'I gave us ten years to get there. If that deadline had passed I would have stepped down,' affirms Louis-Georges Tin stubbornly. In the end, it took just two years of intense campaigning by Tin's committee, the Paris-based IDAHO(international day against homophobia and transphobia) , to turn 17 May into an internationally recognised day. The EU, eight other countries and several local and regional groups helped recognise it. 2010 will mark the fifth edition of the event.
IDAHO: transexuality transcending boundaries
The Martiniquan professor of literature at the university of Orleans is just as much a man of conviction as a man of action. As a student at the école normale supérieure (ENS, an elite university-level establishment in Paris), he wasn’t satisfied for long with simply his university activities. Although he was making a mark with his research on gender issues, his need to 'move into practical work' led him to co-found Homonormalité, the university’s gay and lesbian society. The next step was the creation of IDAHO, formed with a desire to stamp out intolerance towards the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) community. 'One of the strengths of IDAHO is that it brings together a pre-existing LGBT network, which includes sixty affiliated groups scattered across the globe,' he explains. 'The central committee only organise four or five events per year. Everything centres on the participation and autonomy of its members.'
The first international day on 17 May was celebrated in more than fifty countries in 2005, however the committee isn’t just working for just one day a year. In 2006 it launched a campaign aimed at convincing the United Nations to adopt a bill in favour of the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality, which was supported by artists and intellectuals (including nobel prize winners José Saramago, Desmond Tutu and Amartya Sen), and also several nation states. If ultimately the bill isn’t adopted, the catholic church will officially take a stance against homophobic violence. This is one of the first of the IDAHO’s successes. It’s latest success to date was the February 2010 announcement by the French authorities that transexuality would be removed from the registered list of mental illnesses. 'We will launch a campaign aimed at spreading this declassification to other countries,' adds the IDAHO president happily.
'Europe protects homosexuals'
Louis-Georges Tin has always preferred long-term projects and education to flashy gimmicks and symbols. Rather than promoting groups and life styles that are victims of intolerance, Louis-Georges decided to attack the root of the problem, stemming from our everyday perceptions. Having worked for a long time on homosexuality and homophobia (notably he developed a Dictionary of Homophobia, published in 2003), today he’s looking at the subject from the opposite angle, busying himself with The Invention of Heterosexual Culture in a 1008 book of the same name. He sees this as an intellectual weapon against homophobia. 'You obtain more interesting results with an approach which doesn’t directly focus on the acceptance of homosexuality, but rather the disapproval of homophobia, notably by focussing on religious dignitaries,' he explains. In 2010, the organised day against homophobia and transphobia will bring the religious arguments which try to justify this violence to the fore-front.
As for Europe – is it protected from this violence? 'If you look at its institutions, Europe is perhaps the most advanced part of the world socially and legally when it comes to the fight against discrimination,' points out Louis-Georges Tin. 'In 1994, the EU made a recommendation to its member states to accord a legal status to same-sex couples. Sixteen years later, half of these countries have followed this recommendation!' But the fight against intolerance and discrimination towards homosexuals, lesbians and transsexuals is still alive in Europe today. You only need to look at cases in Russia and Belarus to be reminded. Even within the EU, the situation differs greatly from one member state to the next. 'The Bulgarian authorities had to decriminalise homosexuality in order to enter the EU, but they simultaneously penalised pro-gay discourse, without Brussels being able to find fault with them,' deplores Louis-Georges Tin.
'Bulgarian authorities had to decriminalise homosexuality to enter the EU, but they simultaneously penalised pro-gay discourse'
There’s no doubt about it. Optimism is a necessary weapon in the fight against homophobia. 'I also dedicate the international day against homophobia and transphobia to everyone who discouraged me when I was starting out, telling me that my goal was impossible to achieve,' adds Louis-Georges Tin with a touch of humour. 'Stamping out intolerance demands an individual engagement from each citizen.' On 17 March 2010, French daily Le Monde published a call for all churches to condemn and fight against homophobia, co-signed by a rabbi and an imam amongst others. Infected by Louis-Georges Tin’s optimism, you can see the fruit of the labour of these mind-openers in this act, and of all those they have inspired and will continue to inspire.
Images: ©Tiagø Ribeiro; Louis-Georges Tin ©yXeLLe ~@rtBrut~; Gay Men's Project poster ©Mike_fleming/ all courtesy of Flickr/ Video ©Associated Press/ Youtube