Homophobia is still rife, and here's what you can do

Protestors hold graphic images of Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing lipstick during a protest against Russian ...

Protestors hold graphic images of Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing lipstick during a protest against Russian anti-gay laws.

OPINION: As optimistic as I am, I don't think large-scale efforts to combat homophobia really change anything.

In the last 24 hours, the world has been celebrating International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHTB).

This morning (New Zealand time) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the only major world leader to acknowledge IDAHTB, made a statement that's important in sentiment, yet somehow falls flat in inciting action.

Justin Trudeau's heart is in the right place. But we need more tangible ways to fight homophobia.

Justin Trudeau's heart is in the right place. But we need more tangible ways to fight homophobia.

"No matter who we love or how we identify, all of us deserve to feel safe and secure, live free from discrimination and persecution, and express ourselves fully," Trudeau said.

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"Today – and every day – I join Canadians to support gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation rights for people in Canada and around the world, and to challenge stigma, violence, and prejudices wherever they occur."

Trudeau – who, in full disclosure, I admire for his progressive politics – went on to talk about Canada's goal of co-chairing the Equal Rights Coalition, a movement towards global equality for sexuality and gender minorities (twenty nine countries are involved, including New Zealand).

Initiatives such as this and IDAHTB have their place in the world. But they can't distract us from the fact that homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia are still rife, even in liberal countries like New Zealand and Canada.

And it's not large-scale, corporate campaigns that are going to solve these problems.

As a member of the LBGT+ community, I've seen our experience being painted as increasingly easy and even rosy in recent years.

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Sure, marriage equality was a big step, but tackling homophobia goes far, far beyond marriage rights.

Likewise, we're getting widespread representation on television, our stories are being told in mainstream media, and businesses and organisations continue to incorporate diversity policies into their recruitment regimens.

Yet, gay men are still called "fags" in the street. Lesbians get heckled for holding hands. Bisexual people continue to be erased and made the butt of jokes. Trans people remain homeless and subject to violence.

These are all the experiences, some of them daily realities, of myself, my friends and my family in New Zealand's LGBT+ community. I'm not speaking hypothetically here.

LGBT+ people should not be poster children for being naïve. Our world might look fine and dandy through the heterosexual gaze, but the reality leaves much to be desired for us.

The real disjoint isn't easy to see, but it's there. You can pass all the anti-discrimation laws you want. Throw a thousand pride parades. Run excellent programmes for LGBT+ youths. These efforts contribute to waves of progression within the community, but the lives of those outside of it aren't affected.

Homophobia continues to breed because we never seem to hit the issue head-on, and actually give people a reason to stop their behaviour or change their thinking.

As welcome as support for the LGBT+ community is, or as valuable for a world leader to say we must "challenge stigma, violence, and prejudices" can be, society needs a tangible solution to homophobia here. Words, corporate events, campaigns, speeches, and marches aren't enough.

What is really takes is individuals standing up to other individuals when they encounter those who express homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. We need to look every one of them in the eye – person by person – and challenge their beliefs and behaviour.

If you're somebody who wants to join the fight against bigotry of LGBT+ people, I urge you to do some simple thing.

When you see or hear somebody expressing anything from a casual slur to a potentially-violent outburst, say this right to their face:

"Do you know that the words you are using could lead somebody to kill themselves?"

This is a very harsh and simple reality that homophobes need to be aware of.

I do this frequently. I'm lucky to be strong enough in my sexuality (and, something I cannot ignore, large enough in my physical presence) to have the confidence to do this.

Having had numerous experiences trying to wake bigots up with such confrontation, which isn't something that comes naturally to me, the majority of the time I've been met with the same response.

"I didn't mean it like that," most say.

"What did you mean, then?" is always my reply, alluding to the fact that such behaviour is something that could negatively change the course of someone's life forever.

You need to question them. Make them defend themselves, then watch them get embarrassed and squirm. Because they never have any defence. They always know they're in the wrong.

By and large, you will see a person apologise to you and hopefully rectify their behaviour. They mightn't ever say or do anything like that again, which is the ultimate goal.

Approaching homophobia in this seemingly small way is significant. Bit by bit, individual by individual, it's how you change people's minds.

You can't do this by campaigning. You can't do it by sending out press releases. But you can do it by being human, and appealing one-on-one to the humanity in others.

* Do you or somebody you know need help with homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, or suicide prevention? Visit the following resources for more support:
Rainbow Youth 
Human Rights Commission 
Proud to Play
Mental Health Foundation - Suicide Prevention 
Inside Out 

 - Stuff


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