A study by the University of Zurich and Dialogai association has suggested young homosexuals are two to five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. The bullying of young people with different sexual orientation often leads to suicide. In many areas of the world, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT) are still living in the margins of society, shunned by their families and communities with little or no access to the rights they are entitled to. They are often victims of hate crimes, prejudice, forced outing and violence.
It was only in 1990 that homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization (WHO) on 17 May. It was a significant milestone for humanity and since 2004, 17 May is celebrated as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).
Forty-six-year-old Pamela Montaño knew since the age of six, that the boy she was at the time, was different from the other boys. She felt that she was female and wanted to be considered as one. For over four decades, Pamela has been struggling for acceptance and her rights as a person.
“Housing is one of the first problems transgenders like myself keep facing,” Pamela says. “Nobody wants to rent a flat to a transgender.”
She also described the long legal battle she had to face with the authorities to allow her to change her name to Pamela. In 1991, after the new Colombian constitution was approved, she started a legal process to have her feminine name on her national identity card.
“The civil servant who received my request just laughed at me and said he would never allow such a change,” she says. She took the matter to country’s Supreme Court which finally allowed her to change her name to Pamela. But on her identity card, she is still considered a man.
“For being transsexual women, for making the decision to change our gender from male to female, the State never forgave us. They never gave us the opportunity to train in other things. In Colombia, a transsexual woman can only work as a prostitute or hair stylist,” she says.
Pamela has continued to tackle adversity by creating a support network for transgender people. From small beginnings, 'TransMujer' now unites more than 300 people. The Colombian Red Cross has been working in collaboration with TransMujer on several health initiatives including the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
“The Red Cross Red Crescent believes that everyone has a right to a life of peace, tolerance, good health and dignity,” says Dr Katrien Beeckman, head of the IFRC's principles and values department. “We are committed to bringing the voices and concerns of sexual minorities to the world’s attention.”
Through its work in HIV and AIDS prevention in the last ten years, the Argentine Red Cross is now known as a trusted, safe and reliable organization for the LGBT community. The organization promotes a culture of respect and acceptance in line with the Red Cross Red Crescent’s fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, universality and unity. The Argentine Red Cross has, among its volunteers and staff, LGBT people who are free to be open about their sexual identity. The health director of Argentine Red Cross is a well-recognized activist for homosexuals in the Latin American region.
The Red Cross, together with other human rights organizations in the country, has been pivotal in getting the marriage equality and gender identity laws enacted, as it is an endeavour towards promoting diversity and inclusion of people living on the margins of society.
“Everyone born to this world has a right to be here. We are all different, unique individuals. We each want and deserve to be accepted and respected regardless of how different we are to everyone else, and we each can contribute in many significant ways to our communities,” says Beeckman. “The simple act of humanity – kindness, compassion, empathy – often goes a long way in building hope and harmony.”
If the world fails to protect and empower the LGBT community, then prejudice, stigma and violence will prevail.