05/17/2012 04:07 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia: A Call to Consciousness

Today, May 17, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, also known around the world as IDAHO. It is also a call to consciousness. In commemoration of the May 17, 1992 decision by the World Health Organization to de-pathologize homosexuality, IDAHO has worked for the last seven years, since the day officially began, to help support the efforts of individuals who are entrenched in spaces that do not allow them to be all of who they are. As 76 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality, as hundreds of transgender individuals continue to be murdered every year, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals are continually harassed and denied their basic human freedoms, this day seeks globally to end stigma and discrimination toward gender and sexual minorities.

Tens of thousands of activists in over 90 countries around the world now use the day to promote the awareness and support of gender and sexual minorities. Events and activities have been planned to bring about a collective consciousness to these issues and encourage policy makers, the media, religious leaders, and other stakeholders to discuss the human rights and dignity of those who are made different and ostracized from their communities simply because of their gender identity and or sexual orientation. IDAHO is officially recognized by several governments and has been endorsed by global leaders of all varieties, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Lady Gaga, Ricky Martin, and many others, too numerous to count.

With heightened urgency surrounding the need to ensure that young LGBTI community members around the world are treated with equality and respect for who they are, the IDAHO Committee, along with international and national partners, has developed the IDAHO Lesson to serve as one of the themes that activists can adopt for this year's IDAHO. The IDAHO Lesson asks students, teachers and administrators around the world to come together and identify strategies for how to improve the lives of every student in every school throughout the world when it comes to providing a safe space where all children, regardless of their identity, can learn.

The IDAHO committee has seen a tremendous response from activists and organizations globally who are launching a host of education-themed initiatives and campaigns aimed at stamping out bullying and harassment in schools everywhere. Students, along with their educators, are having conversations about how they can make their schools safer and what can tangibly be done in the next few years to ensure that young people everywhere are not discriminated against based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. These tangible steps include setting goals for the upcoming year and placing achievable benchmarks for their communities to prioritize and achieve to demonstrate that progress has been made.

The IDAHO Lesson and other thematic components that address occurrences of homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, lesbophobia, and general stigma and discrimination towards gender and sexual minorities are taking place throughout the world on this day and throughout the week. From community forums and discussions in Burma and Serbia, to week-long special events and human-rights trainings in Bolivia and the Philippines, to workshops in Cameroon and Hungary, to the release of major reports on homophobia and transphobia in Kenya and Mexico, to dance performances in Botswana and the U.K., to webcasts in Canada and China, to vigils and prayers held in the U.S. and Uganda, to community forums in Chile and Fiji, activists and organizations throughout the world have become passionate about what IDAHO means to them.

To an average person this may seem like just another rally or protest, but to many of these activists, especially those who live in entrenched spaces where their very lives are still stigmatized, the actions they will take today represent their life's work. As in years past, many activists may be beaten and thrown into prisons by police. Many may face organized groups of individuals, such as neo-Nazis or ultraconservative religious groups, who aim to physically and psychologically demean and demote their activities. Many may face political and spiritual leaders who denounce their existence. But because of the actions of these activists, many more people's lives will be touched by the stories of love and hope that these activists seek to promote. Many will go to bed thinking differently than they did the day before about a group of people they once marginalized. And many will walk arm-in-arm with their loved ones knowing, if even for just one day, if even for just one moment, that their love is validated as beautiful and that their greatest presentation of self can be touched by the rays of the sun.

These agents of change have come to recognize their intrinsic worth as fellow human beings and seek to find love and support in their local communities for the whole of who they are, including but not limited to the acknowledgment of their fundamental human freedoms and rights that all people, everywhere, are afforded as living, breathing entities roaming our shared Earth. They yearn to be freed from the spaces that place limits on their full humanity and seek to encourage a deeper, more fundamental understanding of the people they are and the lives they lead. They seek to shape and shift their societies and cultures away from spaces that exist in a fear of the unknown or other to a space of love for one's fellow human beings.

Thus, today, May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, is not just a day when activists gather to address profound disappointment in the dismissal of their and others' humanity, but a global call to consciousness from an amalgamation of people who want to be seen, heard, and recognized for the vibrant essence that they bring to the forefront of our shared human condition.

They ask themselves and others every day: What is love? What does it mean to care for and embrace another's human existence? What does it mean to know one's deepest and greatest self? What does it mean to express who one is in a world that would quite literally kill someone for having done so? They pose the question to all individuals: Who is it that we can be if we allow ourselves to trust the essence that makes us who we are? What can we accomplish if we allow ourselves to believe in and trust our relationships with others? This is the beauty and brilliance that is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and it is this day that brings life and consciousness to a subject that too many around the world regard as perverse and taboo.

Consciously consider for the rest of your day the life of a Ugandan gay man who, in a few months, could be thrown into prison for simply being himself. Consider a Honduran transgender woman whose daily struggle is walking home from work as all of who she is, because doing so could cost her her life. Consider the Filipino bisexual student who is challenged repeatedly by classmates, co-workers, friends, and family because he does not feel it necessary to base his romantic feelings toward a person whom he loves on their sex or gender and is therefore teased and tormented for allowing himself to experience love more openly. Consider the Indian intersex (hijra) person who is born into a society that both embraces their third sex as a ceremonial idol for significant baptismal moments and yet shuns them into the dark recesses of that same society, forcing them into such things as sex work and solicitations for their most basic of needs. Consider the South African lesbian who hears reported on her local news that she may be targeted by family and friends with corrective rape because they assume that she just hasn't found the right man yet and should know what it feels like, even if by force. And consider the millions of individuals around the world who identify as LGBTI and the discrimination and prejudice they continually face in their day-to-day lives.

Now consider consciously, from wherever in the world you may be, how you can contribute to the growing awareness that is brought about by the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. How can knowing the realities of these populations enlighten your personal understanding of one's shared humanity? How can shifting away from one's isolated reality and geographically, culturally fixed identities surrounding sex, gender, and orientation and shifting toward a holistic and comprehensive understanding of one's greater human capacities alongside an internationally diverse realm of personally and communally lived experiences broaden all our lives and enrich every single person on this planet?

How can the bravery of a Ugandan gay man challenging a governmental attempt to condemn him and his love inspire you? How can the courageous and full expression of a Honduran transgender woman on her daily walk home enlighten your vision of what it means to accept and embrace your whole self? How can the capacity felt by a bisexual Filipino man to love the whole of a person, regardless of their gender identity or sex, deepen our own conceptualizations of what love is and ought to be? How can the expanded notion of family and community experienced by Indian hijras with one another after being rejected by their families help others to better support those who have been pushed away from their own families and communities? How can the single choice of a South African lesbian to get up every day and proudly live her life in the face of violent threats against her challenge us to live our own lives with such intention?

How can the social movements of these activists from around the world, and the actions they have taken today and throughout the year, defending their most basic human rights, help us refine our own movements toward equality, freedom, and justice? How can being conscious of the true, interconnected space that the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia provides, and the actions taken by activists around the world, spark in you, your organization, or your community the same desire to promote tolerance, acceptance, and love of all people?

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and this is a call to consciousness. With this consciousness, consider finding ways to both learn from and support activists and organizations around the world -- with your time, your resources, your awareness. The commemorative day and others like it will continually call for the end of violence, discrimination, stigma, and prejudice toward gender and sexual minorities around the world and seeks out the full recognition, love, and awareness of the incredibly diverse and unique human spirit that lives in all of us, including our gender-nonconforming, same-sex-loving sisters, brothers, and others.

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