It is easy to lose sight of just how rampant homophobia is while living in a progressive, liberal society -- like most Canadian cities. Here, gay marriage has been legal for more than decade, anti-homophobia laws are regularly put into legislation, and gay pride is celebrated annually; Toronto just played host to WorldPride this past June.
But on the world stage -- and, to a certain extent, in Canada -- homophobic beliefs and behaviours persist.
In his latest project, British writer and comedian Stephen Fry travelled the world (Brazil, Uganda and Russia, to name a few of his stops) for two-and-a-half years in an attempt to understand the nature behind the homophobia still plaguing our society. "Out There" chronicles not only the legislative and political problems with homophobia, but also the stories of victims who have endured the struggle to simply live as the person they are.
Sadly, the world still has a long way to go with regards to LGBTQ equality: The World Health Organization deemed homosexuality a mental illness as recently as 1992. While the U.S. is considered a world powerhouse, it is only legal to marry a same-sex partner in 19 of 50 states. Even more troubling, homosexuality is still illegal in 81 countries, and punishable by death in 10.
While the numbers are staggering, what we often forget, as Fry notes in the film, is that "behind every statistic, there is a beating heart."
Being born and raised in Canada has made my own experience with homophobia far less severe than those in Fry's documentary. While seeing the word "dyke" scribbled on my locker throughout high school by ignorant vandals hurt, I know the pain I felt was nowhere near that of the countless gays and lesbians just like me who were "correctively" raped, beaten or even killed for simply being themselves.
Fry, who is also gay, shares these sentiments. "Out There" is not, by any means, an objective look at the world's political climate regarding homosexuality, but rather an intimate look at the people who are directly affected by the way the head honchos of the world are choosing to run their countries. Fry has a way of making you cry, laugh and smile along with him as victims recount their experiences -- whether you identify as LGBTQ or straight.
What is most remarkable about "Out There," however, is that, for once, someone in the mainstream media is directly holding homophobes accountable for their actions and beliefs. Fry goes head-to-head with Russian ministers looking to enact anti-gay propaganda laws, pastors in Uganda who support anti-gay death penalties and U.S. gay reparative therapists who seek to "cure" LGBTQ Americans. While some of the responses Fry elicits from these homophobic leaders are laughable, they serve as a reminder that the world still has a long way to go for equality -- and that some people truly believe gay sex will make you sick. Seriously.
"Out There" has made me grateful that I live in a time and place where homosexuality is no longer considered disgraceful or a disease. But even more so, Fry's travels have made me realize the importance of action. The way in which Fry unabashedly calls out the homophobes around him, and the way he embraces, listens and respects those who have undergone the trials of living openly in a society so against homosexuality, creates an example for the ways in which we should be living our lives.
Because, as Fry so poignantly puts it: "Homophobia is still a world problem, even if homosexuality never has been." And we all have a responsibility to change that.
Part 1 of "Out There" premieres on TVO September 10 at 9 p.m. ET.