In July 2005, Canada became the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Just this year, more U.S. states, including Delaware, Maryland, and Rhode Island, have followed suit, not to mention the countries of Brazil and New Zealand.
These are all causes for celebration, and proof positive times are changing and that we are moving forward, right? Well, we are getting there, but there is still a long way to go to achieve "equal rights for everyone."
This month, we celebrate the 11th Annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia; marked in part on May 17th as the day homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organization's list of mental illnesses in 1990. However, let's not let our fight for equal rights be clouded by the fact that LGBT people can get married across our great nation (and a number of states south of the border). In many countries, homosexuality is still illegal and punishable by imprisonment or death. For example, the Christian Right evangelical movements in Uganda continue to help, fund, breed, even push further the "Kill the Gays" Bill through legislation.
Despite the improvements in the LGBT struggle for equality, more than ever people around the world who are still fighting for basic rights and freedoms need our help. Film festivals such as Inside Out are vital in this effort to give light to and showcase voices that are still struggling. They stand as a platform to engage and to provoke discussion. These stories represent a call to action.
Take Swapna and Sucheta in the documentary ...and the unclaimed; two young women in love in a small village in India, who, when faced with the prospect of Sucheta's marriage to a man who forbids her to see Swapna, decide to commit suicide and die in each other's arms seeing no other way out. Or meet Gertrude and Cédric, featured in the documentary Born this Way who struggle for gay rights in Cameroon where those convicted of same-sex relations face up to five years imprisonment, not to mention the bullying and brutality forced upon them daily by their neighbours and family members.
Quite possibly one of the more horrifying examples is seen in Taboo Yardies. A film that shatters the tourism destination "One Love" façade of Jamaica, giving a voice to the LGBT community who dare to speak up and speak out against the oppression and violence they face on the island. Is it rooted in homophobia or simply intolerance? Or is there a difference? Films like these are required viewing for the LGBT community young and old, and most often they can only be seen and discussed openly in the safety of a festival environment like Inside Out.
I feel it important to state here that for many, it may be easy to shake this off and not let yourself be affected since perhaps you live in Canada, or another openly accepting country and have been fortunate to not have experienced that sense of struggle your gay forefathers have. However, this is our family, this is our community around the world, and we are all responsible to do our part. We must be active in our own way and stand up with confidence to say that we deserve equal rights. These films offer a gateway to education, to discussion, and I hope to activism.
Sadly, we don't have to look very far -- the United States -- to see there is still so much work to do. Lawrence King, a grade eight boy was shot point blank in the back of the head by the very classmate he declared a Valentine's crush on, as told in the documentary Valentine Road. This was California. This was in 2008! Even Bridegroom -- a documentary that starts off as a beautiful gay love story -- ends in a tragedy and became a Youtube sensation where a young man in California was denied basic hospital visitation rights for his partner of several years who died after an accidental fall.
It is especially important in this month that we remember these people, keep their stories alive, and do what we can to prevent this from happening to our community and family members in future. These people and their stories are the reason Inside Out continues its call to action to showcase the best in LGBT films and documentaries. These people are the reason an International Spotlight on LGBT Rights is still important. So please, do your part today and everyday, but don't take my word for it. I invite you to see for yourself.
Andrew Murphy is the Director of Programming for the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival. Inside Out takes place May 23 - June 2 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. www.insideout.ca.