The Importance of IDAHOBIT

It is not uncommon for a homosexual individual to face abuse, anger, hate or even violence merely for being oneself. People who spew such venom are usually homophobic, living with a phobia that disallows them from engaging with people like me – homosexual – and instead investing energies in hate and fear, looking at lesbians and gays as odd, weird, retards, turning us into some kind of alien. Such fears extend to the transgender community, as well as bisexuals, drawing similar patterns with different measures of hate.

The problem though is not the existence of who we are and how we live or why we are alive, it is a disorder that disallows homophobics and trans-phobics from accepting us.

A little less than three years ago, a study in Italy reportedly said “people who have strongly antagonistic views of gay people also have higher levels of psychoticism and inappropriate coping mechanisms than those who are accepting of homosexuality”. The study (2015) goes on to explain that “psychoticism is a personality trait marked by hostility, anger and aggression towards others”. “People who cling to homophobic views have some psychological issues”, said the lead researcher Emmanuele Jannini, an endocrinologist and medical sexologist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

Of course, telling homophobes that the problem is in their head, is easy but the point most likely will struggle to sink in. An article in Live Science suggests “religiosity, sensitivity to disgust, hypermasculinity and misogyny — seem to play a role in anti-gay beliefs”. So a person with such a mind is in any case stuck in its own complexities needs serious counselling to overcome!

In my many years of realising who I am – the many aspects to myself and not just my sexuality – I have seen a series of different responses to our community, and to my sexuality. I have seen and heard stories of depression, assault and suicide. Friends were forced into marriage fearing society and its hate and at times, even being killed by parents in the name of ‘family honour’. It is now very well known that many lesbians and gays are forced into marriage. Some go through ‘conversion therapy’ which includes electrical shock treatment and hormone therapy, all of which kills the soul if not the whole being.

The hate resultant of a phobia is so deep and institutionalised that even the law is an apparent part of it. And even the press has been!

At a conference on diversity in the media ranging from gender to linguistics, organised by the Canadian High Commission in December 2017, a senior TV journalist admitted that even in a ‘liberal’ press, there was discomfort with what someone wore to work. The reference was to a cross-dresser – a queer person – who once was part of a news bureau who finally quit feeling slighted and insulted. This ‘revelation’ reflected how deeply engrained was homophobia. Even the press was not able to rise above and provide its readers with a larger canvas of humanity and diversity that could have slowly reduced the height of the wall between us and ‘them’.

But yes, it would be unfair not to recognise that the media, by and large, has emerged as an ally of the LGBTQ community.

The world around us has changed significantly and yet a lot has not. According to a post by Delta App (an up-coming safe space for the community), one in four people amongst us have experienced hate and abuse. If you go through stories on Gaylaxy, you would find hundreds of individuals expressing fear and the hostility they’ve been through. To find similar stories on LGBTQ groups on Facebook is not unusual. Private messages on social networks will tell you about the many who wish to run away from home, find a space for themselves, hoping for a safe, loving life.

These stories – raw and real as they are – aren’t entirely unique to India which is why in 2005 the first International Day Against Homophobia came into being on May 17. Over 20000 individuals and organisations signed an appeal to support what was called the IDAHO initiative. Four years later, transphobia was added and by 2015, biphobia was added to the campaign. The main purpose has been to raise awareness of crimes against the community as well as repression. Countries in Europe and Latin America are believed to give this day a lot of relevance with events, marches and even research to provide a status report on hate crimes.

Till a few years ago, this day just flew off the calendar here in India, like any other day. However, with rising voices, active groups, music and dance shows and a growing sense of identity and rights, the importance of this day has grown as it is being seen as part of the larger movement.

Organisations such as Humsafar Trust and HIV/AIDS Alliance to government missions of Spain and Canada, amongst others, have all led us to pencil this day in our diary. It is no doubt though a culmination of many efforts – the lawyers in the courts fighting Section 377, a Naz Foundation, the many queer pride groups across India, gender groups in universities and colleges, drag queens at night clubs and fests, musicians and actors telling stories, the transgender act – Dancing Queens, the fests and platforms that have opened up to embracing LGBTQ and each one who has come out bravely to be themselves.

The purpose of May 17 will not die down after the day, nor can the battle against the kind of phobes we face. The more we out ourselves, the greater likelihood there is of heightened dislike, hate and violence, since every step we take towards our comfort and rights, will lead to the discomfiture of the phobics. The phobia, we can’t forget is in the police, in schools, colleges, governments, political groups, religious leaders, parents, colleagues and just about everywhere – much like an epidemic.

Yet, just as many activists say while speaking at Pride, ‘there is no turning back’, we are who we are, ‘get over it’!

Sharif D Rangnekar