Today, May 17, is widely recognised and celebrated as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
The date is significant because, on this day 29 years ago, homosexuality was finally removed from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of mental disorders.
No, you didn’t read that wrong. Just three decades ago, homosexuality was classified as a disease and a mental handicap, signifying the struggles LGBTQ+ people have faced – and continue to face – on a daily basis.
Thankfully, and quite rightly, things have improved since 1990; homosexuality is no longer classified as a disease, Pride festivals are held all over the world in support of gay rights, and same-sex marriage is legal across many countries.
Regardless, in no way are things perfect. Yes, things have improved over the past few decades but they haven’t improved so much that we no longer need to have a day dedicated to countering homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia.
With homosexuality still criminalised in certain countries around the globe – even being punishable by death in some – and with LGBTQ+ people still afraid to come out to their families, it’s clear that homophobia is still very much an issue in 2019.
So much so that members of the LGBTQ+ community can’t walk down the street without fear of being verbally or physically attacked by passersby just because of who they are, the way they look, or the way they dress.
A survey of 108,000 people in the UK – making it the largest national survey of LGBTQ+ people in the world to date – found more than two thirds of respondents said they had avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner because they were scared of a negative reaction from others.
Two thirds. Two thirds of 108,000 people feared holding their other half’s hand because of the way others could react. More than 72,000 people – and that’s only counting those who actually responded to the survey. In real life, that number will be a lot bigger.
The fact it’s 2019 and two people can’t even hold hands without fearing unjust consequences is the devastating reality LGBTQ+ people face on a daily basis. They should have the same rights as any other person in the world not just on paper alone, and yet in reality they don’t.
Why should the ignorance, or prejudice, of a small minority mean two people can’t express their love for one another the same as a typical heterosexual couple? Why should this have to be the reality for thousands of people each day?
The survey also found LGBTQ+ respondents were less satisfied with their life than the general UK population, rating on average 6.5 out of 10 for satisfaction compared with 7.7 out of 10. Trans respondents had particularly low scores, rating on average 5.4 out of 10.
Furthermore, in the 12 months before the survey, at least two in five respondents had experienced an incident such as verbal harassment or physical violence because they were LGBTQ+.
This isn’t okay. It’s all well and good saying LGBTQ+ rights have improved in recent years, but what good is it if people are still getting harassed and even attacked just for being themselves?
UNILAD spoke with Jay Kamiraz, a judge on BBC’s All Together Now, about the journey he’s been on since coming out to his parents as a teenager, and the homophobic abuse faced at just 17 years old.
Upon finding out their son was gay, Jay’s parents disowned him because – in his words – ‘I come from a community where being gay is frowned upon’.
Then at 17, when the BBC star was signed to a record label and his career was just about to take off, he was the victim of a horrific homophobic attack that left him in hospital fighting for his life.
As he was walking down the street, Jay was targeted by a group of seven men who attacked and left him with critical injuries.
Jay told UNILAD:
I was brutally attacked, totally unprovoked, by seven guys. I think it was just a case of they found out I was gay, and also they didn’t like the fact that I was from that community.
I was left fighting for my life and I was in and out of hospital for over a year. I was brutally attacked to the point of carrying a colostomy bag for a year and four months, that’s how severe it was.
I got out of hospital and I decided that I had to leave. I left the area and had to rebuild my confidence and get myself back on my feet again.
Before reaching his 18th birthday, Jay had to be fitted with a colostomy bag for more than a year and leave the place he called home – all because other people couldn’t accept him for who he is.
Jay left his hometown but had nowhere to stay, becoming homeless for a short period of time, having to find temporary shelter on public streets.
Luckily, he was able to contact the LGBT Switchboard who helped him get in touch with a key worker, and Jay has gone from strength to strength – even forming a relationship with his parents again.
Things have changed, things have evolved a lot with my parents. I think back in the day things were a lot harder for them to understand.
It took about 13 years but I’m one of those people that is quite resilient in the sense that, even though I had left the area, I still communicated with them and went round to see them and tried to educate them as much as I possibly could.
So our relationship is a lot better now, I do what I have to do to inspire other young people and I think they’re learning from that as well. My younger sisters and their kids, they’re growing up understanding a lot more, and are more accepting of it as well.
Despite things having changed, Jay says he still experiences homophobia all too frequently – especially since he’s become more androgynous in his style of dress. He says he only has to leave the house to get called names or be treated badly by people.
Online as well, I get subjected to homophobic abuse, which I have to block and not take notice of. But it’s out there, it still exists and hopefully one day we can put a stop to it.
My whole point of being a judge on BBC’s All Together Now is I’m representing diversity and also the LGBTQ+ community and I want to be able to help other young people from a world of diversity understand that, it is okay to be you and not be afraid. Just stand out and speak out.
Regardless of the fact that Jay’s attack happened several years ago now, that doesn’t change the fact that homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic attacks are happening every single day.
How is it fair that someone can be beaten nearly to death and driven out of their home because they’re gay? How is it fair that someone can be made to feel like they’re less than everyone else just because of the way they dress and who they love?
Twenty-nine years after the WHO removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, LGBTQ+ people are still made to feel like they don’t belong on a daily basis. And it’s not okay.
Pragya Pallavi from Mumbai, India, is the country’s first openly gay artist since India’s decriminalisation of same sex relationships in September last year.
Speaking to UNILAD, Pragya explained how she’s been working on her debut album Queerism for nearly three years. As India’s first LGBTQ+ themed album, Pragya explained how important she felt it was to write about her experiences as a queer person for the LGBTQ+ community.
The artist explained:
I think it’s very important to have political content and write about my experiences as a queer person, LGBTQI+ rights and social issues that concern everyone.
Most mainstream music is not dealing with social issues, so I want to be able to use popular music to talk about the big issues as well as everyday situations.
I have tried to make music which makes people feel encouraged, happy, powerful and proud. Connecting people across the world through my music is one of my very important objectives as a music creator and performer.
When she came out in 2011, her family (except her father) refused to speak to her other than to argue. Pragya had to stop eating at her house because it was too distressing for her, and nearly took her things and left at one point.
The artist also experienced homophobia from her friends, most of whom stopped speaking to her altogether when they found out she was a lesbian. As a performer Pragya was no stranger to homophobia, losing gigs when club owners found out about her sexuality.
Pragya told UNILAD:
I started losing gigs in the clubs. The worst part was people used to make stupid comments about my dressing and my hair style. Once, I even overheard someone betting if I was a girl or a boy in a club in Mumbai. I had a very mixed experience, unfortunately, more negative than positive.
In couple of the clubs in Mumbai, the owners asked me to dress more feminine and to act more feminine so that the crowd gets more attracted and buy more drinks during my gigs. Instead of looking at the quality of the gig, they wanted me to pretend to be someone else to get them business.
Pragya has fought hard to get where she is now, but she shouldn’t have had to. Identifying as a gender fluid lesbian shouldn’t mean working 10 times harder than straight people in the same industry.
But the fact that she is India’s first openly gay artist proves exactly what she’s done and shows just how much needs to change for the world to be a truly accepting and diverse place. A person shouldn’t have to hide who they are just because others can’t accept them.
In 2019, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia shouldn’t remain so prominent in every walk of life – and to be honest, I’m horrified it is.
Queerism by Pragya Pallavi is available to buy today, to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia , Biphobia and Transphobia. You can get a copy of it here.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 6pm Saturday, Or email [email protected]
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]