Around the world, people face violent attacks and threats simply because of who they are or who they have sex with. But some brave activists are still standing up for their rights. To mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) on 17 May, we celebrate the courageous activism of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide.
1. Pushing to end hate crimes in Greece
In Greece, LGBTI rights organizations tell us violent attacks on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity have more than doubled over the last year. In August 2014, Kostas and Zabi, a Greek-Pakistani gay couple, were brutally beaten up in a homophobic and racist attack in central Athens.
“I think they could tell we are a couple, and they targeted us because of that and Zabi’s skin colour,” says Kostas (above). “Last thing I saw was Zabi being thrown on the pavement. My head and upper body was inside a trash-bin that they had overturned. A few seconds later they broke my leg in three places.” Zabi was then attacked again in March 2015.
On this international day of action, activists from Greece and around the world are using the hashtag #KostasZabi to send support to the couple on social media, and to tell the Greek government to end hate crimes and stand against homophobia and racism. Greek activists, including Kostas and Zabi, will organize a ‘kiss-in’ in front of Parliament to highlight their case and the situation for LGBTI people in the country.
2. Ending homophobic violence in Cameroon
In Cameroon same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine, and LGBTI people suffer violence, police harassment and even arrest and detention.
In 2013, Eric Lembembe, director of a Cameroon AIDS charity, was murdered for his work defending LGBTI people . Two years later, his killers have still not been brought to justice. This July, activists will brave the hostile atmosphere in the country to organise two days of action in his memory. They will call for justice for Eric, and for an end to homophobic violence against LGBTI people and those who defend them.
In 2011, Stéphane, a 36-year old gay man, was dragged away from his house by a group of men, stripped, beaten and tortured for hours. Four years later, the men who attacked him have not faced justice. But that has not stopped Stéphane. “Today my fight is so that my younger brothers or my friends don’t suffer discrimination like this,” he tells us. “I am alive today and I want to be an example, a living example. I will keep telling my story for as long as I can.”
3. Standing up for LGBTI rights in Tajikistan
Across Central Asia, homophobia and transphobia is on the rise. Police blackmail gay men, threatening to ‘out’ them to family and colleagues unless they agree to pay a bribe. Lesbian women face violence and abuse from within their families, and may be forced to marry against their will.
One example is Komil, a gay man from Tajikistan was kidnapped, tortured, beaten and humiliated by police , and was eventually forced to flee the country. “Can you understand spending your whole life hiding that you are gay just to stay alive?” he tells us. “I am not a politician. I am a simple person who just wants a tiny piece of his own happiness. That is all.” With the help of his friends, he has rebuilt his life, and now speaks out for LGBTI rights in the region.
4. Celebrating EuroPride in Latvia
Latvia will be the first post-Soviet country to host EuroPride – a Europe-wide event dedicated to promoting LGBTI rights. In 2015, the event also celebrates a decade since Riga held its first Pride event: when 70 activists marched for their rights in spite of threats of violence and hostility from several thousand protestors.
Organizers of EuroPride hope to use this opportunity to draw global attention to the state of LGBTI rights in the region. They’ll also march in solidarity with people in countries like Russia, where authorities refuse applications to hold Pride events and where LGBTI activists organising peaceful street events are frequently attacked, with little protection from the police.
5. Campaigning for transgender rights in Norway
John Jeanette Remø Solstad is a 65-year-old transgender Norwegian woman who wants to change her legal gender from ‘male’ to ‘female’. But the government says she can’t – unless she has compulsory medical treatment, including surgery which will leave her sterile. It also requires a psychiatric diagnosis, as transgender people are considered ‘mentally ill’. John Jeanette refuses to put herself through this, and has campaigned alongside Amnesty supporters to change the law.
In April 2015, an expert group appointed by the Norwegian government stated that the current practice is a violation of fundamental human rights, and stressed the need for change. “this is everything I have dreamt of and hoped for,” she told us. “It was worth the fight. It took a long time, but when the results of our work finally came, it felt great.” The Norwegian government now has the opportunity to implement the recommendation and change these discriminatory laws.