From Sarah, a Policy Officer at DHSC.

Wave your rainbow flag high! 17 May is (by coincidence the 17th) International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT)

The date commemorates the World Health Organisation’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on 17 May 1990. Darkly amusing fact: in 1979, many Swedish people called in sick with a ‘case of being homosexual’, in protest of its classification as an illness.

IDAHOBIT serves as an important annual reminder that there’s still a very mixed picture of progress made in the global fight for LGBT+ equality. For example, it’s still illegal to be gay in at least 71 countries.

I often hear people question the need for days such as IDAHOBIT in places such as the UK when (they say) equal rights have been won. However, legal progress is no guarantee of social progress: prejudice, bullying, discrimination and violence against LGBT+ people persists despite legal protections.

It’s also important to stress that LGBT+ discrimination doesn’t just include things like being ineligible for joining the army because of your gender identity, or being attacked because of your sexuality. It also includes more subtle behaviours.

As a gay person, I’ve had experience of this first-hand. Being stared at for holding hands with a partner, for example, made a small action others take for granted something quite uncomfortable. Being assumed to have a partner of a different sex has forced me into either ‘outing’ myself, or continuing in a conversation where my identity is erased.

Growing up, nothing under the LGBT+ umbrella was mentioned at home, in the media, or at school. Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act prohibited the so-called ‘promotion of homosexuality’ and ‘teaching of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’ in local authority schools. This is another kind of discrimination: the denial of the right to talk about your identity or to find someone to relate to.

Although Section 28 was abolished in 2003, this came too late for me. I remember one teacher telling me not to say any more, as it ‘might get her in trouble’, when I mustered the courage to speak to her about my sexuality.

This paled in comparison to the extremely hostile reaction I had from my parents though, which made my home life extremely difficult before going away to university. Because of this, I’ve been conscious throughout the pandemic of the hostility young people locked down with unaccepting families might be experiencing.

A lot has changed in the UK in the last two decades. There have been many legal reforms, and it’s increasingly socially unacceptable – although not everywhere – to be homophobic, biphobic and transphobic. I know that while I was thrown out of bars for kissing someone in my teens, this would be less likely to happen now!

However, we should bear some things in mind. Firstly, even if discriminatory behaviour goes away, experiences of it have long-lasting effects.

Secondly, laws can come and go according to the agendas of different administrations; rights are still there to be fought for and won overseas; and sexual and gender minorities are still suffering – even here.

While celebrating how far we’ve come, then, IDAHOBIT should also remind us how far we still have to go.

What can you do to help?

Small words and actions can make a big difference to the wellbeing of others. To show solidarity and encourage inclusivity you could:

  • Consider including your pronouns in your email signature
  • Use more inclusive language, such as saying ‘welcome all’ to mixed gender groups rather than ‘welcome ladies and gentlemen’, and avoid making assumptions about someone’s gender identity or sexuality