Learning About International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia

Learn about the significance and history of International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

portrait of T.J. Jourian, Ph.D.
by T.J. Jourian, Ph.D.

Published August 26, 2022

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Learning About International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia
Image Credit: GENT SHKULLAKU / Contributor / AFP / Getty Images

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHTB) — observed annually on May 17 — is a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversity. This year's theme was "Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Rights." At a time of so many bills and other efforts to legislate all three in the U.S. and abroad, the theme was timely. Celebrated most consistently across Europe and Latin America, IDAHTB is observed in over 130 countries across all regions, including 37 countries that continue to outlaw same-sex activity.

The History of IDAHTB

Conceptualized in 2004, the May 17 celebration began in 2005. At the time, it was only known as the International Day Against Homophobia or IDAHO. Transphobia was added in 2009 — the same year France became the first country to declassify being transgender as a mental disorder — and biphobia in 2015. The day coincides with May 17, 1990, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Being transgender remained in the WHO books as a mental disorder until May 25, 2019, almost 30 years later.

The founder of IDAHO was Louis-Georges Tin, a Frenchman of Martiniquais descent. He served as the celebration's committee chairperson until 2013 when he was succeeded by Venezuelan trans rights activist, lawyer, and law professor, Tamara Adrián. Adrián later became one of the first trans legislators in Latin America.

What Are Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia?

Homophobia is the range of hostile attitudes and behaviors (such as hatred, prejudice, contempt, discrimination, and violence) toward gay people or those perceived to be gay. Institutionalized homophobia shows up in laws and policies, as well as in some religious settings.

Similarly, biphobia is the range of hostile attitudes and behaviors toward bisexual or bi+ people. Biphobia can also take the form of bisexual erasure and the denial of bisexuality as a legitimate sexual identity. Bi+ people experience biphobia from heterosexual people and institutions as well as from gay and lesbian communities.

Finally, transphobia is the amalgamation of attitudes and behaviors against transgender people and the concept of transness. This can include hatred, anger, discomfort, and violence towards anyone perceived as not conforming to gender expectations. Due to its connection to gender expression, transphobia is often the undercurrent of homophobia. Gender-nonconforming gay and lesbian people are more likely to experience targeted hostility than gender-conforming gay and lesbian people.

Currently, in the U.S., transphobia is most visibly present in the form of violence against transgender women of color and the legislation on trans youth's access to healthcare and participation in sports.

What Is The Purpose of IDAHTB?

IDAHTB's main purpose is to raise global awareness of the violence, discrimination, and oppression of queer and trans communities worldwide. Moving past mere awareness, May 17 is also intended to encourage people to take action and start conversations with policymakers, the media, and the general public.

There is no central committee that organizes the events of IDAHTB. This is to recognize that events need to speak to the particular social, religious, cultural, and political contexts of different countries. Certain events may be deemed appropriate in one nation but seem culturally insensitive in another. Additionally, with different laws and levels of acceptable violence against queer and trans people, events also need to consider participants' safety.

What Happens on May 17?

Due to its decentralized nature, actions vary. They include large-scale marches in the streets, parades, festivals, and arts and culture-based events. For example, Mariela Castro, a well-known activist in Cuba and the niece of Fidel Castro, has led a street parade for the past three years. In 2013, Chile saw over 50,000 people take to the streets for the VIII Santiago Equality March, while Bangladeshi activists organized the "Love Music, Hate Homophobia" festival that same year. In 2012 and 2013, Albanian activists organized a bike ride in the capital, Tirana.

IDAHTB has been less commonly celebrated in the U.S. historically. However, in the last few years, there have been bigger observations of IDAHTB in the U.S., at least at the national level. In 2015, a congressional resolution, led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, was introduced in support of IDAHTB. In 2021, President Joe Biden put out a statement on May 17, acknowledging that "everyone deserves dignity and equality, no matter who they are or whom they love."

Conclusion

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia has only existed for 17 years. However, it has a rich history of activism, celebration, and awareness-raising. Its global reach brings together hundreds of thousands of people every year to state their unequivocal support for LGBTQ+ people all over the world, highlighting the continued oppression they face and calling for the reinstatement of their dignity and humanity.