May 17: A Brief History


Maisha Islam Monamee


Each year, May 17 is worldwide celebrated as International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia intending to coordinate international events that raise awareness about LGBT rights violations and garner support for LGBT rights. The founders of International Day Against Homophobia, as it was originally known, established the IDAHO Committee in order to coordinate grass-root level actions across the globe, to promote the day and lobby for official recognition. That date was further chosen to mark the decision to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1990.

The day witnesses some of the biggest celebrations in Europe and Latin America, where it is marked with public events. It is also celebrated in several other countries across the world where same-sex relationships are criminalised. These celebrations generally include mass street marches, parades and festivals. For example, in Cuba, Mariela Castro has led out a huge street parade in honour of May 17 for the past 3 years while in Chile, almost 50,000 people came down on the streets to mark May 17 in 2013.

The role of art in shouting for the rights of marginalised communities has always been a thing as Bangladeshi activists organised a music festival ‘Love Music Hate Homophobia’ in the year 2013. Albanian LGBT activists have been organising an annual Bike Ride through the streets of the capital Tirana to observe the day. In 2013, the day’s Committee called for international actions for a Global Rainbow Flashmob to mark the day. Activists in 100 cities from 50 countries participated with diverse public events spanning coloured balloon releases, dance flash mobs, musical events, performance and street art. The day has been quite successful in leaving behind a deep impact as on May 17, 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legally recognise same-sex marriage.

Violence against these communities always trace back to one word – phobia. With an aim of eradicating this fear clinching these communities, May 17 is now celebrated in many countries including Bangladesh, where the youth are voicing their concerns for a more accepting society. Young organisations are working for the welfare of these communities and people are growing to be more compassionate and empathetic. Things are still wrong but at the end, we cannot magically correct everything. It would take time and we can always hope for a faster recovery from this mentality. Here’s a list of achievements by the LGTBQ communities to brighten up that ray of hope.

1924 – The Society for Human Rights is founded by Henry Gerber in Chicago. It is the first documented gay rights organisation.

1961 – Illinois becomes the first state to decriminalise homosexuality.

1973 – Homosexuality is no longer declared a mental illness.

2005 – The California legislature becomes the first to pass a bill allowing marriage between same-sex couples.

2015 – President Obama acknowledges the LGTBQ community in the State of the Union address.

2015 – The Supreme Court finally and officially declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right nationwide.

2016 – The Obama administration publicly supports transgender students.

2018 – LGBTQ candidates sweep the midterm elections.

That’s not all in 2019, the transgender community in Bangladesh got their voting rights and the first trans Councilor of the country was elected.

With that, we have ample reasons to remorse the current situation, but a few to be glad as well.

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