None of us are free until LGBTQ+ people are

Until 1990, homosexuality was still present on the International List of Diseases of the WHO, which is why today we celebrate International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

It was on May 17, 1990 that homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Mental Diseases. This was a stepping stone towards deconstructing the idea of desirable sexual behaviour and gender identity that patriarchal power tried to impose in its history of oppression. Looking now, 23 years later, what has changed?

“I’d rather you were pregnant,” said a mother to her daughter at the end of the 20th century upon discovering she was in a relationship with a woman at the age of 19. Homophobia begins at home, in the family, in the deepest roots of human relations and the history of our civilisation. But all of that is transmitted through the discursive power of patriarchal oligarchy that persists for centuries. 

In the Global North especially, the cisgender heteronormative family has been promoted as a model of stability for society: the supposed immediate guarantee for procreation in the largest section of the population and the predictability of social organisation from this family model, created rigid “moral” structures, which were then replicated as the only model officially accepted among different governments and religions, with their various characteristics. 

With the arrival of the various revolutions that led to the liberalisation of customs in Global North societies, there were numerous examples of public figures who expressed their homosexuality – and who were often marginalised because of that – but who contributed to a growing acceptance of sexual orientation, making it increasingly possible in our societies, despite all the discrimination and homophobia that still persists today, as for example with young people who feel obliged to hide their sexual orientation from their families until they succeed in gaining independence, and who in the process have traumatic experiences, repressing their needs and putting their mental health at risk for the rest of their lives. 

Until 1990, in the middle of so-called Western democracies, homosexuality was still present on the International List of Diseases of the World Health Organisation, and that is why today we celebrate on May 17 the achievement of the statement that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people 1. are not a mentally ill, 2. are not immoral and 3. are just having a characteristic of their gender identity or sexual orientation, for which they should not in any way be discriminated against, but rather celebrated as part of human diversity.

However, it was not the creation of this commemorative date, which besides homophobia today includes biphobia (discrimination against bisexual people) and transphobia (discrimination against transgender people) that diminished the discrimination so deeply rooted in our society and which serves so well the capitalist interests, with the maintenance of a stable, predictable and reproductive society, which supposedly feeds the system in what oligarchy portrays as the “natural” way. It was the people who subjected themselves to discrimination but who came out to their families, friends, work colleagues and public. It was the civic movements of liberation that sprang up across all of the world. 

So, we have bad news for the defenders of the status quo: cisgender heteronormative families are not synonymous with stability or predictability; homosexual, bisexual and transgender individuals or families should freely live out their right to procreate; and any act of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity needs to be punished by law. 

A lot of EU countries sell the image of fair and just laws, but even there, trans people still have to undergo sterilisation before transition, which is, to say the least, horrific deprivation of human rights. Moreover, these countries even fail to implement the laws that are okay, and most importantly they have zero interest in destroying patriarchal capitalism which creates this societal structure based on hierarchies, hate and discrimination of others. 

Gay, bisexual, transgender people and other minorities tremendously suffer from this, which results in devastating statistics: the suicide attempt rate among transgender persons ranges from 32 to 50 percent across the countries. All of this is because of their surroundings that don’t let them live freely.

While some countries in the EU made some steps at least to pinkwash their way into politics, there are exceptions that are not even trying. The EU that has little power to enforce its own so-called constitutional principles, and closes its eyes to member countries that still today practice policies of active discrimination against homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender people, such as Poland, where anti-LGBT zones have been created in the name of a “moral non-corruption of children”, or Hungary where the rights, for example the right to spread information about LGBT rights, fundamental for the non-stigmatisation of LGBT communities, was limited in 2021.

These two countries are just two examples of the practices, with assumed policies or not, that exist in several countries against the freedom to live one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, which continues to be seen as a deviation from a standard (which doesn’t exist), a behaviour that is possible to “correct”, a choice that can be changed with a kind of intellectual, religious or moral persuasion. Apparently, we are not that far away from the 1990s and it seems that in these 23 years, despite more and more people embracing their sexual orientation and gender identity, and having more tools to fight discrimination in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the installed power structures maintain the cisgender nuclear family as a desirable model. 

On this International Day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, we wish that all people, everywhere in Europe and on the planet, can express their sexual orientation and gender identity in complete freedom and without any discrimination; that they can identify it from an early age – because they have access to information – and that they don’t feel any pressure to hide it; that they can assume their sexual orientation and gender identity at home, at school, at work, in the street, without restrictions. That they can be truly free.

Therefore, it is clear: we need to recreate this system for all of us. One based on solidarity, instead of bigotry; and one based on cooperation, instead of competition. Societal progress is measured by the quality life of the most unprivileged individuals. One struggle – one fight, until all of us are free.

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