The official launch of the UK's International Day Against Homophobia campaign kicked off in the auditorium of the Amnesty International Human Rights Centre last Friday evening, 7 April 2006, where over a hundred LGBT campaigners congregated to listen to speeches by MPs and activists.
Louis-Georges Tin, founder of IDAHO, explained how the campaign, which started last year, had spread to over 40 countries. He added that one of the campaign's political aims was for IDAHO to gain official recognition at the United Nations. In addition to the countries involved last year there were now IDAHO correspondents in Nigeria, the Cameroons, Guyana, Turkey, Uganda and Namibia. IDAHO had already established strong links with the Coalition of African Lesbians and the All African Rights Initiative.
The meeting was also addressed by a leading member of the Blue Diamond Society, the organisation for sexual minorities in Nepal, who explained the increasingly dangerous situation faced by the LGBT community in that country.
Several speakers also addressed problems faced by LGBT communities in Central and Eastern Europe: in a passionate speech, MEP Michael Cashman argued that the founding principles of the European Union must be maintained to ensure that the human rights of LGBT communities were observed.
Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP, highlighted the threat of the growth of religious fundamentalism. Nigel Warner from the board of ILGA-Europe observed that where activists had intervened, Prides in several countries had been saved, and Jean Lambert Green MEP highlighted the centrality of basic human rights.
The meeting also heard from Matthew Davis who gave a graphic account of the appalling treatment of LGBT asylum seekers.
A message of support from the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was also read out to the meeting. London's Mayor noted that the second IDAHO "is a timely opportunity to acknowledge the lesbian and gaycommunity's ongoing struggle for human rights and legal equality". He concluded "I give my commitment to work with you to ensure that London remains a leading city for lesbian and gay equality".
The meeting also heard about IDAHO activities which had been arranged for May 17th in London, Brighton, Manchester, Canterbury, Oxford, Bolton and Leicester.
UK IDAHO Co-ordinator Derek Lennard of the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA)said: "It is astonishing that with a very small budget and no paid staff, we have managed to organise a meeting of this size, and enabled events to be organised in these places. IDAHO is a grass roots international network, and it is up to local organisations and individuals to decide if they want to put on events and participate in the campaign."
"Several people had expressed concerns about homophobic attacks on Clapham Common, and it is hoped that local campaigners will come together to address this issue and arrange an IDAHO event to highlight the problem on May 17th," he added.
The evening also included the first public reading of a play based on Rex Batten's book "Rid England of this Plague". It was enthusiastically received and narrated by the author himself, who described the long journey from the oppressive 1950s to the many rights and freedoms LGBT people enjoy today. Mr Batten, however, urged "lasting vigilance" to preserve the gains the gay rights movement had made.
Following this highly successful launch, the priority for IDAHO-UK is now to maximise the number and quality of events on May 17th and to arrange a minute's silence at 8pm on the evening of May 17 in unison with many other countries, such as Peru and the Ivory Coast.
Speaking after the event, Keith Angus, GALHA committee member, said: "GALHA is honoured and thrilled to be part of the International Day Against Homophobia and, building on the success of last year's campaign, we have committed a great deal of our resources in co-ordinating the UK's contribution to this international initiative."As co-ordinators, our role has been largely to publicise the event through brochures, leaflets, events, press releases, and the establishment of the IDAHO-UK website, and of course to back-up and support Derek Lennard, who is doing an outstanding job leading the IDAHO team and liaising with his opposite numbers all around the world to make May the 17th one of the most important days on the international LGBT calendar." Of course, all the co-ordination in the world would come to nothing without the participation of the community. The amount of support forIDAHO in its second year has been really encouraging, with events announced, and statements of support, from all around the country."As a growing network of campaigners and activists, IDAHO is transcending May the 17th. Last month a protest outside the Russian Embassy highlighted the troubles our Russian sisters and brothers are having over their Pride celebrations. Another protest is being planned for May 17th - IDAHO Day - outside the Home Office to draw attention to the plight of Lesbian and Gay Asylum Seekers, whose treatment by our own government is pretty shabby. Shameful and outrageous, quite frankly," he said. Reiterating the need for community participation, Mr Angus added: "Now, if your group is planning an event to mark IDAHO - and we hope you will - please do let Derek know, so it can be added to the IDAHO website and other IDAHO publicity. Commenting on the success of the evening's launch event, he said: "In addition to applauding the sterling work Derek has been doing, on behalf of GALHA, we'd like to especially thank CHE, the Campaign forHomosexual Equality, for chipping in towards the cost of publicity by funding the printing of the IDAHO brochure, OutRage! for logistical support, Rex Batten and his cast for producing tonight's thought-provoking entertainment, and of course Amnesty International for hosting the event in their wonderful venue. And finally, a huge thanks to all the guest speakers, in particular Louis-George, who travelled from Paris to be here, and everyone in the community who is getting behind this campaign to make IDAHO-UK 2006 such a huge success!"
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