May 17 is IDAHOBIT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. IDAHOBIT is a day to draw attention to the discrimination experienced by LGBTQI+ people internationally.
The day is marked worldwide in over 130 countries, including 37 countries where same-sex acts are still illegal. The first day was held in 2004 to raise awareness of the violence and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including all people who have diverse gender identities or sexual expressions.
The date of 17 May was chosen for IDAHOBIT as this was the date in 1990 when the World Health Organisation finally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Despite this, LGBTIQA+ people across the world continue to face hate, discrimination and violence.
The theme for IDAHoBiT 2023, adopted after consultation with LGBTQI+ organisations worldwide, is Together Always: United in Diversity. The website for this day at https://may17.org states that the theme undergirds the advocacy of many organisations around the world which are working to support LGBTIQA+ people “in a time where the progress made by our LGBTQIA+ communities worldwide is increasingly at risk”.
The website notes that “it is crucial to recognise the power of solidarity, community, and allyship across different identities, movements, and borders. When we unite, in all our beautiful diversity, we can really bring about change!”
For myself, I do not identify with any of the letters in the LGBTIQA+ acronym. I have lived my life as a male who is heterosexual (experiencing sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender) and cis-gender (the gender assigned to me at my birth correlates with my sense of personal identity and gender)—in short, I am what is referred to as heteronormative. And, as a white male in the Western world, my life experience has certainly been privileged and sheltered from internal or external disturbances and challenges related to my sexuality or gender identity.
So I have no personal experience of the gender dysmorphia that others experience in their lives; nor have I had any experience of the prejudice or persecution experienced by people identifying as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community. My understanding of what such people have experienced has come through relationships, conversations, readings, and personal thinking through of the issues. It has required empathy and understanding, and I think that it’s clear that I haven’t done this perfectly; but hopefully I have done so at least adequately.
I’m also a person of faith, and thus embedded within a community that, sadly, has demonstrated a collection of failures in the way that sexually and gender diverse people have been seen and treated. The Christian Church has shown a persistent lack of understanding, a continual marginalising (or “othering”), an aggressive assertion about the sinfulness of the particular identity or lifestyle, and undertaking attempts to “change the protestation” or “reverse the gender” of some people. All of these attitudes and actions have been unloving, uncaring, and indeed (in my view) unChristian.
Thankfully, my own church (the Uniting Church in Australia), as well as many other enlightened faith communities around the world, have taken steps towards the acceptance, valuing, and inclusion of LGBTIQA+ people in every part of their lives. There are still important and major steps to be taken, but the direction is clear and the commitment to that pathway is resolute.
I asked last year (and so repeat this year) for IDAHOBIT Day: How are privileged, cis-gender heterosexual people like myself to respond to a day like IDAHoBiT?
I think we need to cultivate empathy and develop understanding. I think we need to seek out and develop respectful relationships in which we can hear stories, learn of experiences, articulate our own inadequacies and sorrow for how we have acted or interacted with people in the past. Most importantly, I believe we need to learn ways by which we can support survivors of gender identity change efforts and help prevent harm from the ideology and practices of such gender identity change efforts.
Underlying this is my own firm commitment to an understanding of human beings as intentionally created by God, exactly as we are, to be exactly who we are, without qualification or change. The “doctrine of sin” that the church has promulgated has impressed on us that we are all “fall short of the glory of God”, that we all do wrong things—and who would argue with that?
But this doctrine has also been used to identify and persecute specific sinfulness on the part of identifiable minority groups—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, intersex, and transgender people in particular—not recognising the nuances of differences that actually do exist across the spectrum of humanity. That’s a misuse of the doctrine, in my opinion. It should not be used to persecute someone on the basis of differences that are perceived.
What gender a person believes that they are, and what attraction an individual has to other people, is built into the very DNA of them as a person, wanting to force change in either of those matters is, to my mind, one of the greatest sins. I think it’s important for “allies” such as myself to remind others of this truth, and to stand in solidarity with “rainbow people” each and every day.
On this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, let us ensure that each and every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, or otherwise identifying people knows that we accept them, value them, and love them, exactly as they are!
And let us be strong in calling out any sign of homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia, when we hear it expressed or see it enacted.
For information about IDAHOBIT in Australia, go to https://www.idahobit.org.au/