Thirty years ago this week, on May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems list.
International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) is held every May 17 to celebrate LGBTQIA+ people globally and raise awareness of the work still needed for everyone to be loved regardless of their sexuality, sex or gender identity.
We asked La Trobe queer peer support worker and PhD candidate, James Brown, to tell us his outlook on the day’s significance.
Why is IDAHOBIT important to me?
This’ll seem a little roundabout, but give me a minute. I’m coming to a point.
I’m a LGBTQIA+ peer support worker and PhD candidate at La Trobe, studying queer history in Australia among other things, and I remember being taken aback – that is an understatement – by the stories of gay bashings and murders in Australia in the seventies, eighties and nineties.
‘That recently?’ I remember thinking. Some happened in my lifetime. In my parents’ lifetime.
Some of the crimes were solved, but so many weren’t. Why? Well, the prevailing wisdom at the time was if you were a gay man, and you were attacked for being gay, you deserved it. In some states, male homosexuality was illegal – punishable by up to twenty years in prison – as late as 1997.
One story, in particular, that stood out for me, was Scott Johnson’s. He was a young American mathematician, a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, whose body was found on December 10, 1988, near Manly’s Blue Fish Point.
Police initially believed he’d committed suicide and a coronial inquest.
A second coronial inquest, years later still, would return an open finding.
A third returned a finding of murder.
Only now, just last week, we learned the NSW Police Force have arrested somebody in connection with Scott Johnson’s murder.
For those who aren’t numbers people, let me do the math – that’s thirty-two years later.
That’s why IDAHOBIT is important to me: because sometimes we view discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people and communities as something from the past, something that we’ve overcome.
We know that LGBTQIA+ people continue to experience legal and social discrimination today (the federal government’s Religious Freedom bills come to mind as do the politicians who equated the Safe Schools program with indoctrination and sexual abuse, and thought that marriage equality required a bruising three-month campaign of, at times, publicly funded hate-speech; the fact that The Australian newspaper has an entire ‘Gender’ section, seemingly entirely focused on attacking transgender and gender diverse people, is another example), significantly impacted rates of mental health concerns (LGBTQIA+ people are anywhere from five to fifteen times more likely to attempt suicide and to experience suicidal ideation, self-harm, depression, anxiety and psychological distress), housing issues (LGBTQIA+ people experience homelessness at nearly twice the rate of their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts) and other personal safety issues.
I’m lucky I can play my part, in my work and my research at La Trobe. As part of my work, I’ve been able to represent La Trobe at the Australian ALLY Conference. I’ve had the opportunity to work with and undergo personal development at community organisations like JOY 94.9, Queerspace and Thorne Harbour Health. I’ve not only learned more about myself as a person, but I’ve found a real sense of community here, among my colleagues, among my fellow academics, among my peers and the people that I’ve come to consider life-long friends.
We’ve made progress. We’ve come so far, in such a short period of time – decriminalisation, HIV/AIDS activism, marriage equality, the recent reforms to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act – but we can go further, still.
There’s still work to be done.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.
In an emergency, dial 000.
For LGBTQIA+ wellbeing support, visit the La Trobe student wellbeing webpage.