The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia is observed on May 17th in an effort to coordinate international events that raise awareness of LGBTQI+ rights violations and stimulate interest in LGBTQI+ rights work worldwide.

May 17 marks the day the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of International Classification of Diseases in 1990. Prior to this date homosexuality was listed as a mental illness and certain inhumane practices such as “aversion therapy” were used to “cure” it.

The day is currently celebrated in more than 130 countries around the world, is also officially recognized by the European Union (EU) Parliament and recognized by numerous local authorities, such as the province of Quebec or the city of Buenos Aires.

However, punitive laws in about 72 countries worldwide continue to castigate the LGBTQI+ community thus perpetuating discrimination, exclusion, inequality and violence. This year’s theme therefore promotes the notion of alliances not only towards policy and law changes but in solidarity with marginalized groups. By becoming a strong collective force we can all be powerful agents of change.

Read:  Stop Playing the Music of Hate

How to be an ally

Who is an ally? An ally is someone whose personal commitment to fighting oppression and prejudice is reflected in their willingness to:

= Educate themselves or allow themselves to be educated about the LGBTQI+ community,

= Challenge their own discomfort and prejudices and

= Take action to create interpersonal, societal and institutional change.

Changing public perception is the biggest hurdle towards equality for all. It will take time and dialogue to offset generations worth of discriminatory norms and practices. “Progress is possible, but it requires stronger and broader alliances to promote safety, combat violence and discrimination, advocate for law and policy change, and change hearts and minds,” the UNDP website notes.

If you believe that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect and want to do more than subscribe to the “live and let live” ideology here are some ways you can be an ally.

lesbian gay homosexuality
GayPrideMarch-26Oct13- 009. Photo: Niko Knigge/Flickr/ Licensed under Free cultural works/Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Confront and unlearn your own prejudices and bias, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.

Listen – It is important to realize that you are part of the majority which means that you do not encounter the same issues in day to day life as your LGBTQI+ counterparts. Educating yourself using unbiased sources and or allowing this group to educate you will give you a better understanding of the various sexualities and identities and therefore how to interact with them in a manner that is sensitive to their situation.

Be open-minded– society has deemed homosexuality and therefore all corresponding alternative sexualities and identities as “Un-African” even when evidence has shown otherwise. This has made it culturally difficult to understand and interact with people from the LGBTQI+ community. Being open-minded to the idea that for a species that is so vast and complex as the human race it is unlikely for there to be only one singular sexuality or gender identity. Being sensitive and open minded will make the subject matter easier to grasp.

Read: Fighting for expression: how homosexuality is breaking out into Africa’s public life

Be willing to talk– open up to your LGBTQI+ friends, colleagues and family about what you think and what things you are yet to understand. Open dialogue will demystify issues that are not common knowledge due to the sensitivity of the subject matter and lack of representation in the media. But remember dialogue is not about you imposing your opinion or belief on the other person, it is about gaining knowledge, clarification and insight in things you are ignorant about.

Be inclusive– A persons sexuality and identity is not who they are, it is whom they love and how they express themselves. Acknowledge that people are not defined by this and invite LGBTQI+ friends to hang out with your friends and family. Appreciate people for who they are, thus normalizing their sexuality and identity as a secondary consideration to their humanity.

Don’t make assumptions– Don’t assume that all your friends and co-workers are straight. Someone close to you could be looking for support in their coming-out process or just in living their lives unencumbered. Not making assumptions will give them the space they need.

Let your support inform your decisions– Even when not dealing with LGBTQI+ people let our support be part of your interactions and decisions. For example: Let your friends, family and co-workers know that you will not tolerate Anti-LGBT comments, rhetoric and jokes. Defend your LGBT friends against discrimination- outside of the legal system — family rejection, street harassment, internalized shame, demeaning media representations and countless other social stressors. Where possible try not to promote or support homophobic individuals or companies in both the business and social spheres.

Don’t wait to be an ally! Start today by letting someone know that it is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and get your first uncomfortable conversation out of the way.