Today, GLSEN celebrates the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) by standing in solidarity with LGBTQI youth around the globe. It's a day of action, celebration, reflection and a reinforced commitment to ensuring a world where all young people can thrive, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
We also stand in solidarity with our international partners working to dismantle homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in their countries, often at great personal risk, like our friends at the Philia Life Foundation in Nigeria.
In today's guest blog, Philia Life Foundation Co-Founder and President, Michael Asuquo, shares his thoughts on human rights in Nigeria, the recent murder of his younger brother, James, and the power of IDAHOT to galvanize the global movement for change.
James Inyang Asuquo is remembered today. We teased him when we called him King James. And today, when I look back, I see he was a King in every way. Not because he played basketball like Lebron or had all the authority of King James of the Holy Bible for whom he was named, but because he was a fighter and pushed to live his life his way.
By four, he had already lost both biological parents. Subjected to live in unspeakable poverty in an African village without running water or electricity, he promised himself he would learn to speak English. He accepted to leave his native state of Akwa Ibom for Lagos as a child laborer; where he learned English and had the leisure of a meal a day. My parents wouldn't let that continue. Shortly after he turned 7, my parents adopted him and made him my youngest brother. Yet James wasn’t satisfied with being considered a “last” in any way, not even in the family.
His excessive colorful outfits made him stand out. His style announced him. His charisma endeared him to all – at least, to those who were willing to know him for who he was and not judge him for being gay. I became an activist in Nigeria because of a few things, chief of which was James. It is hard to see today that he would be written about in the past tense. It is difficult to remember his smile only in the mind and speak of his extremely grand personality with only a few words that can be permitted on sheets of paper.
His passing does not dim the enthusiasm for which we fought and still fight. It only fuels it. For us, he brings the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) home. He makes it have a personal meaning, a purpose, and even a goal.
Just as some in the world today can stand tall because of the Stonewall riots; we hope that because of James and so many other victims of this horrific acts of homophobia in Nigeria, our passion will burn more to push even harder till victory is ours.
Nigeria cannot and should not choose to remain a corner of the world, where she successfully stays away from the limelight of responsibility. She cannot use the darkness to oppress the weak and deny equal rights to the minorities. She cannot unconscionably claim that democracy is Government abiding by the wishes of the majority and forget Government has an obligation to protect the minority. We will oppose her from applauding her horrific crimes as acts of obedience to the gods of the Abrahamic religions; for we too have seen that The Holy Bible and The Holy Qu’ran unequivocally state that “treat others as you wish to be treated”.
If she so claims to be a leader in Africa, then, she must know that position does not just come with the largest economy or a population of 170 million people in a land mass of just about twice the size of California, but she must offer equality and protection to all and start this by eradicating her anti-gay law – the same sex marriage prohibition act. Her homophobic laws not only attack gays, but also attack those who may gather in support of gay rights and even those who witness a gay union. According to PEW Research of 2013, 98% of Nigerians are homophobic. According to my own experience, I would put that at 99.5%
The antigay law and all other factors have empowered hatred – the kind of hatred that leads to eviction of gays or those alleged to be gays from their rented apartments, the kind that leads to Police extortion of those purported to be gays, the kind that leads to physical assaults from mobs and firing from jobs and of course, the kind that leads to death! This culture of hate and disregard has been responsible for several Human Rights Activists in the country refusing to acknowledge gay rights as human rights and those who would naturally speak in favor of it, turning away for fear of their lives and security.
Nevertheless, one thing is certain. We were all born humans and we all die humans. This is the basis of equality. If at the beginning and end of our lives, we are the same; then, why can’t we treat ourselves with fairness and equality while yet living?
This is why we choose to use IDAHOT to remind ourselves of what we have chosen to continue with. This is not about one person. It is not about young or old, rich or poor, male or female. It is about us – all of us. We need to understand that if we do not stand for the truth today, the lie shall rule tomorrow. If we do not seek equality in our time, inequality shall oppress our children. If we do not stand for others, no one shall stand for us.
Michael Asuquo is the President/Co-Founder of The Philia Life Foundation. The Organization educates school children on Human Rights principles according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how that plays the basis for equality, fairness and justice in society; and what is required of the children to uphold those principles. Online, they are responsible for the twitter handle @gayrightsinnig. They also operate the Facebook Page “Nigerian Gays are Nigerians. Stop the Hate” and Facebook Group “End Hate Laws in Africa”.
This is the third in a series of GLSEN Blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities. Read the previous piece here.
At GLSEN we envision a world in which all students thrive and we’ve been working for more than 20 years to make that vision a reality. And there is much more work to be done. Too many LGBT students are victimized because of who they are. Too few have the supportive educators, inclusive curriculum, GSAs and comprehensive policies that GLSEN research shows help create respectful, healthful and safe learning environments.
Many LGBT students of color experience additional layers of victimization, invisibility and discrimination based on their race and/or ethnicity. Ximena, a student from New Jersey, recalls an incident with a fellow classmate. She says,
“He was calling me ‘Latino lesbian’ because...I stand out. There’s not a lot of gay people in my school and there’s not a lot of Hispanic people in my school, so he took the two things that I stand out as and put them into one and he was using it as if it were funny. And I am Latina and I am a lesbian, but when you say it offensively or as if that’s a bad thing, it bothers me because it’s not supposed to be an offensive thing. It’s what I am.”
Not only has Ximena been targeted for “standing out” and being different, but the underlying racism and heterosexism is palpable.
Sabrina, a student from Michigan, goes further. She describes how oppression based on her intersecting identities, coupled with teachers who don’t seem to understand the resulting impact, limits her ability to really thrive at school. She writes,
“For me personally, as a queer student of color, I have experienced prejudice on the basis of my East Asian ethnicity on top of my queer identity. I, along with so many others, have struggled to communicate with teachers and peers in efforts to find safe spaces and cultivate empowerment in the midst of communities dominated by heteronormative whiteness, or any other basis for privilege.
Unfortunately, not enough teachers realize how difficult it is to thrive in an environment where your voice is constantly invalidated just for being different. Through high school, [it has been hard] to get by under the expectation to be a “model minority”, which incidentally was dismissed as soon as I had come out as queer. The intersection of my identities has definitely promoted my growth as an individual, but it would be a blatant lie to say people's misconceptions regarding my identities have never negatively impacted my social well-being or grades. I would like teachers to know that my race or my queer identity should not detract from who I am. I would like teachers to make efforts to help validate our voices instead.”
Sabrina, like many LGBT students of color, has developed incredible resilience in the face of adversity. She also calls for educators to validate her identities, experiences and voice. Today, her voice is loud and clear, telling us all to do more work and create more change.
All students have unique and complex identities and all students deserve safe, respectful and affirming school environments. GLSEN is working hard to empower students like Sabrina and support educators to do the same.
CALL TO ACTION:
Learn more about the realities for students like Ximena and Sabrina with GLSEN’s research report, Shared Differences: The Experiences of LGBT Students of Color in Our Nation’s Schools.__
Read (and share) GLSEN and the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s Considerations When Working with LGBT Students of Color to be a better ally and advocate.
This is the second in a series of GLSEN Blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities.
Talk About It—that’s the first suggestion in Considerations When Working With LGBT Students of Color, a resource for educators developed by GLSEN and the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Recognizing the impact of multiple forms of oppression that impact students, it goes on to state,
“Challenging all forms of oppression and empowering students and staff begins with recognizing existing issues of bias and facilitating open dialogue about how these biases affect others. Bringing these topics out into the open allows for healthy and productive opportunities for students and colleagues to ask questions, share their own personal feelings and experiences, and learn from each other.”
In this GLSEN Blog series, Examining Oppression, we are taking our own advice and bringing these issues “out into the open”. GLSEN’s work isn’t just about GSAs, policy, research and Safe Space Stickers but addressing the underlying bias and oppression that create such hostile school climates in the first place; it’s about education, conversation and collaboration.
Following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, our students were eager to talk, to ask questions and to share their stories. More than that, they saw the great value in dialogue and action, and even saw dialogue as action.
Cesar Rodriguez, a student from North Carolina, has seen an important increase in dialogue around racism lately that has also uncovered bias amongst some of his friends. He writes,
“People are beginning to talk about white privilege, racism, and prejudice for the first time. In a way, the verdict of Zimmerman has produced active discussion that is important, but it does show us another thing: privilege still exists and is very apparent. [Many people of color] are furious (I am furious) and my white friends all offer the same response on social media, ‘This is not about race at all.’”
Along the same lines, speaking to the many messages she’s received claiming that racism had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin’s death, Sabrina Lee, from Michigan, writes,
“I know that the George Zimmerman trial has elicited many strong responses, but I want to take a moment to examine other aspects that bred the verdict, beyond the emotions of loss. It’s well-known that Trayvon was just 17 and unarmed when he was murdered. This makes me wonder what kind of perceived threat provoked the fatal shooting, and each time I am less inclined to flee the touchy idea that Trayvon being black had everything to do with it. Same goes for the verdict. I wish it were otherwise. I wish it were possible to swiftly obliterate the institutionalized white supremacy in our society, but it isn’t.”
She goes on to say that, “the refusal to acknowledge the racism that runs rampant in our society perpetuates the very systematic oppression that facilitated Trayvon’s murder and the infuriating verdict”. For Cesar and Sabrina, we aren’t just talking about Trayvon Martin but all people who are oppressed in our schools and communities.
We must continue talking. And we must act. As Cesar puts it, “the world has a tendency to repeat mistakes and as a society we can choose to ignore or acknowledge these instances of error”.
Talk About It
Discuss racism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression with your friends, family and peers. How does it impact your life?
Defenders are still in the Florida Capitol bringing attention to the need to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” Law, ban racial profiling and end the school-to-prison pipeline! Learn more about the issues and take action.
This is the first in a series of GLSEN blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities.
“We cannot begin to imagine the
continued pain and suffering endured
by Trayvon Martin’s family and friends.
We stand in solidarity with them as
they continue to fight for justice,
civil rights and closure. And we thank
everyone who has pushed and will
continue to push for justice.”
-From the Open Letter
This week, a coalition of national LGBT organizations (including GLSEN) issued An Open Letter: Trayvon Deserves Justice. It is a statement of solidarity with Trayvon Martin’s family and friends and a strengthened “commitment to end bias, hatred, profiling and violence across our communities.”
These ideals, solidarity and strengthened commitment, guide our actions as we look at the ways racism and other forms of oppression manifest in schools, where:
Racial profiling and overly harsh school discipline policies disproportionally impact students of color and feed into the School to Prison Pipeline.
Educational inequalities impede access to quality learning environments for many students of color.
The overwhelming majority of LGBT students hear biased remarks and experience harassment or assault at school based on their sexual orientation and gender expression (See GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey).
Many LGBT students of color also experience victimization based on their race/ethnicity and religion (see GLSEN’s Shared Difference: The Experiences of LGBT Students of Color in Our Nation’s Schools).
One of the many ways that oppression continues to thrive is through silence; those impacted are not allowed to have a voice and those benefitting from oppression fail to use theirs.
GLSEN recognizes that among the concrete actions that we can take as an organization (our work with students, educators, policy makers and community members), we are in a unique position to be able to foster dialogue, as well.
Over the next few weeks on the GLSEN blog you will hear from LGBT students across the country. They will share their reactions to Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal, their experiences of homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism and other forms of oppression in their lives, their fear, anger and optimism, and their hopes for the future.
One such student, Cesar writes, “The recent tragedy of Trayvon Martin has struck the younger generation and has created a revolution in discussion.”
We encourage all of you, youth and adults, to keep reading, keep learning and engage those around you in these conversations. There is power in naming oppression, power in recognizing our own place in those dynamics and power in shining light on a topic that is often seen as “too uncomfortable” to discuss.
We all have a part to play and must work in solidarity and strengthened commitment to create change!
Together, we can make our schools and communities safer, healthier and more affirming for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race/ethnicity, immigration status, socioeconomic status, religion and the myriad other identities that make us who we are.
Check out the NAACP’s Petition to the Department of Justice, calling for civil charges to be filed against George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.
Stand in solidarity with the Dream Defenders in FL, who are currently staging a sit-in at the Florida Capitol to demand that Florida Governor Rick Scott call a special legislative session on “stand your ground vigilantism, racial profiling and a war on youth that paints us as criminals and funnels us out of schools and into jails.” You can support them by signing the Petition to Governor Scott.