The International Day Against Homophobia (or IDAHO, as it is sometimes known) is celebrated around the world on Sunday, May 17. This annual day to mark the fight to make our society inclusive of all sexualities was founded in Montreal in 2003 by the human rights group Fondation Émergence. It was quickly embraced across Canada, and then internationally.
But the public acceptance of a day of action is certainly not the same thing as an acceptance of the equality of the LGBT communities (self-identifying Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and
Transgendered persons). Around the world, people who identify themselves as LGBT are still ostracized, the victims of hate crimes, and the targets of systemic repression. This is unacceptable, and we join in the cause of making homophobia a thing of the past.
What makes this a union issue? Like all human rights issues, the struggle to end homophobia is part of the overall struggle for the simple respect and dignity to which every human being should be entitled. Our job as a union, as an agency for social justice, is to ensure that our members – all our members – are afforded the same rights, respect, and dignity as their co-workers in the workplace, and the same rights, respect, and dignity as their neighbours. Moreover, as trade unionists, we seek to better all of society, and that means ensuring that those marginalized by the irrational fears and hatred of homophobia can take up their rightful roles in the workplace and in the community.
The official theme of this year’s International Day Against Homophobia is “Homosexuality Knows No Borders.” It can be equally argued that homophobia knows no borders. There are parts of the world where alternative sexualities are not only banned, but their very existence is denied. May 17 was not chosen for this day of action and education simply by accident – it is the date in 1981 on which the World Health Organization (WHO) finally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
We are no longer in denial. In Canada, homosexual marriage and the rights of such a union are accepted facts. But that doesn’t carve it in stone – judicial recognition of what is fundamentally right can still be overturned. It happened in California last year when the courts ruled same-sex marriage was a constitutional right, but voters were spurred by right-wing extremists to overturn that right in November. Extremist campaigns in several other states are, to this day, endangering hard-won victories in the U.S., and stirring hatred in their wake.
Judicial victories are important, but they are not enough. Education is the answer. Once the fearmongers have been answered with logic and the truth, LGBT rights, just like all human rights, can be an accepted part of society. Imagine a world in which “homophobia” is a word without meaning.
In recognition of the 2009 International Day Against Homophobia, UFCW Canada has issued an awareness-raising workplace poster (pictured above) featuring the colours of the rainbow Pride flag, with the simple message, Building Union Pride. Bilingual copies have been mailed to all local unions for distribution, and it can be downloaded. Printed copies are also available from the National Office on request.