Today is the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The day was conceived in 2004 to highlight discrimination and violence faced by homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, intersexuals and other persons belonging to the LBGT community.
The purpose of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia is to raise awareness of discrimination and violence and inform political decision-makers, the media, communities and companies, opinion leaders, authorities and everyone else about it.
Many issues concerning people belonging to the LBGT community are handled by the Parliament, but all individuals are also residents of a city or municipality. The topic of a person’s identity may be raised against their will at schools and work, in health care, hobbies and in sports and exercise services. It may show in city planning alongside mobility-related accessibility, for example.
A person may also need special support in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The latest school health survey (*) revealed that every fourth young person belonging to a sexual and gender minority is subjected to physical violence at home. They suffer from bullying at school, molestation and harassment more than other young people. It is disconcerting and a sign of how legislation enacted by the Parliament does not improve the situation. Furthermore, municipalities should take the matter seriously, offer additional training to employees and make information and support available.
Initially, I went into politics precisely because of my transgenderism. I noticed that I can influence a number of things even at the municipal decision-making level. In the Equality Committee, I have been able to contribute to tangible improvements, as demonstrated by this blog. I have also kept gender diversity and sexual diversity in particular on the front burner when we have defined issues such as goals for a particular time period.
Accessibility does not simply refer to physical accessibility. I also have the right to use the sports and exercise services offered by the city, but I cannot go to places such as swimming halls. I should also have the right to use public bathrooms, but the wheelchair sign on a bathroom door excludes me whenever people around me pay attention to it. Yes, some people pay attention to the sign even though the idea seems quite absurd. More than once, someone has told me in a loud voice that I am not allowed to go into the bathroom with the wheelchair sign and that I do not look like one of those people, whatever that means.
I would also like to be able to use health services without having to worry about how people will treat me as a person and what I will have to read in My Kanta after the appointment. I want to say thank you to the Leppävaara Health Centre, whose staff has a warm attitude; I do not remember reading any strange remarks about my gender in My Kanta after an appointment. They have even considered how a routine treatment related to my gender reassignment, which will continue throughout my life, could be recorded more aptly than as treatment of a disease. After all, transgenderism is not a disease.
My sexual orientation becomes a topic of discussion much more rarely, which is a clear indication of how my transgenderism is more obvious. One’s sexual orientation does not show on the outside, but their gender identity may show. This is manifested in my identity card, at a doctor’s appointment and in everything that requires, for example, special arrangements in order to use dressing rooms.
The city still has a lot of work to do in relation to, for example, gender-neutral dressing rooms in various sports and exercise facilities. The new swimming hall under construction in Matinkylä is a great step towards the right direction. However, a majority of Espoo residents are not directly involved in deciding on actions to be taken by the city in committees and the City Council. Because of this, I would like to introduce my own six-point list, which I believe will provide good guiding principles for everyone:
- Do not make assumptions. Sexual orientation and gender may not be visible on the outside. You also cannot know why a person wants to enter the bathroom with a wheelchair sign. All disabilities and illnesses do not show on the outside but may require more space and privacy for the person who needs to use the toilet.
- Make an intervention. This is a particularly good piece of advice to employees and loved ones of the people concerned and it also applies to people who do not belong to the LBGT community. If you see something suspicious going on, make an intervention. If you see that someone is being bullied, harassed or treated strangely, make an intervention. If the situation seems threatening, call the emergency number.
- Listen. Listen to the people close to you. Are they concerned about something, do they wish to talk about it?
- Be polite. If someone wants to tell you about their sexual orientation or gender, do not say to them that it is wrong or sick even if that is your personal opinion. Be polite and say that you will support them if you can. However, do not subject them to emotional abuse.
- Look for information. If you do not know something, information is always at hand. You can also admit to your own ignorance and say that you are looking for information and will get back to the matter. The person concerned may also be able to tell you more if you ask them.
- Do not pose questions out of the blue. It is none of your business with whom or how someone leads their sex life. It is also none of your business what kind of genitals the person concerned has, what surgical operations they have undergone and what was their previous name. These are private matters. If you want to inquire about the matter in a less intrusive way, you should first ask whether it is okay to pose such a question.
Aleksi Vesala is a member of the Espoo Equality Committee