Today marks the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), commemorating 17 May 1990, when the General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. Today, IDAHOT mobilises communities worldwide to protect and celebrate LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & and Intersex) rights, and marks the struggles for LGBTQI rights, the varied forms of levels of challenges LGBTQI people around the world, and the reaffirmation of the commitment to prohibition of discrimination in all its forms.
PEN International maintains that sexual and gender minorities’ right to freedom of expression should be universally respected and protected by governments as part of their international obligation under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect free expression. However, every day LGBTQI writers and activists around the world who fight for their right to free expression, are intimidated, censored, attacked or even killed, solely for expressing their identities and views, for talking about sexual orientation or gender identity, or for defending their basic rights. Same-sex acts are illegal in over 80 countries and punishable by death in over ten countries around the world. In many countries there is repressive legislation that criminalises the open discussion of LGBTQI issues. In others, writers – whether they are journalists, novelists, poets, bloggers or screenwriters – are often forced to self-censor due to an environment of pervasive violence and intimidation, with little or no state protection. Violence is all too often used to silence LGBTQI voices, sometimes resulting in loss of life: the ultimate form of censorship. Impunity for these crimes is widespread.
As part of PEN International’s response to meet these challenges, particularly for writers, in May 2015 we launched PEN/Outwrite - a platform where LGBTQI writers worldwide can have their voices heard, inform public debate, create dialogue and highlight the challenges that they face.
The theme of this year’s IDAHOT is mental health, a pertinent issue for LGBTQI communitites across the globe. The RaRE report, a five-year-long study commissioned by LGBTQI mental health charity Pace, found that 34 percent of young LGBTQI people (under 26) surveyed had made at least one suicide attempt in their lives. Forty-eight percent of young trans people had attempted suicide. This is compared to 18 percent of heterosexual and 26 percent of cisgender young people. Major causes were identified as homophobic or transphobic bullying and "struggles about being LGB or trans within the family [and] at school". Pace, which specialised in mental health services for LGBT+ people, closed down after 31 years in January 2016, citing the financial climate. The London-based charity PACE had worked since 1985 to provide support services for the LGBT+ community – including counselling, advocacy, training, youth work, research and mental health support services.