Twenty-five years ago, at the Christmas table, my uncle suggested that “all gay people should be sent to a desert island, covered with fertilizer, and set aflame.”
His proposed method may have been novel, but he certainly was not the first person to suggest the extermination of LGBTQI+ people. Perhaps if he knew more “gay” people he would realize that all they wanted was to be treated as equal human beings, enjoying the same rights as their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts.
Having hidden in the shadows and proverbial closets for millennia, LGBTQI+ people have dared to come out to demand equality before the law in human rights and dignity. And now, there are calls for their erasure, again.
Extermination does not have to happen on a desert island with fertilizer and flames. Incorrectly painting members of the LGBTQI+ community as pedophiles and groomers gives permission to others to stigmatize and morally exclude members of the LGBTQI+ community from the human family.
It is not just happening in faraway places such as Uganda and Russia, where it is a crime to identify as a member of the LGBTQI+ community. It is happening closer to home in places such as Florida and Montana, with anti-transgender legislation, book bans, and the demonization of drag queens.
Using the guise of “protecting the children” as a justification for persecution of the LGBTQI+ community is perverse. The current anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric and legislation sends a chilling message to LGBTQI+ people that they do not matter, they are not equal, and that they should go back to being invisible.
But one group’s discomfort or fabrication of danger should not supress another group’s fundamental human rights.
This is why Pride Month is so important, not only for LGBTQI+ people, but for humanity overall. The outfits (yes, especially drag queens’), parades and dancing are all fine, but what’s most important is the visibility.
The ability of LGBTQI+ people of all walks of life to celebrate who they are — without fear of losing their job, experiencing dehumanization, or violence — is a basic human right. In fact, freedom of expression and speech are fundamental U.S. rights.
According to the Franklin & Marshall College Global Barometers, the unfortunate reality is that most countries do not treat their LGBTQI+ people as equal citizens.
In fact, the majority of countries are persecuting their LGBTQI+ populations. LGBTQI+ people remain some of the most targeted and vulnerable people in the world. They have been branded as social pariahs and scapegoated for the economic, political and social ills in their countries. Many countries and individuals continue to use tradition and religion to justify the dehumanization of LGBTQI+ people.
Countries must pass hate crimes and hate speech legislation that is inclusive of LGBTQI+ people. Businesses must do more than provide corporate sponsorship for pride events. Corporations must put their money where their mouths are, calling out governments that deliberately repress their LGBTQI+ citizens. Governments must sanction countries that enact severe human rights abuses on LGBTQI+ people.
And, the Yoweri Museveni’s of this world need to hear that Ugandan LGBTQI+ people matter, and must be treated as equal members of the human family.
Thankfully, my uncle has evolved from his initial position. Unfortunately, the new culture war is resulting in the regression of safe public spaces for LGBTQI+ people.
Pride 2023 requires a recognition of not only the global LGBTQI+ community that is still suffering tremendous tragedies on a daily basis, and the vicious attacks on the transgender community.
For these reasons, I will proudly march with the LGBTQI+ community during Pride Month to reclaim my right to exist and to be who I am.
Susan Dicklitch-Nelson is professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and founder and Principal Investigator of the F&M Global Barometers.
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