17 May is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT). In this article, we’ll look at why the day is important, why businesses should mark it, and what you can do to show your support.
What Is IDAHOBIT?
This day has a special resonance for the LGBT community. It was on 17 May 1990 that the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.
In other words, the World Health Organisation finally recognised that being gay isn't a disease or a mental disorder. It was one more important step in the long struggle of LGBT people to be able to enjoy the same rights as everyone else.
In 2004, LGBT activists and organisations came together to launch an official annual recognition of the day, under the name IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia). The name was amended in later years to include biphobia and transphobia, hence IDAHOBIT (you may also see it written as IDAHOTB).
Now, the day is celebrated in more than 130 countries around the world, with events to draw attention to the serious problems of violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
Why Businesses Should Mark IDAHOBIT Day
So, if you’re a business owner, why should you recognise this day? Because homophobia, transphobia and biphobia are very serious problems, and they're probably affecting some of your staff and customers. Here’s an example of homophobia:
Let’s look at the statistics. An estimated 10 million adults identify as LGBT in the U.S., 4.1% of the population, according to a Gallup poll, and the numbers are rising. Even small businesses are likely to have some LGBT employees and customers.
Now here are some of the grim facts on discrimination, from UK organisation Stonewall:
- One in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months.
- One in ten LGBT people and one in four transgender people have personally experienced anti-LGBT abuse online in the last month.
- 19% of lesbian, gay and bi employees have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service users because of their sexual orientation in the last five years.
- 26% of lesbian, gay and bi workers aren't at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation.
- A quarter of trans people say they feel obliged to change their jobs due to harassment and bullying.
Those numbers are from the UK, but things are just as bad in Australia:
And in other countries, the situation is much worse. There are still 68 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts are illegal, with penalties ranging from up to eight years in prison to life imprisonment or even, in some countries, the death penalty. Only nine countries have explicit constitutional protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
By marking IDAHOBIT, you’re showing support for all the people who are suffering discrimination and violence because of who they are. You’re also making it very clear to your employees and customers that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia won't be tolerated in your business.
By doing this, you’ll improve productivity and job satisfaction among your LGBT employees and any others who care about fairness and equal treatment. You’ll also help to promote a diverse workforce, which has many benefits in itself, as we’ve discussed previously:
Also, this is a chance for you to show support for people outside your company, people with whom you may never have contact. It’s an opportunity to speak up against hatred and intolerance and show solidarity.
We’ve spoken in the past about business ethics and finding your business’s values, and if equal treatment for all people is something you believe in, then supporting IDAHOBIT is a great way to put your values into practice.
How Your Business Can Recognise IDAHOBIT
So, if you’re convinced of the need to recognise IDAHOBIT, what can you do to mark the occasion? Here are some ideas. IDAHOBIT takes place every year on 17 May, so even if it’s too late to do something today, you can start planning for next year.
1. Go Rainbow
Let’s start with a simple, but powerful one. A great way to show support is to encourage staff to wear rainbow colours for the day. This could be anything from a pride T-shirt to a rainbow flag made into a shawl or a face-painted rainbow. The only limit is people’s creativity.
Make sure you publicise the event well in advance, so that your employees can buy, rent, borrow or create their outfit for the day. Or you could order rainbow gear in bulk—for example, Australian LGBTIQ youth organisation Minus18 has tons of pride-themed posters, stickers, buttons, bags and more, and currently offers up to 60% off bulk orders.
You may also want to collect donations from people who dress up (or those who don’t!) and give the money to a local organisation that works to combat homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia.
2. Partner Up
Or why not start a partnership with one of those organisations? There are many organisations around the world working to end discrimination and foster LGBT rights, so you’re sure to be able to find one in your area to work with.
The partnership could take many different forms, depending on what the organisation needs and what you can provide:
- If they need volunteers to help run events, maybe you can encourage your staff to get involved.
- Or maybe you can fund a specific program that'll make a difference in the local community.
- Perhaps the organisation can arrange workshops or events to help educate your employees and/or customers (see below).
There are plenty more possibilities too, depending on the individual circumstances. So, find an organisation whose work you want to support, and start a dialogue with them to see how you can get involved.
Many people simply don’t know what it’s like to live as an LGBT person, experiencing discrimination and harassment for being who you are, and never knowing how people are going to react.
So why not organise a workshop or training event for staff, to help them understand what it’s like and encourage them to be allies in the struggle for equal rights.
You could reach out to a local LGBT rights organisation to see if they can participate, or you could seek out a training company, or you could encourage some of your own staff members to train their colleagues. There are many ways of arranging workplace training, and you can find out more about it here:
- Small BusinessHow to Make a Great Employee Training Plan (For Small Business)Andrew Blackman
- DiversityWhat Is Diversity & Inclusion Training? (+Why It’s Important)Andrew Blackman
You may also want to broaden this event out to include customers as well as staff. For example, if you run a café, restaurant or retail store, you could run an in-store educational event that’s open to the public. That way, you can spread the message of IDAHOBIT more widely while providing a useful service to the local community.
4. Raise Funds
Fundraising events are great. You get your staff involved and engaged, everybody has a lot of fun, and at the end of it, you've got some money to send to a good cause.
The possibilities here are endless. Bake sales, sponsored bike rides, quiz nights, raffles... But instead of deciding on something yourself, ask around to get a feel for what people would most like to do. The more popular the event, the more fun people will have, and the more money you’ll raise!
5. Go Public
One of the main aims of IDAHOBIT is to raise awareness of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, so you can contribute by publicising the event on your own website and social media channels.
For example, you could post photos of your staff in rainbow colours or video from the educational or fundraising events you organised. Or you could write an article describing why IDAHOBIT is important and why your company is supporting it.
If you've got a newsworthy angle, you could try to get media attention too. You can find out more about how to do that in this tutorial:
Just remember that, whether you’re using social media or trying to get covered by the local newspaper or another media channel, you should keep the focus on IDAHOBIT, not your company. Avoid any obvious marketing efforts—you don’t want to be seen as hijacking the event for your own gain.
Some of the events we’ve covered have involved fund-raising, but the money doesn’t all have to come from your employees’ pockets.
Why not make a donation from company funds to a worthy LGBT charity? There are sure to be some organisations in your area that are doing important work and giving them money to implement their programs could be the most direct way to make a difference.
Or, even better, why not commit a small percentage of profits to fund an organisation on a long-term basis? Non-profits are always struggling to raise funds, and regular funding helps them to plan their projects in advance without worrying where the money’s going to come from. It also enables them to spend less time raising money and more time helping people.
7. Make a Commitment
IDAHOBIT is also a good day to make a long-term commitment to change in your own company.
Remember some of those Stonewall statistics we looked at earlier? They showed the prevalence of homophobia in general, but also within the workplace. Significant numbers of LGBT employees are harassed or discriminated against at work, and that leads many of them to keep their sexual orientation secret.
Even if you don’t think that sort of thing happens at your company, it’s important to put policies in place to make sure that it never does. Remember that homophobia, transphobia and biphobia aren't just about horrifying attacks like the one in the video we saw earlier. They’re also about subtle discrimination, bias, offensive “jokes,” careless use of language, and much more.
So, as well as marking IDAHOBIT and organising events, why not make a long-term commitment to providing a safer, more welcoming work environment for LGBT employees year-round? You can find information on how to do that here:
How Will You Celebrate IDAHOBIT?
In this tutorial, you’ve learned why 17 May is an important day in history for the international LGBT community and why the event we celebrate today, International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), is so important.
You’ve also seen why it’s important for businesses to get involved and support the event, and you’ve seen some practical examples of things you can do to recognise IDAHOBIT.
All you've to do now is pick one and get started! What are you doing to celebrate IDAHOBIT?