As Denise and Regina have recently pointed out, yesterday was International Day Against Homophobia. I think the first time I became aware of homophobia was when I was about 12 years old. All my friends were crazy about this particular movie star – the name escapes me now – but then he came out and confessed he was gay. Suddenly, my friends hated him. I asked them why and they said it was because he was gay. “But he’s still the same actor!” I said. I mean, as far as I understood homosexuality then unless you were the guy’s wife, why should you care if he’s gay or straight?
I confess I didn’t have many gay friends in Brazil. Not for any conscious decision on my part but because I really didnt know many people who were openly gay. Now I know that Brazil is not the sort of place where you’d dare to be openly gay.
I have many gay friends in Canada. One of Alan’s best friends is gay and has lived with the same partner for 30 years. They are highly successful people and some of the most engaged, thinking, caring people I know. We now live in Toronto’s gay village in an apartment building inhabited mostly by gay men. We feel very welcomed in the neighbourhood – despite being straight – and have made many friends there. Both Alan and I take very personally if anyone ever says anything against homosexuals. For the most part, it seems that the GLT movement has achieved a degree of equality in Canada -couples of the same sex can get married and adopt children, and pursue carreers of their choice. From tenured academic job to the top spots of the corporate world, I’ve met gays and lesbians at every level of society in Canada but one of the things that impressed me the most was to see so many straight families taking their small children to see the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto. Talking to one of them, they said they wanted their kids to be exposed to and accepting of difference. They also wanted them to have a positive image of gay people. I think that’s where tolerance begins…
But of course Canada is not perfect. Two gay men were recently murdered in Nova Scotia and while it’s still unclear whether the murders were motivated by homophobia, the police has issued warnings to gay men in the area and has started patrolling more intensely areas where they cruise.
The following passage comes from the Canadian site homophobie.org explaining International Day Against Homophobia:
In Canada, recognition, for lesbian and gay communities, has been first and foremost a judicial acceptance brought about by the adoption of the Charter of Human Rights. However, judicial advances will remain only that until a complete, unlimited social acceptance of homosexuality is achieved and homophobia wiped out. To achieve this goal, the Fondation Émergence proposed in 2003, along with partners, to hold each year a special day dedicated to the social recognition of homosexual experience.
Philosophy of the Event
Few minority groups have been as discriminated against as the gays and lesbians. But major breakthroughs have occurred, and homosexual people are stepping out of the shadows. From the outside, it could be construed that all problems have been solved. The media are sympathetic, public personalities come out, television shows feature lesbian and gay characters in scenes of everyday life. Nevertheless, the reality is quite different. Many individuals are unable to live their sexual orientation, encounter difficulties if they do, or end up role-playing to protect themselves.
Despite these dire situations, the implementation of the International Day Against Homophobia should not rest on a “victimization“ philosophy. In fact, the Day may be seen as a great opportunity to highlight positive aspects of homosexuality and celebrate the contribution of lesbians and gays to society.
Homophobia is an insidious process that channels its effects through subtle, usually transparent ways. No one is safe from hostile manifestations to homosexuality. Quite surprisingly, many homosexual individuals themselves adopt homophobic behaviour, hoping it would protect them against prejudice from their entourage. The International Day Against Homophobia aims to reach all groups of society, regardless of their sexual orientation.
An International Day Against Homophobia belongs to no one individual. It’s about all people hoping for a prejudice-free world that can provide a place at the table for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. Inspired by all world theme-days, the day set aside to fight homophobia needs to be appropriated by all of those actively involved in civil society: gay and lesbian community organisations, those organisations focusing on other types of sexual diversity, unions, employers, private businesses, governments, public administration, professional associations, and all individuals seeking equality.