be too late for this year — but shouldn’t activists across the U.S. begin making plans now for IDAHO events next year in support of those whose only crime is that they love like us?
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared May 17, 2007.