May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). It is a day that has been commemorated around the globe since 2004 focused on raising awareness and consciousness on the horrific challenges that the LGBTQIA community faces in so many aspects of their lives. And by challenges I mean: People are denied access to jobs, denied access to public accommodations like restrooms, bullied in school, terrorized in the streets and even killed in their own homes. Here in the United States, many people think that the worst global atrocities that queer people face are far away in places like Uganda, Russia and Syria. I have often heard friends state, with a bit of smugness, that those countries are less developed and less advanced. They try to impress on me that "third" world countries may never be as progressive with their civil rights during our lifetimes. That simply is not true.
It is time for a reality check. Never in our lifetimes has this country been safe for people who are deemed to be different from someone's norm. And in very public forums, queer people are once again being attacked for simply living their lives. Webster's Dictionary teaches us that "Homophobia" is first and foremost an irrational fear of homosexuals that leads to an aversion to and/or discrimination against homosexuals. Transphobia is an irrational fear, aversion to and/or discrimination against transgender people. One thing that any racial, sexual, gender, ethnic, religious minority will tell you is that these irrational fears can have grave consequences and those consequences can come from any and all directions.
In the course of a day, nearly all LGBTQIA people in this country must be aware that their identity and even their sole existence may endanger their personal safety. My mother has enough fears at night since she has a Black son in America. But her most pressing fear is that one day I will be killed not because of my race, but because I am too open about my homosexuality. After college, I drove across the country from North Carolina to Seattle in start of a new life. I was so proud, so excited and so happy. I stopped in St. Louis to see my mother en route. I will never forget. She had a look of fear on her face. She would not make eye contact with me when she made one request. She stated, "I know you won't take that rainbow sticker (Gay Pride sticker) off your car so please do me just one favor. When you stop for gas, please always pay at the pump and never go inside." What she was wanted to say is: "I know you are going to drive through the Mountain West and that young man Matthew Shepard had just been killed in Wyoming for being an out gay man. I don't want that to be your fate."
Recently, a male couple in Atlanta was sleeping at the house of one of their mother's. The boyfriend of the mother suffered from this aforementioned irrational fear of homosexuals so he got up in the middle of the night, boiled a pot of water, sneaked into the couple's room while they slept and dumped scalding hot water on them. His blatant attack left both of them with massive burns all over their face and upper torso. Afterwards, this heinous individual did not feel any remorse whatsoever. Clearly, his level of homophobia was so deeply ingrained from society that he did not have the capacity to even empathize for his victims.
Unfortunately, my mother is right. LGBTQIA persons are killed with impunity throughout this country. Those most at-risk of being murdered for having the audacity to exist are transgender women of color. The intersection of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia lives solely in their bodies. They experience extreme harassment and violence with such frequency that some have come to expect it as the norm. One woman received a verbal assault on a subway in NYC while fellow passengers did nothing to stop it until the abuser ultimately physically assaulted her. Subsequently, the video of the attack went viral on YouTube and the victim received support from around the world and even from Presidential candidate Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. Unfortunately for her, this did not happen before the attack.
Transgender people of color experience unemployment at four times the rate of cisgender whites. When employed, 90% experience harassment within the workplace. Contrary to popular belief, there are no Federal laws protecting the LGBTQIA community from harassment at work or even from being fired without any other reason than expressing their gender/sexuality. If that was not enough, a woman can be walking down the street and attacked by a group of men who suffer from transphobia. While being attacked, that woman could defend herself and end up killing her assailant. Then as the ultimate insult to injury, she is imprisoned for murder for defending herself. That was the story of CeCe McDonald who remained jailed until a national movement fought for her justice. The non-stop violence that so many human beings experience from fellow citizens is absolutely unacceptable.
Currently, there are national debates as to whether or not a human being should be able to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. You cannot make this stuff up. It is happening and it is happening here in America. My gender identity happens to be male and I feel most comfortable in male restrooms. Somehow that has become a privilege codified by law in North Carolina . The legislative abusers who create these laws focused on policing the lives of trans* people state that they are simply trying to protect children. My only question is: "Protect children from what?" Are children being attacked in restrooms by the Laverne Coxes and Caitlyn Jenners of the world? I cannot think of one case. But I do know that the Former Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, is a serial pedophile. Yes, the same man who was third in line to the Presidency of the United States of America. And the infamous Penn State Football Assistant Coach, Jerry Sandusky, committed the same atrocities as Rep. Hastert, but Sandusky's actions were even worse in my opinion because his actions were allegedly known to other coaches for decades who did nothing to protect those children. So I ask directly to these legislators who think that political correctness is destroying America: please create laws to protect children from cisgender heterosexual men in roles of perceived leadership who prey on the weak and innocent. Those deviants must be stopped.
IDAHOT is recognized worldwide not a day of self-reflection, but as a day of action. We must engage our policymakers who forget that the world is a better place when we are all supported -- not when we demonize particular populations. We must engage our family and friends who are unaware that these atrocities against people based on sexuality and gender identity happen within our country with such frequency. And whenever possible, we must stand up to support sexual and gender minorities who are under attack in the streets, in their homes, from City Hall or even the judiciary. In order to do better, we must be better.