International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) is marked annually on the 17th of May to draw the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public and the media to the violence and discrimination inflicted upon lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, as well as all those who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms. This year, Alliances for Solidarity has been chosen as the event theme, because fighting violence, lobbying for legal change and campaigning to change hearts and minds cannot be done in isolation.
“With a report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) revealing that 8 out of 10 LGBTI students are being harassed at school each year simply because of who they are, this is a very important day particularly for LGBTI youth,” says Riaan Norval, Project Manager for Young Heroes - a campaign being run by Anova Health Institute and funded by the Elton John Aids Foundation aimed at empowering adolescent LGBTI youth, specifically young men who identify as gay or bisexual, or who are questioning their sexuality.
The GLSEN report also found that LGBTI students have lower grades, more attendance problems and are less likely to complete high school than their heterosexual counterparts. What’s more, many experience long-term emotional effects from the bullying, harassment and intolerance they face as students.
Norval shares that it is important to clarify the difference between a ‘phobia’ and ‘prejudice’. “A phobia is a strong, uncontrollable, unpleasant often irrational emotion caused by an actual or perceived danger or threat, like spiders or a fear of clowns. Prejudice, on the other hand, is an adverse judgment or opinion formed without knowledge of the facts. What people call homo- and transphobia is actually prejudice. You don’t go seeking out something you fear, whereas with homo- and transphobia, people seek to harm others with insults, discrimination, extreme levels of intimidation and even violence.”
“It can also be more subtle – a feeling that you're being ignored or treated with less respect than your peers ,or seemingly innocuous statements like the good old, ‘I'm not prejudiced, I even have a gay friend’ or ‘that's so gay’. The sad truth is that if you're gay, you will probably encounter homophobia at some point. While being picked on for your sexuality can be upsetting and embarrassing, always remember that you are not the problem, they are. The majority of homophobes act out of ignorance and fear. Often it's a question of immaturity. Like bullies, homophobes get satisfaction and power from putting others down.”
He urges young people who are experiencing homophobia, transphobia or biphobia to utilise the information, safe spaces, resources and supportive community offered by the campaign through its social media, website and mobile platforms. “Young Heroes also provides access to mental health support, should you need it.”
Gender- and sexuality-motivated hate crimes are increasingly common in South Africa, but such incidents remain underreported and, in most cases, insufficiently investigated. In part, this is due to the current ad-hoc response to hate crimes and a lack of dedicated resources. The situation is further complicated by limited awareness of the issue, both within the criminal justice system and the wider community, which makes it difficult for LGBTI hate crime survivors to access medical and psycho-social support.
LGBTI people are also urged to visit www.lovenothate.org.za if they have been victim of gender- and sexuality-motivated hate crimes. The programme works to educate service providers and the public, while also helping survivors to overcome some of the barriers preventing them from accessing help. This includes assisting LGBTI persons to report incidents of violence and to navigate the justice system.
Under this year’s Alliances for Solidarity theme, he calls upon teachers and heterosexual students to help LGBTI students fight homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in schools so that they can enjoy a learning environment where they are free to be who they are. “As President Cyril Ramaphosa once said, ‘it is a sad truth that in our nation the LGBTI community are amongst the most vulnerable and marginalised. They suffer discrimination, violence and abuse. We must, as a nation, do better than what we are now. We need to support, embrace and respect each other. It is upon us all to contribute to the creation of a more just, equal and safe society,” concludes Norval.
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