The other night I was sitting in the photo lab on campus, sorting negatives, when I started Speaking Up, one of NPR’s Ted Radio Hour podcast episodes. It began with the story of a queer, Bahrainian woman name Esra’a. She introduced herself to a crowd, describing her upbringing in Bahrain:
“You were encouraged to be invisible, and silent, so as to not interrupt your daily routine”
Esra’a retrospectively recognizes her subversive nature in a culture where women did not have much of a voice. Then she adds that she is an especially defiant individual, because she is queer.
“And this is the part where you clap”
Roaring applause and cheers broke from the crowd. I laughed at her seeking admiration for this expression of truth, which in my immediate environment, feels much more commonplace.
I do not claim, in any way, that the United States is overwhelmingly accepting environment of the LGBT+ community. We still have miles to go in the minds of many people around the country. However, there is a clear movement here, beyond the one or two outspoken. Where Esra’a lives in Bahrain, she is risking her life each day. For her safety, her last name was not included with the talk, nor was any video or images.
And while we are not far off federal oppression of the LGBT+ community, this speech made me reflect considerably on living in a country where being honest about your identity could be a death-risk. This mentality, of course, is not localized to specific countries, but sections of various cultures, religious groups, and individuals.
In Berlin just two weeks ago, a group of Muslim parents gathered in protest against the male preschool teacher who they recently discovered was gay. The teacher himself recognizes that many of these parents automatically equate pedophilia with being gay. Even in a country many assume to be western progressive, there are hearts and minds ardently refusing universal acceptance.
This is not the only incident, as most recently the New York Times reported a message from a “leading opposition Russian newspaper” claiming that Chechen authorities in Russia were arresting and killing gay men. A regional analyst reported that over 100 men who mysteriously disappeared were in fact detained.
Yet, even in the most oppressed nations, there are still countries who choose to rise up. I believe this remains an undeniable truth of humankind. While I idealize a world in which oppression of identity is non-existent, the reality of now is persistent discrimination around the world. Even in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with allies and LGBT+ individuals alike marching on Court Square, there are those not far beyond shutting their minds to the question of equality.
The question becomes, how do we help our sisters and brothers in countries where even protest is a grand challenge? I guess all we can do, and continue to do, is work to make individual change, to work at changing the minds of those in our immediate worlds, as Esra’a does, and join those around the world in whatever support we can offer.
Together, we rise.