International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia should explicitly recognise the challenges faced by lesbians, says DIVA publisher Linda Riley
BY LINDA RILEY
This week has seen an incredibly successful Lesbian Visibility Week. In what is only our second year, we’ve seen support from partners such as Stonewall, GLAAD, Mermaids, AKT, Diversity Role Models and many other LGBTQI charities, as well as organisations and individuals who have marked the week globally both on and offline.
Given the success of the week, and the conversations it has started, there could not be a more appropriate time to call upon the organisers of IDAHOBIT – the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia on 17 May – to add an “L” to their acronym, transforming IDAHOBIT to IDAHOBLIT.
In 2005, the very first IDAHO as it was then known – the International Day Against Homophobia – was commemorated. This followed a vigorous and impressive year-long campaign at a time when social media didn’t exist, making it much more difficult to reach large numbers of people.
The lack of any meaningful mass social media makes it even more laudable that the campaign gathered support from influential worldwide bodies including the International Lesbian and Gay Association, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Right Commission, the World Congress of LGBT Jews and the Coalition of African Lesbians.
Most of these groups explicitly reference lesbians in their titles, and for good reason. Lesbians are, and have always been, central to the fight for equality and this should be recognised. Cisgender lesbians, alongside our trans siblings, were at the forefront of the Stonewall uprising in America, the anti-Section 28 protests in Britain and the campaigns that sought to ensure that people with Aids, chiefly our gay male brothers, were treated with dignity and decency when they were shunned by much of society. Since its foundation in 1989, three of the five CEOs of Stonewall, including current boss Nancy Kelley, have been out and proud lesbians. But still, too often, our LGBTQI organisations are led by men.
Four years after its foundation, in 2009, IDAHO acknowledged trans people as part of their family and so IDAHO became IDAHOT. Then, six years after that, bisexual people were included and IDAHOBIT was born (the “I” doesn’t stand for anything – it just makes the word easier to say). But a full 16 years after the foundation of the original IDAHO, we are yet to see the acknowledgment of lesbians as people with a distinct identity who are worthy of inclusion in the acronym. This, sadly, is all too reminiscent of history’s continued marginalisation of lesbians, the best known example perhaps being that Queen Victoria apparently couldn’t get her head round the fact that lesbians even existed…
Those who say that lesbophobia is, by definition, a subset of homophobia are effectively claiming that lesbians are a subset of gay men. This may be unintentional but, intentional or not, it is clearly unacceptable because the experience of lesbians, while it has much in common with that of gay men, is also quite distinct. Lesbians suffer at the hands of the toxic combination of homophobia and misogyny. In practice, this means our sex lives fetishised by the straight male gaze, and physically assaulted for failing to “perform” in front of a baying crowd of young heterosexual men.
The point of Lesbian Visibility Week isn’t to take away from the experiences of gay men, for example, but to highlight that we have different experiences of oppression depending on our identities under the LGBTQI umbrella. We can highlight the specific issues faced by lesbians while also showing solidarity with others in our community. For me, inclusivity is at the heart of LVW and asking to be specifically included in a new IDAHOBLIT acronym as people with a separate identity, rather than as an adjunct to gay men, does not seem too much to ask.
Enough is enough. While I am a committed supporter of IDAHOT and all that it stands for; all I ask the that the “L” be included so that lesbians are clearly visible as a part of the LGBTQI community. The transformations from IDAHO to IDAHOT and then to IDAHOBIT were accomplished quite easily with little fuss and almost no dissent. It’s now time for IDAHOBIT to morph into IDAHOBLIT and give women who love women the recognition and respect we deserve.
DIVA magazine celebrates 27 years in print in 2021. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQI media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable.