May 17. As far as this blog is concerned, it’s an important day to remember. Think rainbows. Think human rights.
Cue the confused looks and questions – “Isn’t Human Rights Day on December 10?” First of all, congratulations for knowing when Human Rights Day is. Second, the reason May 17 is special is because it’s the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) (and this year, biphobia has been added to the title).
Launched in 2004, IDAHOT became the single most recognised LGBT event focused on educating the public about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights as well as increasing advocacy work for sensible public policy. The main purpose of IDAHOT was to raise awareness on the violence and repression faced by those who didn’t conform to gender and sexual norms. May 17 was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders back in 1990.
In 2011, Fiji became the first Pacific Island country to mark IDAHOT with a panel discussion at USP, organised by the School of Government, Development and International Affairs (SGDIA), the School of Language, Arts and Media (SLAM) and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN). At the first event, over 180 people filled the AUSAID Performance Space, with many more standing outside for the 3-hour event.
A year later, police cancelled a permit for a solidarity march citing ‘miscommunication’. Then-Police Commissioner Brigadier General Ioane Naivalurua said in statement, “Recent media attention towards the group’s decision to hold a march today has influenced my decision to cancel the permit.” Despite this, 140 people filled USP’s Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies for another panel discussion on the theme “Fighting homo/transphobia IN and THROUGH education”.
2013 saw the Drodrolagi Movement mark IDAHOT with a week-long event including rainbow-chalking events around Suva, a peace virgil and a Pride party.
Last year, all IDAHOT-related events in the country centered on freedom of expression. 28 participants including rural women leaders, members from Oceania Pride, Haus of Khameleon and the Rainbow Women’s Network came together for FemLINK’s special radio programme, “Rainbow Connections”, produced and hosted by SOGI activists.
This year, members of the LGBTIQ community will come together at USP’s AUSAID Performance Space on May 21 to express themselves through creative means – stories, poems, skits, song, dance etc.
Thinking about IDAHOT, let’s reflect on the challenges we present to the LGBT community.
Earlier this month, someone shared a video on Facebook showing a drunk man verbally, then physically abusing a transgender woman.
The video has since been shared 1092 times and has 38,519 views. If you watch the video, you can clearly hear the person recording laughing. It’s caused a bit of an uproar on the Letters to the Editor Uncensored Facebook page.
There were a lot of emotions going through me as I tried to wrap my head around that video.
Anger. Intense hatred. Sadness. And just the overwhelming sense of helplessness.
My journalism lecturer has the idea that Fijians are respectful people. And to some extent, we are.
We will welcome you into our homes. We will give without hesitation even when there’s not much to give. Despite our Melanesian temper, we try our best not to raise our voices and we will apologise instantly when we have wronged someone.
As respectful as he thinks we are, we do not appear to be tolerant people.
There exists, in this tiny country, a general culture of violence. We were smacked (putting it politely) senseless growing up to enforce some sort of discipline. Then we perpetuate the cycle of violence by posting up sh*t like this on social media and encouraging the buturaki of people who are different.
I’m not saying we should keep this hidden behind our red door of shame. Acknowledge the problem. By all means, it’s time to have a damn conversation about violence and bullying. If the comments on the LEU page are anything to go by, then there are signs of change. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable situation to watch people getting beaten to a pulp. And yes, homosexuality and being transgender goes against culture and religion (at least, for Christians and I’m not entirely sure about culture, but hey, in iTaukei circles, you can’t separate culture from religion). But I’m pretty sure Jesus loved the outcasts at a time when it wasn’t socially acceptable. So if He could, why can’t we?
*buturaki – premeditated beating
SOGI – Sexual orientation and gender identity