By Siobhán Murphy
I began to work as Campaign Assistant on the Fight Discrimination in Europe campaign in September this year. Shortly after, I watched the film ‘Milk’ (2008). It is a very moving and inspiring real-life story about Harvey Milk, a gay man who became a passionate activist for gay rights at the age of 40. In 1977, he was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US, at a time of widespread anti-gay hostility and when a wave of homophobic legislation was being passed. The heart of the film tells how Harvey Milk mobilised the gay community to act against this discriminatory situation and reveals why this man became a public symbol for those tired of political representatives failing to respond to the needs of the gay community. His struggle to be elected and his courage to take a stand for the gay community is admirable. Most inspiring is the way he brought ordinary people into his fight and the hope he gave to the marginalised gay community that, by working together, they could bring change.
As I watched the film I was struck by the similarities between our contemporary situation and that of 1970s America. The regressive homophobia depicted in the film is a problem that still persists today, including in the European continent. Discrimination and hate crimes against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex (LGBTI) community can be observed across Europe; anti-LGBTI legislation is continually introduced in a number of countries, such as in Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine and in Moldova.
I recently attended a Briefing with Russian activists from the organisations Coming Out, LGBT network and film festival Side by Side, organised by the Henrich-Böll Foundation. I was struck by these activists’ courage in opposing LGBTI discrimination in Russia. Their strength reminded me of Harvey Milk and the group of activists who worked with him. At the briefing they told us about the daily homophobia and violence experienced by LGBTI people in Russia and the persistent roll-back of human rights. They spoke about the difficulties they faced in Russia and the obstacles put in front of them by the Russian authorities. However, despite these challenges LGBTI activism is stronger than ever and consistently challenges homophobia in Russia.
It’s hard not to be pessimistic about the obstacles that lie in our way. But the Russian activists are a remarkable example of how we can stand up against discrimination and violence. I think back to how Harvey Milk led the gay community to fight the homophobic legislation in the US and I feel inspired, motivated and hopeful that we can be effective in combating the discrimination we still face today.
We need to keep fighting and acting against all forms of discrimination. Everyone has the right to live free from discriminatory attitudes and actions. The last few weeks have reminded us how entrenched discrimination is, with shocking examples of discrimination and racism against Roma in Greece and in Ireland. Gender discrimination persists, as highlighted by the recently launched UN Women campaign, and hate crime against minorities continues across Europe. We cannot accept this deplorable situation where discrimination reigns, in a Europe that champions itself on human rights; we have to voice our opposition to discrimination and stand up against prejudice.
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