Many might not know it, but May 17th is a major day for all who identify as being LGBT. On that day every year it is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which aims to raise awareness about abuse and violations of human rights against LGBT people, as well as raise awareness about LGBT issues worldwide. And, yes, it is an important day.
First started in 2004, the day (sometimes referred to by the rather unfortunate acronym of ‘IDAHTAB’, which makes it sound like tablets for constipation) has grown in stature and popularity with each year. And why May 17th? That specific date was chosen as it was on May 17th 1990 when the World Health organisation (WHO) decided to remove homosexuality from its nefarious International Classification of Diseases. Yip, that was the day when the world’s leading health body decided to tell gay men and our ilk that we were no longer sickos. How very big of them.
We cannot forget that it still continues to be dangerous, even downright lethal, to be an out and proud LGBT person, or even discovered to be any letter of LGBT, in many parts of the world. Being a gay man in Saudi Arabia or Uganda or Yemen can you get imprisoned, even killed – and all by state sanction. There are still over 70 countries in the world where same sex relations are illegal. And of course discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT people continue even in the most supposedly liberated countries. We all know that. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when homosexuality was illegal in many European countries, and even a shorter time ago when the age of consent in the UK was 16 for straights and a ridiculous 21 for gays.
In typical gay style, what is a serious day is still often celebrated all over the world with dance marathons, dancing flashmobs and carnival-like street processions and parties. And hooray to that! If anything, when we celebrate even the serious we exert who we are and, best of all, we give a big, fat middle finger to those who want to deny us.
It may seem like a downer to say it, but we take it all for granted at our own peril. However, instead of only feeling guilty or getting mad about all the injustices, I think we do just as well to celebrate. It’s reason enough to also celebrate the many, many strides and victories that have been won in recent years. Gay marriage is now reality in countless countries, cities and regions across the world. Openly gay leaders, mayors and even heads of state are now commonplace. Even countries as diverse as Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the UK, Mexico, Costa Rica, and France have all officially recognized May 17th as International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. It is mind-boggling for people of my generation (Gen-X, bless us) and older to realize that staunchly Catholic countries like Portugal, Spain and Mexico now openly support gay liberation and equal rights protections. Unthinkable just 20 years ago!
To put it all in perspective, consider this: For years now Mariela Castro, no less than the niece of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has led huge and boisterous processions through the streets of Havana in celebration of May 17th. This in a country, by the way, where homosexuality was illegal until 1979 but by 2008 had passed a law that allowed sex change surgery to be done without charge. It’s good to know when LGBT people are protected in the unlikeliest of places. Thank goodness times change.
And it’s time a-changing that is what May 17th is all about. By celebrating who we are and what has been achieved, and realizing just how many of us have it (relatively) easy compared to so many people just like us, we validate who we are. May 17th is a reality check, which is fine. Because every gay man should have the right to be great, petty, fickle, headstrong, frivolous, serious, macho, camp, masculine, feminine, creative, brilliant, married, single, sexy, couldn’t-care-less, buff, thin, lean, mean, respected, equal and to love and be loved as he so wishes. Now that’s a celebration.