IDAHOBIT: Celebrating progress and the value of inclusion

Written by Mads Jensen and Aaron Holtz

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). This international celebration, now in its 14th year, marks the day, 17 May 1990, when the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Yes, you read that right.

It was only 27 years ago today that the world’s leading health experts decided that being homosexual didn’t mean you were mentally ill.

The official report from the World Health Organisation

This simple fact is both sobering and inspiring; sobering to know that LGBT people have faced such ignorance and persecution well into the 20th century and through to today, but inspiring to see the massive amount of progressive change we have seen in such a short span of time across the globe.

The progress that the LGBT community has enjoyed in recent years is truly remarkable and should be celebrated, but cannot be taken for granted.

LGBT people in many parts of the world still regularly face discrimination, harassment and violence. One doesn’t have to dive too far into international media to see the gut-wrenching reports of violence against LGBT people around the world, from the vicious torture and executions conducted by D’aesh, to the continued persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya. This eternal tension of progress, reaction, setback, regrouping and breakthrough we see in the push for equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is what inspires both of us to be involved in the fight.

AT THE UN

Discussions around sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations are difficult.

LGBT rights are the pointy end of the human rights spear; the concept that humans should have rights, regardless of who they are or whom they love, juts up against long held traditional, cultural and religious values and beliefs for many countries. The progress that has been achieved in recent years in regards to concepts of individual human rights, diversity, inclusion and tolerance is exemplified in the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda, with the tag line to “leave no one behind”. Yet many UN Member States still feel perfectly comfortable supporting policies that discriminate against LGBT people and exclude them from the process of sustainable development.

That is why the work of countries like the United Kingdom, as a member of the UN LGBT Core Group, is so vital.

Members of the UN LGBT Core Group walk across a rainbow crosswalk during the opening week of the UN General Assembly

We join with likeminded progressive voices from governments, the UN system and civil society to advocate for better understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity, and for the UN to do more to help protect and empower people in vulnerable situations. We achieved an important victory at the UN Human Rights Council last year, where Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand as the first ever Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The UK government is fully behind his mandate, which will help advance the international understanding around LGBT rights and hopefully lay the groundwork for future action.

The UK is also an active supporter of the UN’s Free and Equal Campaign; which uses social media and other innovative methods to reach millions of individuals worldwide with a message of tolerance and inclusion for LGBT people.

As this year’s IDAHOBIT theme is focussed on the diversity of families, Free and Equal has launched a #CultureofLove media campaign, with the message that “culture and tradition should bring us together, not drive us apart”. We fully endorse this message and encourage you to check out the videos and support the campaign yourselves.

IN THE FOREIGN OFFICE

It is critically important for an outward-facing institution like the UK Foreign Office to be able to practice what we preach.

Britain out in full force during the 2016 NYC Pride Parade

The Foreign Office’s Lesbian and Gay Group (FLAGG) has existed since the early 1990s. Initially established to offer support to LGBT staff working at the Foreign Office at a time when serving as an openly LGBT diplomat was often not easy and even discouraged, it now works to ensure that the Foreign Office is a welcoming and inclusive place for LGBT staff to work and that LGBT staff enjoy the same rights as everyone else. Today LGBT members of staff serve openly in UK missions across the world, including in a number of Ambassadorships.

In addition to addressing internal challenges facing LGBT staff, FLAGG works with a number of external partners to champion LGBT rights in our host countries though our network of diplomatic missions. In 2016, in the US alone, our network of missions participated in local Pride celebrations in 10 cities making the United Kingdom the first foreign government to participate in US Pride on such a significant scale.

During our time with the Foreign Office, we have marched with colleagues in four Pride celebrations and been involved in the planning of many more in conjunction with the UK’s LoveIsGREAT campaign.

#LoveIsGREAT

We have witnessed firsthand just how big of an impact it has when we collectively take a stand against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and stand up for the rights of all people irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We are both proud to work for an organisation that takes inclusion so seriously internally, and is so supportive of progressive change externally.

That spirit of inclusion is what IDAHOBIT represents for us: the idea that hate, intolerance and discrimination is a waste of time and energy, and that only by coming together in respect and understanding can we leverage the abilities of every individual and achieve the goals of a peaceful, just and prosperous world. We remain hopeful, and we look forward to the day when IDAHOBIT is but a fleeting memory of a time when the human rights of LGBT people needed a special day of recognition at all.

Mads Jensen 
Senior Policy Adviser, UK Mission to the UN and Co-Chair FLAGG Americas

Aaron Holtz
Senior Policy Adviser, UK Mission to the UN

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