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IDAHO 2012: International Zeal Met with U.S. Apathy

by Michael Petrelis

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday May 23, 2012

The World Health Organization on May 17, 1990, removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, ushering in a new phase of international human rights organizing and demands from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Since 2003, May 17 has been celebrated and observed as International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and the just-completed 2012 edition of this global day of solidarity marked the 10th anniversary.

For many activists, May 17 was again a rare chance to engage in public visibility on the streets or in social halls, with a mix of triumphs, violence and in-between attempts to show solidarity across borders.

Among the unquestionable triumphs were the clandestine multiple events in Iran. A handful of young LGBT Iranians took to a public park and rode a bus in Tehran, using a rainbow flag as a shawl held in front of their faces, rendering identification impossible by the secret police. The youths also created YouTube videos, obscuring their faces and telling the truth about support or rejection from family and friends.

From Burma, emerging from dictatorial rule by the military junta, the first official public IDAHO observance took place in Rangoon, organized by the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma. A social hall was rented to host a Paying Respect to Seniors celebration for young LGBT to honor their elders including U Kyaw, a 106-year-old dancer and trans woman. There was no government interference, a step forward.

In Albania, IDAHO began the day before when two groups, Pro LGBT and the Alliance Against Discrimination, organized a bicycle ride through central Tirana and police detained hooligans who threw firecrackers at the bikers. On May 17, a third group, the PINK Embassy staged a successful trouble-free Diversity Festival in a public square with speeches, displaying the rainbow flag and distributed literature demanding respect to upwards of one-hundred attendees.

Another success happened in Chile, as thousands gathered at an outdoor theater in Santiago for the Cultural Demonstration for Diversity. Community leaders rejoiced over the recent passage of a law granting LGBT people legal protections and the national census agreeing this year will count same-sex households. Attention was also paid to the brutal murder of gay youth Daniel Zamudio at the hands of neo-Nazis who await trial, and Zamudio's father received an emotional standing ovation after he spoke.

In the category of IDAHO marches that suffered violence, let's begin with the attempted commemoration with a small rally in Kiev, Ukraine, where a gay activist had his nose bashed, leaving his face a bloody mess. The apathetic police officers on duty offered no assistance to the twenty or so LGBT people who showed up.

San Francisco's Gays Without Borders persuaded City Hall to lower the United Nations and United States flags in Civic Center to remember all LGBT persons murdered or bashed since last year's IDAHO.

Activists in St. Petersburg turned out more than 300 LGBT individuals for a demonstration against the new law banning the promotion of homosexuality or transgenderism. They were met by 100 right wing nationalists and religious fanatics. Russian police forced the cancellation of the demonstration and escorted the activists to their rental buses, so they could escape the mob there to inflict bodily harm.

The week leading up to an IDAHO-related seminar on the plight of transgender persons and women across India, transgender Mariya Anil Sadanandan was found dead after attackers slit her throat and left her to die with chili powder rubbed over the skin. She was one of the first to volunteer for preparatory work on behalf of Queer Pride 2012 in Karala, and her survivors are demanding an investigation, while carrying on Ssadanandan's plan for Pride later this year.

Reports from Armenia detail numerous events over 10 days, some officially linked to IDAHO and others independent of the special May 17 day. A conference held in Yerevan on LGBT tolerance brought out thirty speakers and attendees and a Pride march was called off by security forces when anti-gay protesters with rocks and sticks appeared at the kick-off rally, in greater numbers than the gay dozens. Law enforcement agents dispersed both crowds when the counter-protesters shouted death threats and threw rocks at the gays.

On the domestic front, the United States witnessed only two activist events of note. Independent lesbian advocate Betty Couvertier of Atlanta, Georgia, requested that the governor issue a proclamation for IDAHO and the request was diverted by the governor, who released a "Mistreatment Awareness Day" decree for May 17. Couvertier held a town hall meeting to denounce the insult from the governor.

San Francisco's Gays Without Borders, of which I am a member, persuaded City Hall to lower the United Nations' and United States' flags in Civic Center to remember all LGBT persons murdered or bashed since last year's IDAHO. A video of political and civic leaders rallying for global solidarity was viewed hundreds of times on YouTube and shared widely on Facebook.

Mainstream LGBT groups in America generally issued press releases or wrote notes for their blogs, with no reports except from Atlanta and San Francisco surfacing with additional public activism marking IDAHO.

While LGBT people beyond America's borders enthusiastically embrace IDAHO annually, here at home we face apathy for our brothers and sisters in foreign lands and a lack of willingness to hit the streets for international solidarity.

Let the brave people around the world who care enough to organize IDAHO actions spur all of us everywhere to start making plans for the 2013 edition.