Article By Thushara S. Chandrasiri
First introduced in 2004, The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia And Biphobia will always be regarded as a highly significant date in the international calendar. For anyone who may not be familiar with the background, this is much more than a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender identities, but also a time for us all as a global community to acknowledge the significant steps taken which led to the World Health Organisation in 1990 no longer including homosexuality in the International Classification of Diseases.
For an organisation such as ReportOUT the 17th May 2020 is one of the most important dates in the year. In order to observe this day, the charity’s founder and chair, Drew Dalton (the Chair of ReportOUT) has announced that the team will be launching the 'Empty Shoe Campaign' across our website and social media at 18:00 GMT on Sunday May 17th.
Wanting to find out more about the campaign we were delighted to have the opportunity to speak to Drew in greater detail.
Tell us more about the theme you chose to as you observe this year’s IDAHOTB?
This is our first IDAHOTB event for ReportOUT as a new global SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) human rights charity and we had planned to hold a number of physical events to celebrate and raise awareness of the day, but COVID-19 changed all that. However, we were not to be defeated and so we have launched our ‘Empty Shoes Campaign’ online via our website and social media.
This year’s theme for IDAHOTB is ‘breaking the silence’ and we chose the Empty Shoes Campaign to raise awareness amongst the public of what is happening to people across the globe in terms of harm. Since the last IDAHOTB day, we have selected eight names from a list of SOGI activists - people who have been killed in this past year because of who they are and what they fought for. We chose to show these names as empty shoes taken beside a candle to remember them, and to show who they are, where they were from and how they died. We wanted to bring to light the names of those who can no longer speak to break this silence. Sadly, choosing from this list was far too long and globally, it continues to remind us that we still have far to go.
A taster photograph of our Empty Shoes Campaign launching May 17th 2020 at 18:00 GMT on our website and social media.
While society is starting to see more acceptance where the rights of the LGBTQ are being recognised more, would you agree there is still a lot more which must be done globally so all nations are taking a much more unified approach?
There is much more that can be done, and this is a long journey, but we will continue to fight until every last SOGI person is heard and their lives are safer. In the West, whilst laws and policies have changed in many countries, this does not always reflect in social attitudes – whilst many people in Western Europe, the USA and other parts of the world are showing a greater acceptance of SOGI people, this is still inconsistent. Even in the most liberal of nations, there are always pockets of people or groups who will do SOGI people harm. In some countries such as parts of Eastern Europe such as Russia, parts of Poland and Hungary, these groups are growing in number and confidence. It is time to fight back.
Across the rest of the globe the situation of acceptance of SOGI people is mixed and whilst we have some increasingly great work being done at the United Nations level, this does not always drip down to attitudes on the ground. There are only a handful of global SOGI organisations and it is vital that we work with each other and other movements if we stand any chance of making social change happen.
A unified approach is one of the ways that we can begin to tackle global discrimination and harm against SOGI people, but not all nations agree on this and so the process of social change takes time and an evidence-based approach is needed. We need to remind nation states, governments, institutions and leaders that they are allowing the human rights of their own citizens and people be abused. ReportOUT will continue to research, document and monitor what is going on in order to campaign to leaders and countries what they have signed up to do globally, versus what is going on in their nation states.
As someone who has been observing IDAHOTB over the years, how important is it that others too do not just see this as just another international day of remembrance?
I still feel that there is room for remembrance in IDAHOTB as we must reflect on why people around the world are being lost to different forms of oppression and violence, but this is also a celebration of the removal of the World Health Organisation’s removal of homosexuality as a mental illness in 1990. We must celebrate our achievements here whilst at the same time, retaining the fire in our belly that makes us want to challenge the discrimination that sadly, many people still face.
In regards to the valuable work you and the team at ReportOUT undertake, do you feel that these are important moments where we acknowledge those untold stories, especially as they too form a crucial part of the history of LGBTQ rights?
ReportOUT’s ‘Empty Shoes Campaign’ is a way to commemorate these names and untold stories, and to raise awareness that global homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia is still very much in existence. Violence is not something that only affects SOGI people, as somewhere down the line, these were other people’s children, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, lovers, carers, and more – but now all that stands of them are empty shoes. This campaign was to bring to light only a fraction of the lives of these people, and to make sure that they are not only remembered, but that their deaths impact on wider society such as their own friends and families, whether they are SOGI or not. Discrimination and violence affects us all. Our Empty Shoes Campaign is a stark reminder of the lived reality for many people around the globe and many of these names you may not have heard of, but they need to be told. Let’s break the silence.
It is evident that what makes the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biophobia even more important through the eyes of ReportOUT is using the 17th May as an opportunity to really hold the culprits of this form of discrimination accountable and also calling on the international community to take more action.
As Drew and the ReportOUT team prepare to launch the Empty Shoe Campaign, you can see the powerful images revealed on our social media and website