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  • Writer's pictureAntonioSoler

LGBT and the Public Agenda: The troublesome future of the LGBT+ Matters

Earlier this month in Colombia, a teenager (17-years old) called Luis, was victim of a homophobic attack. In this incident, Luis lost his arm (yes, his hand and forearm!) the aggressor used a machete and, in an anger, and hate-motivated act in the middle of a discussion, he attacked him with a machete. Thankfully, the assault did not end Luis' life. The attack was perpetrated because Luis tired of the bullying, name-calling, and homophobic references, faced his perpetrator and asked him to stop, this resulted in an unbalanced fight and in the tragic event.

The country is in shock. This event received all the media attention. I wonder if is because of the bizarre (a guy losing his arm in a fight) or because Colombia is really worried about the reflection of the fact that someone can just take a machete a mutilate other just because he is gay. Personally, as a Colombian I feel sad for Luis but also really embarrassed that such things happen.

Although there are laws against bullying, homophobia and discrimination in Colombia, the reality in places far from the capital (Bogota DC) is much more different. The gay-joke, the bullying and homophobia are so normalized in certain places, that when a teenager comes out and stands out in his school or neighbourhood, some people feel entitled to do the joke, the bullying, and far worse perform physical violence.

As a society, we need to stop the normalization of certain attitudes towards homophobia, bullying and physical violence. We need to first highlight that putting the LGBT+ and other minorities in the public agenda is core, to help understand in a highly catholic and evangelical country, that LGBT+ people are at risk (as well as other minorities in Colombia). And the picture will not look great ahead because of the challenges and the priorities placed by COVID-19.

In Colombia, according to unofficial estimations, there are more than three million people considered as LGBT+. This is a considerably high number of people, that represent purchasing power and electoral votes. However, the country as well as other countries in Latin America, are dominated by an agenda that does not acknowledges the enormous potential of this LGBT+ community, to build-up a country, and to make of this community an active part of society to the re-construction of a country that has been hardly hit by the effects of an internal armed conflict, amongst many other challenges that Colombia has overcome.

When I found out about Luis, it was on the same day that I received the Economist Magazine (August 8th - 14th 2020, The absent Student). On page 10 we can find an article about gay rights with the tittle 'The world comes out'. In this article, 'The Economist' numbers 68 countries were homosexuality is illegal and, 12 where homosexuality is punished by death. The reality is much more complex. In Colombia for example, there is a vast difference on attitudes towards homosexuality and LGBT+ rights and other related matters. In cities such as Medellin or Bogota (this city is also mentioned in this article because the current mayor is openly lesbian) although it is not a 100% safe to talk about these topics, overall, people understand the familiarity of the topic and hence the attitudes towards discussing such topics are more controlled. In other cities, rural areas, and small towns however, there is zero tolerance towards even discussing what a gay or LGBT+ is. It was in a small town as such, that Luis found himself in a discussion that led his attacker to mutilate his arm.

Attitudes towards homosexuality and LGBT+ rights and other matters are surprisingly underestimated in the public agenda. The legal background within a society does not guarantee security for minorities. But Tolerance does. Not the kind of Tolerance listed by politicians, activists, or journalists, rather, is the Tolerance that society experience when they are aware that a brother, a sister, an uncle or aunt, a friend from the office is homosexual. This familiarity is the one aspect that can advance normalization of aspects such as LGBT+, when the legal and political areas come short.

The internet overall and the social media platforms are a core ally for the LGBT+ matters. The increasing use of social media in developing countries, is helping to normalize LGBT+ people and other associated matters including marriage and adoption. According to some surveys listed in the Economist magazine in the article 'Queer, there and everywhere' (page 44-46) teenagers are more willing to come out and they are doing it much earlier because of the public exposure of alike in social media.

The need to develop much more structured and deeper partnerships with LGBT+ allies is crucial now. Something that shocked me in 2020 pride month globally (June) was the attitudes and the reactions in Facebook when some companies updated their logos with the LGBT+ flag to show support. In the case of BMW, the activity of updating the profile picture of the BMW Logo with the LGBT+ flag generated more than 273 k (thousands) reactions and more than 60k comments both in favor and against. What surprised me even more is that from those reactions the one that first stands out is "angry" with 102k (followed by 'like' with 101K, 'love' with 48.3k and 'haha' and 'sad' with 14k and 2.8k respectively). This happened with lots of brave companies all around the world including in Colombia, where the most famous Colombian coffee shop and coffee beans brand, Juan Valdez Cafe, uploaded an image showing support to the celebration of pride. This is an important milestone; not only because it generates awareness on social media, but also, because it acknowledges some sort of normality and familiarity with LGBT+, pride and other related matters, and more importantly in the workplace.

Other companies globally have taken an active role in advocating and supporting diversity in the workplace. Clearly expressing support for LGBT+ community. From education to business management consulting, lots of industries have taken an active role in developing policies and taking public postures that supports and advocates for equality, diversity, and inclusion. This is the extreme opposite of politicians who takes the LGBT+ matters as a fear weapon to minimize and destroy in some cases the very few positives steps and achievements of the LGBT+ community.

The discussion about LGBT+ is going to tough in the months ahead because of the challenges and the change in priorities derived from the results of COVID-19.

We must keep the normalization of LGBT+ matters in any country, in particular in those ones, where the normative and legal backgrounds are in place. Also, it is important that the world and the public agenda, does not forget that there are countries were being gay is still illegal and punished by death or other forms of torture. We should not forget about Luis, and any other person in the world whose life is at risk just for the fact of being gay. We must also learn from those countries, societies, companies and people, that have a more advanced agenda and a more advanced dialogue about these matters. And we must use the power of the internet and the ideal use of social media to showcase and generate awareness of those matters.

I hope that this piece highlights the need to keep moving forward about the LGBT+ matters and reminds everyone reading this that a friend, brother, sister could be gay, lesbian or trans, and that they are not any different. I also hope that in the future, we can develop strategies in partnership with the private sector to help people like Luis, and many others from disadvantaged backgrounds. Luis will have a very challenging future, coming from a very disadvantaged background, in a very hostile environment, being openly gay and, unfortunately, having lost his arm. We should ask ourselves; what can I do? how can I help?.

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