Why this year’s May 17 theme ‘Breaking the silence’ rings truer than ever

Why this year’s May 17 theme ‘Breaking the silence’ rings truer than ever

Joel Bedos, international coordinator of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (celebrated on May 17), encourages LGBTQI+ communities and their allies around the world to find new ways to celebrate and make themselves heard in the face of COVID-19 restrictions.

What impact has COVID-19 had on planned celebrations? 

May 17 is a truly international day that is supported by many countries, so it is a day where people actually feel safe. In many countries this is the day where the police have the instruction ‘just let them do it’, because the eyes of the world are on us. So it is a moment where people celebrate and organise public events. This is an important thing for a lot of people around the world and that is now not happening.

Because of curfews and lockdowns, a lot of voices are being silenced. We cannot do public events anymore and everything that was planned has been cancelled. As a result there is a big vacuum of voices because not everyone is online. For example, very creative protests and big marches are not happening so there will be a lot of silence. We have to break this silence. So there are a lot of initiatives to make community events online and making sure they are safe.


The more people are controlled the less they speak


Some countries bring in COVID-19 regulations that limit freedom of expression or increase surveillance, more cameras, more drones, more control of people in general. The more people are controlled the less they speak. This is another silence that we should be aware of.


What is your message to LGBT activists as they adapt their plans?

That we should not let social distancing happen. To me with the frame of social distancing they are trying to break the solidarity to tell people we should not be united and fight together. On May 17 it is one moment where we can show that we are actually socially close to one another and we are one movement, one community, with big diversity but we are united in the face of our core values: diversity, understanding, acceptance.

The other thing I hear is that a lot of people are asking if can we still have an advocacy agenda for May 17. The answer is probably not, now is not a strategic moment to engage in policy. To make things worse these times are also used by some governments - when nobody is watching - to actually break some of the advances that have been made. So these are things activists can advocate for, trying to resist the backlash of COVID-19 on their work.


Let us stay connected and not distanced


COVID-19 is also affecting other marginalised people, including sex workers and people who use drugs. Do you have a message of support?  

It is about making May 17 into a big moment of international solidarity. If there is something that COVID-19 has shown us is that we are definitely in this together. We have one global enemy that hits all of us across the planet simultaneously with no discrimination and no distinction. Everyone feels concerned, this is a moment where we can really talk about our connection, the fact that we are fighting the same thing.


What can marginalised groups share from their COVID-19 experience?

Our capacity to build communities, our resilience to hardship, our long time experience of social and mental 'lockdown'. We can share how have we been coping with this, what has helped us as marginalised groups to battle stigma and discrimination and face family violence and survive all of it. We have learnt a lot as a movement and as individuals. How do you give meaning to your day when you are not allowed out on the streets? This is something that people now under lockdown experience every day, but that a lot of people in marginalised communities have been experiencing all their lives.


Sharing what we have learnt


This is a moment where we can tell people these are the few things that we have learnt and that we can give, that might be of help to you in these days. I would say to all marginalised communities make sure that you are not getting silenced. May 17 is an important day to break the silence and let people know that you are here. See what you can give.


Follow all the activities on Twitter @may17org

Have a look at may17.org for ideas on how to campaign under lockdown

Hear different voices of marginalised communities in the campaign Communities speak out on COVID-19

Joel Bedos is one of the main driving forces behind the sexual orientation and gender identities (SOGI) campaign resource hub on public campaigning in Strasbourg. He currently sits on the board of the IDAHOTB Committee, the organisation that established the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in 2004. Joel has built the SOGI campaigns project on his years of campaigning experience for LGBTI issues and his work experience for various NGOs.

Joel Bedos Joel Bedos

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