Author: Abi Marsden, Deputy Head of DANCOP
The 17th May is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT – you may also see it called IDAHOBIT day). Writing this blog felt like a great opportunity to share what this day means for me, and to highlight what we can all do to support the LGBTQI+ communities.
When I was 6 years old my mum sat my brother and I down to explain that she was in love with a lady called Chris, and that meant she was a lesbian. We both nodded and said, ‘OK mum, can we go and play now?’. To my brother and I it made perfect sense and wasn’t even newsworthy. Chris then moved in with us and became part of our family unit, which was great!
Unfortunately, what my 6-year-old self didn’t realise was that homophobia and homophobic bullying existed, because 2 people loving each other just made sense to me. However, I quickly learned that it did exist. I’m not LGBTQI+ myself but the fact that my mum is resulted in my brother and I experiencing homophobic bullying on a regular basis throughout school and college. This involved verbal and physical bullying and had a real impact on my mental health. It was very distressing to be told my mum was disgusting, be spat at on the street, and have people shouting at us when we were out as a family. I am so proud of my mum and love her for who she is, so it was also upsetting to see her be the victim of homophobia and I was very protective of her.
When I went to University to study Sociology, I experienced a lot less homophobia and found that my fellow students were more accepting of my family dynamic. It was a huge relief to be able to speak about my family and experiences without the fear of judgement of homophobic responses. I was also able to use my experiences of homophobia to my advantage and use it as part of my final year dissertation. I chose to conduct research into homophobic bullying in schools, investigating whether it had increased or decreased over time and the effects it had on those who experienced it. My findings were that homophobic bullying continued to be a large problem in schools, had actually increased in many areas (as of 2008 when I completed my dissertation), and that it has vast negative effects on the individual’s wellbeing.
Since graduating from University and entering the world of work, I continue to use my experiences to create positive change. For example, in a previous role I spearheaded the LGBTQI+ strand of the diversity committee within the company and brought in several initiatives including allies, attending pride events as a company, and ran celebration events throughout LGBT History Month and IDAHOT day. This resulted in my colleagues across the company understanding some of the challenges the LGBTQI+ community face as well as normalising calling out homophobia when they saw or heard it. I also continue to challenge homophobic language and behaviours on a regular basis and try to educate as many people as I can about what it is and the negative effects it can have.
In summary, IDAHOT day for me brings back lots of memories of my own experiences, but it also makes me feel very proud of my mum and the work I’ve done to educate people and call out homophobia. For me it is a great opportunity to celebrate the LGBTQI+ community, and an important reminder of the consequences if we don’t do this. If you would like to learn more about IDAHOT day, you can visit https://may17.org/. This website also includes posters and resources to use to celebrate IDAHOT day.