My LGBTQI wishlist

14 September 2017 10:46 am

By Sen Raj (@senthorun), Amnesty International Australia, LGBTQI Spokesperson

Amnesty International Australia’s LGBTQI Spokesperson Sen Raj reveals his wishlist of things he’d like to see happen this year for the LGBTQI community.

1. Understand the acronym

No, it’s not an “alphabet soup”. No, you do not require a degree in cultural studies to understand it. It’s pretty simple: LGBTQI stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex. You can add a Q for “questioning”. Or, an A for “asexuality”.

In some parts of the world, Indigenous terms, such as “Two-Spirit” in the US, have been incorporated to reflect a specific cultural group. There is no one universal acronym that people subscribe to. Orientations, behaviours, and identities do not always fall into a fixed alignment.

Call me the PC Police if you like, but putting in some effort to understand a few extra words aside from “gay” is really not a marathon intellectual exercise.

2. Challenge assumptions

We like to put people into categories. Not everyone identifies as gay or straight. A few years ago, I was attending an event and was asked, “Will your wife be attending?” I responded, “Considering I am both gay and single, I was surprised to learn I had a wife.”

That may seem like a curt reply. But, when you are pressed into a world that assumes (and demands) heterosexuality, it can be wearing to have to constantly “out” yourself in an attempt to correct assumptions.

3. Recognise that marriage equality is not everything

In many Australian states, changing your legally assigned gender requires costly and invasive surgeries. Intersex infants are still routinely subject to brutal medical procedures. Queer kids face alarmingly high rates of self-harm and suicide. Exceptions to anti-discrimination laws enable private schools or religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We send asylum seekers who arrive by boat to places that criminalise homosexuality.

Relationship equality is important but we must not be seduced into thinking one act of law reform alone will provide a panacea to entrenched homophobia and transphobia in our communities.

4. Display your symbols

I am thoroughly obsessed with rainbows and glitter. For those who have participated in or watched the Mardi Gras, you know that I am not unique in that respect.

Sometimes, all it takes to make someone feel a little more at ease is the rainbow flag displayed on a door. Sometimes it’s the poster on the wall of a classroom or an office that calls out phrases like “that’s so gay”. Other times, it is the sticker on the toilet door which says “I’m here to pee: not to be gender stereotyped”.

Creating safer spaces is challenging. But, symbols can foster a sense of belonging.

5. Show solidarity by confronting bigotry

Solidarity is not simple. Many countries criminalise homosexuality and gender non-conforming behaviour. Although we have every right to be critical of that behaviour, calling people in Uganda “savages” because of the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, is an act of racism not solidarity.

Demonising an entire population also glosses over the fact that a) criminalising homosexuality was a colonial act; and b) missionaries from so-called “progressive” countries like the US were instrumental in shaping the proposed punitive laws.

Solidarity begins by challenging our own prejudices.

6. Build a community

Social justice movements must reach broad audiences in order to be effective.

Building a community can be as simple as inviting friends over to write letters of support to LGBTIQ activists working in other countries or starting an ally network at university or even holding a dance party. As Mardi Gras reminds us, parties can be very political too.

My best advice? Open up to possibilities, challenge yourself further, and have some fun. The rest will follow.

Originally published in Amnesty International Australia blog.