Monday, 26 May 2014

IDAHOT 2014 - International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Newcastle event

Last Saturday was IDAHOT, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  A day to stand in solidarity with all those around the world who suffer mistreatment through homophobia or transphobia, whether socially or legally.  It's taken me a while to write about it.  Then again I've still got to write about the May Day march that happened weeks ago.  I'm a bad blogger!

There was an event organised in Newcastle.  Two years ago this took place at the Monument.  This year it was more out of the way, outside the Civic Centre.  I don't know if that was by choice or because the main city centre was having a busy day with a march by the English Defence League, a counter protest by groups including the Anti-Fascism League, and the Orange Order picked the same day to march through the city as well.  Unfortunately the one thing the Civic Centre lacks on a Saturday lunchtime is passers by so the event was preaching just to the gathered crowd, all of whom knew much of what is going on round the world, all of whom were firmly against homophobia and transphobia, and most of whom were somewhere within the LGBT communities.

The event began with the ceremonial raising of the gay pride rainbow flag.  It's an amazing thing that such a flag can fly at Newcastle Civic Centre.  It would have been unheard of here in the past.  And in many nations around the world such an act would be illegal, punishable by imprisonment or hard labour rather than arranged hand-in-hand with the city council.

The rainbow flag flies in Newcastle.
Our host for the event was our very own Rev. Cecilia Eggleston of MCC (Metropolitan Community Church).

I was talking at the event with an atheist.  He said he loves and admires Cecilia greatly and that if he was a Christian then she is the sort of Christian he'd want to be.  Many people - whether atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Christian or whatever - would share that view.

It is sad that even in the UK there is still a place for MCC to be what it is and that in other nations that place is more urgent.  Then again in many so-called Christian nations such a church would be illegal.

The first MCC began because there was no place that gay Christians could worship without being told that their sexuality was sin.  It is shameful that even today, in the UK, many churches still preach the same thing.  I look forward to a day when no church, beyond a few fringe elements, preaches against those who are gay or trans and that we'll think of such preaching much as we think of that preaching in the past that claimed that black people were cursed - because Noah cursed them.  We'll look back and wonder how Christians could have been so stupid, arrogant, judgemental and hateful.  That time has not come yet.  As it approaches then the reason MCC exists round the world will cease to be a reason to exist.  I'm sure it will continue to adapt and continue to preach, as the T-shirt proclaims, "God loves LGBT" and indeed that God loves all people.

Three speakers spoke at the event.  The first was Tara Stone, chair of Tyne Trans, the local support group for Transgender people.  Some people need a lot of support, some very little.  Tara works hard for the group and for acceptance of all transgender people.  Her vision, in part, is for a society where everyone can be who they are and what they are, without fear of persecution or abuse by individuals or media - with the usual provisos of course of being who you are based on love and respect.

It's a message of living, of being, of doing.  It's a message of freedom and even in the UK it needs saying because so many gay and trans people are afraid to be openly who they are and hide in shadows.

There are challenges in this of course.  To be openly transgender, especially if you're not cis-normative can be hard and I do find that trans people can be judged on a harsher scale than cis people, even by those who are our allies.  If a cis woman has a "bad clothes day" it can pass without comment.  If a trans woman does the same she will be criticised.  If a trans woman doesn't look enough like someone's picture of "a woman" then she is criticised.  If a trans man doesn't look like "a man" the same happens.  And if you're trans and don't really identify as "man" or "woman" and live as yourself then people can make things difficult for you - even people who are LGB.

And this photo shows another problem trans people have:

LGB people forget us.  Frequently.  In Newcastle we celebrate IDAHOT.  Here's a big UK poster from UNISON, advertising the website IDAHO.  Other sites are named "dayagainsthomophobia" and so on.

So often trans people are forgotten and LGB people fight for their own rights and leave us out - sometimes even actively standing against trans people.

This needs to change.
Our second speaker was Abraham, representing Rainbow Homes, an organisation for LGBT asylum seekers, many of whom have had quite horrific experiences in their countries of origin.  Some of them can show you the marks of torture they have received for being gay.  27% of votes in the UK European Election last week went to a party that wouldn't want to let these people into Britain.  But they are real people, with real stories of terror and suffering.  They are not demons - whatever newspapers and politicians repeatedly tell us.

Abraham spoke about Africa which he called the most homophobic continent and the lives of LGBT people in the 20-something nations there were being gay is a crime.

Also from Africa we had the FODI African drummers performing and supporting us.

Our final speaker was Janet, who works for an LGBT organisation in the city.  She spoke mainly about life in Russia.  Its anti-gay policies were much in the news during the Winter Olympics.  The media have gone.  The policies remain and life is getting harder for gay and trans people
To follow our speakers we made a noise.  A minute of noise.  Loud noise.  We did it not for ourselves but for those across the world who could not do what we have done.

In 81 countries, same-sex relationships are illegal.  In 10 countries the death penalty applies.  This represents 40% of the world's population.
70% of people live somewhere where freedom of expression is limited for sexuality and/or gender.  They couldn't gather peacefully as we gathered.  They couldn't speak out.  They couldn't be sanctioned by the Council to raise the flag, watched by one friendly policeman from a force with LGBT liaison officers working against any hate crimes.

So we made a noise for those people who cannot make a noise.  We made a noise, a cry for justice.  For freedom.  For people to be allowed to be people.

And then there was cake.  Tasty cake.

There are better photos of the cake - and indeed better photos of the whole event - by a Newcastle media project called "Look Again".  They can be found on their facebook page.  There's also a 25 minute interview with Cecilia that they did a couple of weeks ago when visiting and filming at MCC.

Cake.  Always a good way to finish any event.

We were fortunate.  The weather was warm.  The sun shone.  Apparently it poured with rain two years ago at Monument.  And a passer-by called Cecilia the daughter of the Devil.  I'm sure there are plenty of Christians who would agree with that.  But like Jesus, Cecilia is more the friend of sinners than the friend of the self-righteous judges.

And people came and said hello.  People from the trans group.  People from MCC.  A couple of Green Party activists I'd met briefly at the start of the month - after the May Day march mentioned at the beginning.  And a woman I completely failed to recognise who I'd met once at the Unitarian church which I really should pay another visit to sometime. 

A good day.  A peaceful celebration.  And thankfully the marches and protests and parades elsewhere in the city remained peaceful - thanks in part to the large police presence.  We had one policeman.  The EDL had rather more!

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