Queer Up this May; a day against phobias to sexual and gender diversity

Words by Dumiso Gatsha

Working with or being in service of my peers (young people) has led me to see how we can be disengaged from human rights as an ideology, school of thought or influence. Primarily because life happens; we have many commitments and expectations to live up to, societal activities to navigate and necessities to secure. Larger systemic issues such as international law, policy making instruments and development agendas aren’t a primary focus or priority unless it is a part of the job or curricula. Even more glaring are the commemoration days that could be of significance to us. I remember ‘civvies’ days being the best ever as a child, where we celebrated the coming of spring or some other milestone event such as the last day of a school term.

As a young adult, I have observed how days of significance become less and less important as I ‘adult’ more. How do we remind our peers and others to take some time out of their busy lives to reflect and celebrate? It is a task often left to civil society and the state where their interests are most relevant or prioritized. 16 days against Gender Based Violence, World Aids Day, Black History Month, International Youth Day are all notable and memorable commemorations with notable and memorable struggles. There are enough resources, enabling environments and civic participants engaged in these commemorations. Where one is unaffected or ignorant, at some point over time, there are aware and informed of the importance of those commemorations. What about for those who are thought as minority, marginalized or vulnerable to intolerant laws, social systems and limited resourcing?

My focus will be on one particular group that is universal to every country, culture, religion, creed or income status. It is important to note this as in many jurisdictions, members of this group are denied existence, expression, dignity and other freedoms. One particular one is the ability to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on May 17. Under the theme of ‘Justice and Protection for all’, it could not be more relevant this year: not just for sexual and gender minorities but for all people. Decriminalisation of same sex conduct cases, forced anal examinations, policing of womxn’s bodies, the denial of marital rape, the rampant mental violence caused by hate speech, the power dynamics inherent in variant forms of relationships, economic exclusion, capitalist driven inequality, the erasure of trans people’s existence within and outside civil society in general, issues of consent and abuse of surgical procedures on infants. All these among many other atrocities contribute to the injustices faced by all people.

The world is becoming more challenging for young people to navigate and carrying burdens of these injustices that intersect is unimaginable but happening. I like to think of the bare minimum when engaging young people, enablers or policy makers. That if I can request of you to do the bare minimum what would that be? At no cost, no exercise or detrimental action to you. This bare minimum can be thought provoking, silencing and/or leading to action. I ask you to have a conversation with someone about May 17. You may not have or get all the answers, but having a discussion can enlighten, embolden or encourage someone else to have a conversation or act. This could possibly be why many leaders prevent conversations from happening through various means; restricting the use of gender at the UN, prohibiting women dressed in pants at the Kgotla (customary court in Botswana), requiring observer status at African Union organ gatherings or administratively cumbersome red tape at government offices. There is a fear that conversations will enlighten, embolden or encourage change. That once stories are shared, the hearts and minds of the people will change for the better.

May 17 is coming up and I implore you to do a little good by informing yourself and having a conversation. It might not help you will your bills, deadlines or commitments; but it will reflect that this world driven by differences. It provides you with an excuse to mention something that many find uncomfortable and unusual. The excuse to reflect on how a world built on love, diversity, understanding and dialogue is so much better than what we see now in decision making spaces. It may not seem like much, as it is the bare minimum, but it holds a responsibility to keep intolerance and violence away from those most vulnerable. It adds to the dignity of those who might be/not be in your presence or area of influence. That kind of integrity is rare but ensures that all of us can be treated with equality. It is the kind of integrity that can lead to justice and protection for everyone.

Not sure of how you can have a conversation? I recommend two questions to ask yourself or others. It is always good to follow up each answer with at least two “why’s” as follow up:

  • We are all protected by law as individuals. Inequality, violence and poverty are challenges many individuals face, why is it still acceptable in 2019?
  • Does silence or being apolitical on the most vulnerable or marginalized in society mean you agree/permit the injustices they face, even outside your community / faith / country / region / class?

If you can do more than the bare minimum; please do share any interesting answers or observations on the comments section below!

Dumi is a human rights defender, feminist and radical researcher. PhD (Law) candidate, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and independent consultant for state shadow reports, participatory human rights research and grassroots civic action. IG: dumi.activist / www.dumisogatsha.com / gatshadumiso@yahoo.com.