Today in the United States and several other countries around the world is National Coming Out Day. It is a day to support LGBTQIA+ people in “coming out of the closet”. The foundational belief is that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are LGBTQ+, they are far less likely to maintain homophobic or oppressive views.
Last month I was in New York during the UN General Assembly. For those that do not know, it is a period when the world’s leaders come to New York to focus on the issues facing our world. Much of these conversations are centered around the Sustainable Development Goals or “SDGs” - a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a "shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future". The SDGs were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by 2030.
One of the key pillars of the SDGs is to “leave nobody behind”. If we are going to eradicate poverty and create a sustainably developed world, if we are truly going to work toward being global citizens, we need to include all members of our society. And this is especially important as it relates to the LGBTQ+ community who tends to be excluded because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their gender expression, or sex characteristics.
It is interesting that the SDGs never explicitly mention sexual or gender minorities. However, the goals themselves are based in the universal declaration of human rights, which states“that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights”.
The United Nations reports that it is illegal to be LGBTQ+ in at least 72 countries. in five countries, people are identified as such can be put to death.
I was speaking to a friend in Kenya last week. He was telling me about the travails of being LGBTQ+ in the refugee camp where he lives. Transgender women have been stoned to death. Lesbian women are regularly raped in an effort to change them. Gay men are brutally beaten. My friend has been beaten so badly that he can no longer walk without the aid of a crutch. Sadly, this is not a unique instance. Globally, LGBTQ+ citizens are at risk of harassment, hate speech, physical violence, and in many communities, we have a higher likelihood of homelessness, poverty, and poor health.
Last year in the United States, there were more transgender murders reported since we started keeping records, and 20% of the hate crimes that are reported to the FBI are based on sexual orientation or gender identity. SDG four seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for everyone. But LGBTQ+ youth are often excluded from educational opportunities and when they get those opportunities, they often face bullying and harassment that forces them to give these opportunities up thus further contributing to a cycle of poverty. In the very community where I grew up, at the high schooI that I graduated from, a trans youth was forced to withdraw from the school and move to a new community because they were constantly bullied when they transitioned their freshman year. This bullying came not just from the youth’s fellow students, but from the faculty and staff who refused to accept this student despite their mother’s efforts to work with the school.
SDG eight focuses on promoting exclude inclusive, economic growth, productive employment, and a decent work for all. Yet, fewer than half of the countries in the world offer any protections whatsoever for LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace, leaving much of the community exposed to both formal and informal measures of discrimination in the workplace. A friend of mine, a priest in South Africa, married her longtime girlfriend in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by friends and family. Learning of this union between women, the Anglican Church removed her license to preach and to administer the sacrament.
Not so long ago, I worked for an organization and when I started, I was warned, I shouldn't act “too gay” because of people that we were working with found out that I was gay, they would immediately stop working with us. This was super awkward for me for several reasons. First and foremost, never before in my life had I been asked to hide who I am and I'll be honest. It just didn’t feel right. I've been public out since I was 19 years old. And I've been happily married with my husband for more than 25 years. Now I am being asked to hide all of that? And what exactly is too gay? The reality is I don’t act anyway. I'm just myself. And part of that includes being gay, but am I “too gay”?
I've moved on from that position for a variety of reasons, but I can tell you that being asked to deny who I am is a major factor in my decision to leave. I made a commitment then and there that never again, am I going to be anything other than my authentic self. In the last few years, I have made an effort to continue to live my live as authentically as possible, and to be allies to those doing the same. To be anything other than who I am does a disservice to me, and to all the LGBTQ+ people in the world who need me to be support their voices and to be their voice when it is not safe for them to do so.
I am pleased to share the next stage in the evolution of this work for me. This week I am launching OUT FOR EQUALITY, a US-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the human rights of LGBTQ+ citizens globally. OUT FOR EQUALITY ensures financial and strategic support is received by grassroots LGBTQ+ organizations so that they can improve lives, mobilize movements and build better futures for LGBTQ+ citizens in their communities. We are partnering with grassroots organizations globally to address the very real issues facing LGBTQ+ individuals in their communities.
And I want your support! Stay tuned for updates to learn more about the organizations and amazing change makers we are working with - and thanks to all of you who have worked with me and always been there to support the efforts of projects I have been involved with. We live in a beautifully diverse world, and we need to work together to value that diversity of the humans experience so that every one of us can achieve our own vision of peace and prosperity.