Monday, May 17, 2010

IDAHO (Int'l Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) + Harvey Milk Week of Action in Chicago

It's May 17, which means it's also International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, or IDAHO. The brainchild of Dr. Louis-Georges Tin, a black gay scholar, writer and activist (with whom I conducted an interview several years back, accessible here), IDAHO began 5 years ago, after Tin began an initiative, in August 2004, to create a truly global International Day Against Homophobia. His aim was for "universal recognition" of this day, and he proposed that it be fixed on May 17, "to commemorate the World Health Organisation’s decision to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders." Since May 17, 2005, numerous countries and groups within those countries have called for an end to homophobia and transphobia, and a push to decriminalize "homosexuality" has also spread. The idea behind today is an important one: what would it mean to fight against fear and hatred of and end legal oppression of LGBTQ people?

Central to the logic of the day is that it is homophobia that is the problem, and should be "deconstructed in its social logic and done away with." On the map below, in countries colored blue, there have been or will be events--marches, celebrations, parades, kiss-ins, public speeches--to commemorate IDAHO.

As a cursory glance makes clear, large swathes of Africa, the Middle East and Asia have no participants in today's events. Yet we shouldn't be complacent about the US, either; over the last 10 years the focus among mainstream LGBTQ organizations has shifted to same-sex marriage and repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). 5 US states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire) and the District of Columbia now have marriage equality laws, and the Democratic-controlled Congress's leaders, as well as the President, have expressed support for repealing DADT, though they are dragging their feet right now. Yet passing the the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would arguably have an even greater effect on far more LGBTQ people, since 20 states still have no protection from employment discrimination. In fact, a comprehensive civil rights bill (or Constitutional Amendment) banning all discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would be even more important, since only 13 states have protections to prevent housing discrimination. Same-sex couples or gay single people still cannot adopt children in some states (such as Florida, in part based on the hateful and spurious testimony of hypocrites like George Rekers), and in other states, because of the lack of civil protections, a gay parent can lose custody of her child. Other areas rarely touched upon include discrimination by medical professionals and hospitals, and discrimation against elderly queer people in nursing homes.  These are all issues that still need to be addressed, along with a more equitable economic and political system that ensures that LGBTQ people, like every other American, have opportunities for work, to make a decent living, and live and retire with dignity.

In Chicago, this is Harvey Milk Week of Action, which includes a full schedule of events, from rallies to teach-ins to flashmobs, to commemorate what would have been Harvey Milk's 80th birthday, and to also discuss and speak out against homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism both in the US and across the globe. The culminating event will be a rally at 1 pm in the Loop this Saturday, May 22, 2010, Harvey Milk Day, his birthday and the day California has designated to commemorate him. 

Equality Across America has a listing of other Harvey Milk Day events across the US, so please take part if you're able to do so!

Reggie H's take on the day is up too!


  1. Hi John,

    IDAHO was "celebrated" in Nairobi, at the Kenya National Museum. It was covered in the local press. One result: religious leaders (there they go again) have planned a protest, arguing that tax payer money should not be used to subsidize the event. It is not clear to me that any tax money was used-the event was sponsored by NGOs. And even if tax money was used, queer Kenyans do have rights as citizens to use public spaces.

    Not quite sure what is happening, and will try to monitor and blog about it later next week, as it develops.

    Meanwhile, still reeling in shock over Malawi--the men sentenced to 14 years. The court decision is online, and makes compelling and terrifying reading. (And one day I will learn how to post links into comments.)


  2. Keguro,

    I hear you about Kenya; as you see, I purposely used the word "event" rather than "celebration" because in some places commemmoration of the day, which cleverly throws the question of oppression back onto the oppressors, is hardly about celebration and very much about survival. In the US, it appears to meet with real indifference, which I find troubling, given how pervasive homophobia still is. But then maybe that's just me, and while things have changed markedly over the last 20 years, I guess many people only wake up when there's a wide-scale demonstration of homophobia, as in the withdrawals of same-sex marriage in California and Maine, and the denials of it in New York and New Jersey.

    The sentence the two men in Malawi face is horrifying, as is the vitriol directed at them by many members of the public and the people affiliated with various "Christian" churches. What I guess I've not worked out is how European colonialism, and in specific, the British presence, appears to have led, across the globe whenever the subjects were nonwhites, to these extremist Christian-centered anti-gay regimes. What fascinates me is that it's conversely the presence of Roman Catholicism--I'm thinking for example of Ireland, Canada, Australia, and the very Catholic parts of the US--that seems to mitigate the British influence. But in places like Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Jamaica, etc., where fundamentalism took root alongside the colonial and especially post-colonial governments, this sort of fanaticism appears to be rife.